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The German Language in the World and in South Africa

The German Language is in the Top 10 of the most widely spoken language in the world. It is the language of business and science. About 100 million people speak German as their mother tongue or home language, mostly in Europe, but also in North America, South America, Africa and Asia. An additional 55 million people learn German.

What is your reason to learn German?

In South Africa, you can take German as an additional language in more than 80 high schools or chose it as the language of instruction in the three German schools that are spread over the country. You can also take it as a subject in 10 or the 25 universities or book a language class at the Goethe Institutes in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Ten Reasons to Learn German as inspired by the Goethe Institute

From personal to professional life, learning German will give you more options. Here are 10 compelling reasons to learn German:

  • Business relationships: 1,000 German companies are world leaders in their businesses. They employ 7 million people in the world and have a turnover of 1.7 trillion EURO. Want a piece of the cake? Having the ability to communicate with your business partners and stakeholders in their language will greatly increase your professional relationship and improve communication. Even if you are not proficient in German, a basic knowledge of the language will help you understand the business and communication culture of the company and integrate better.
  • International career opportunities: With German, you may have the opportunity to not only work in Germany or Europe, but there may be opportunities for you to work in your own country at a company that has international relations with Germany or other German speaking countries. Did you know that there are more than 600 German companies in South Africa?
  • Science and Research: Internationally, Germany occupies a leading position in science and research. In the last 100 years, Germany won more than 70 Nobel Prizes in natural science and medicine only. Stefan Hell was the last person to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2014. Furthermore, Germany has many research centers that conduct research on a truly international level. The Max Planck Society, the Frauenhofer-Gesellschaft or the Leibniz Association employ 80% international researchers. That goes along with the German High Tech Strategy that states: Global challenges like climate change, food security or war prevention cannot be solved on a national level anymore. What we need is truly international research.If you come to do research work in Germany, you will be able to build up your own professional network with contacts not only in Germany, but in other European countries and beyond.
  • Art, music and philosophy: German is the language of Goethe, Kafka, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. Indulge in reading and/or listening to their works in their original language. Having even basic language skills will allow you to understand the classical music on a whole new level and in an unexpected depth.
  • Cultural understanding: The doorway to another culture is through its language. Learning German will provide you with insights into the culture and way of life of German-speaking countries. It will allow you to understand yourself and your language environment better as well before the background of the German culture.It is an exciting journey to expose yourself to new experiences and to see the world through a different language glass. 
  • Tourists and the international traveling German: You may be in a situation to host tourists from Germany. Being able to look after your traveler by speaking their language will be highly advantageous and appreciated. Did you know that Germany is the nation that travels most?
  • Communication: Germany is ranked as number 5 when it comes to the annual publication of new books. This gives you an excellent opportunity to gain access to the lastest information, education and entertainment.
  • Travel: If you see yourself as a traveler, you can make the most of your travels by being able to communicate in the language of the country you visit. German is not only spoken in Germany, and is spoken in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxemburg and many neighboring countries in Europe.
  • Opportunities to study/work in Germany: There are almost 20,000 degree programmes offered at nearly 400 accredited universities across Germany. Most Universities in Germany are publicly funded, which means these institutions normally waive tuition fees. Germany provides excellent opportunities for international students to study in Germany and special visas are offered to skilled workers and professional.
  • Opportunities for exchange: There are a wide range of school and university exchange programmes between Germany and many other countries of the world. German Institutions of Higher Education have more than 20,000 cooperations in 155 countries. You can be sure to meet the world when studying/working in Germany. Knowledge of German will make this experience more impactful and enjoyable as this will be the common language of exchange.

The German Language at German Universities

The language level you need to qualify for admission to university depends on your degree programme and the university itself. Therefore you will need to ask the International Office at the university of your choice about the specific admission requirements before you apply.

Most of the 20,000 degree programmes in Germany are taught in German. However, there are also almost 2,000 international degree programmes, where most of the classes are conducted in English. For German-language degree programmes, students are usually required to provide proof of German language proficiency on an academic level, that means you have to be able to understand texts, discuss topics, attend lectures and seminars and write appropriate works in German. You can prove that level of German with a B2 or C1 certificate from the Goethe Institute or you can write the TestDaF exam that specifically tests your academic skills. This test can