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LEARNING GERMAN

EXPLAINED: Who is entitled to free language lessons in Germany?

Learning German can be a struggle, but did you know that some groups are entitled to take language and integration courses for free? Here's what you need to know.

Refugee learning German in Brandenburg
A refugee sits in a German class in Bad Saarow, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Patrick Pleul

It’s in everyone’s interest that people living in Germany are able to speak the language.

Though German has a reputation for being difficult (just check out all the different words they have for “the”!), being proficient can open up doors to new career opportunities, help you make friends and generally make living here that little bit easier.

Sometimes, however, the cost of taking a language course can be a major barrier. That’s why it’s important to know whether you or your family may actually be entitled to take a heavily subsidised or free German course.

Here are the main groups of people who can take free German classes in Germany, and some other options for those who aren’t eligible. 

READ ALSO: How I stopped worrying and learned German in six months

Asylum seekers and refugees 

Even before asylum seekers have received a verdict on their application, they are entitled to take what’s known as an Erstorientierungskurs: a course of initial orientation. This free course can help them get to grips with the basics of the language and day-to-day life in Germany, including modules on housing, work, shopping, transport, and health.

Once an application for asylum is accepted, refugees are granted a free place on an integration course (Integrationskurs) to help improve their language level further and understand more about German life and culture. 

Nearby courses can be found through the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) website. Refugees and migrants normally have to receive a permit (or “Berechtigungsschein”) to attend the course via the Foreigner’s Office. 

It’s worth noting that most migrants – even if they are not refugees – are entitled to take integration courses through BAMF, but they generally have to pay for them. 

READ ALSO: The 5 best free apps for learning German for all levels

Jobseekers 

Long-term unemployed people who are receiving Hartz IV (or Arbeitslosengeld II) can usually take German language and integration courses funded by the Jobcenter. 

In some cases, the Jobcenter will also provide expenses for travel to and from the language school. Unemployed people who want to take a language course should speak to their advisor to find out the options available and how to sign up for a course. 

You can also find a list of German courses financed by the Federal Employment Agency on the Kursnet Arbeitsagentur website. These include different language levels, integration courses, and special courses known as ‘German for Professional Purposes’ (ESF-BAMF), which are designed to equip you for working in Germany. 

Jobcenter in Düsseldorf

The Jobcenter in Düsseldorf. Unemployed people can get free German lessons in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

Ethnic German Resettlers 

German law entitles ethnic German resettlers and their families (spouse and children) to attend an integration course free of charge. Like jobseekers, this group of people can also apply to have their travel costs to and from the language school reimbursed by the state.

The best way to sign up to a course is to find your nearest school on the BAMF website and consult with the school directly about your eligibility for funding. They should be able to advise you further about your rights. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pick the right German language school for you

Prospective and current students

German universities generally require evidence of C1 language skills when admitting students from non-German speaking countries into their courses. Some prospective students will need to take the TestDaF exam as proof of their language schools, and can occasionally find exam preparation courses for free. To find a list of schools in your area, it’s best to look on the Fachverband für Deutsch als Fremd- und Zweitsprache (German as a Foreign or Second Language Association) website.

Refugees are also usually eligible to take language courses in preparation for university study for free, which are often funded by schemes such NRWege (Paths to Studying) in North Rhine-Westphalia. 

Most universities also offer free-of-charge language courses for students already taking a university course in another language. To find out about these, it’s best to consult the language centre of your university or college directly. 

Children and young people

As part of their general education in German, children from migrant backgrounds receive special support in mastering the German language. This can start as early as kindergarten and carry on alongside their studies as primary and secondary school, with tests along the way to keep track of progress. 

Once children have finished school, they may be entitled to a free place on an integration course for young people, which can once again be booked through BAMF.

Young children learn German at a primary school in Bavaria.

Young children learn German at a primary school in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

There are also various charitable organisations in Germany that provide funding for language courses, such as the Otto Benecke Stiftung e.V. Higher Education Guarantee Fund, which is aimed at young people from a migrant background.

Though the Higher Education Guarantee Fund, young migrants can not only have their qualifications recognised or receive support to access higher education, but can also gain access to free German classes if their language skills need improvement. 

Other options

If you don’t fit into any of the above groups, don’t despair: there are still plenty of options for learning German for free or on a budget in Germany.

In some cases, your employer may be willing to fund you to attend a German course as part of your professional development. Otherwise, you can find plenty of free online courses such as Ich Will Deutsch Lernen, Deutsch Akademie and the Goethe Institute. For a great list of self-study resources, check out the RU Geld website, or check out our article below on the best ways to learn German for free:

The best ways to improve your German for free

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For members

LEARNING GERMAN

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

Once you've learned the basics of German, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for German learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

STARTING OUT

Coffee Break German

Coffee Break German aims to take you through the basics of German in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where German native Thomas teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break German Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes

German Pod 101

German Pod 101 aims to teach you all about the German language, from the basics in conversations and comprehension to the intricacies of German culture. German Pod 101 offers various levels for your German learning and starts with Absolute Beginner.

The hosts are made up of one German native and one American expat living in Germany, in order to provide you with true authentic language, but also explanations about the comparisons and contrasts with English. This podcast will, hopefully, get you speaking German from day one.

Their website offers more information and the option to create an account to access more learning materials.

Learn German by Podcast

This is a great podcast if you don’t have any previous knowledge of German. The hosts guide you through a series of scenarios in each episode and introduce you to new vocabulary based on the role-plays. Within just a few episodes, you will learn how to talk about your family, order something in a restaurant and discuss evening plans. Each phrase is uttered clearly and repeated several times, along with translations.

READ ALSO:

Learn German by Podcast provides the podcasts for free but any accompanying lesson guides must be purchased from their website. These guides include episode transcripts and some grammar tips. 

DEVELOPING YOUR GERMAN

Easy German

This podcast takes the form of a casual conversation between hosts Manuel and Cari, who chat in a fairly free-form manner about aspects of their daily lives. Sometimes they invite guests onto the podcast, and they often talk about issues particularly interesting to expats, such as: “How do Germans see themselves?”. Targeted at young adults, the podcasters bring out a new episode very three or four days.

News in Slow German

This is a fantastic podcast to improve your German listening skills. What’s more, it helps you stay informed about the news in several different levels of fluency.

The speakers are extremely clear and aim to make the podcast enjoyable to listen to. For the first part of each episode the hosts talk about a current big news story, then the second part usually features a socially relevant topic. 

A new episode comes out once a week and subscriptions are available which unlock new learning tools.

SBS German

This podcast is somewhat interesting as it is run by an Australian broadcaster for the German-speaking community down under. Perhaps because ethnic Germans in Australia have become somewhat rusty in their mother tongue, the language is relatively simple but still has a completely natural feel.

There is a lot of news here, with regular pieces on German current affairs but also quite a bit of content looking at what ties Germany and Australia together. This lies somewhere between intermediate and advanced.

A woman puts on headphones in Gadebusch, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: dpa | Jens Büttner

PERFECTING YOUR GERMAN

Auf Deutsche gesagt

This is another great podcast for people who have a high level of German. The host, Robin Meinert, talks in a completely natural way but still manages to keep it clear and comprehensible.

This podcast also explores a whole range of topics that are interesting to internationals in Germany, such as a recent episode on whether the band Rammstein are xenophobic. In other words, the podcast doesn’t just help you learn the language, it also gives you really good insights into what Germans think about a wide range of topics.

Sozusagen

Bayern 2 present their podcast Sozusagen! for all those who are interested in the German language. This isn’t specifically directed at language learners and is likely to be just as interesting to Germans and foreigners because it talks about changes in the language like the debate over gender-sensitive nouns. Each episode explores a different linguistic question, from a discussion on German dialects to an analysis of political linguistics in Germany.

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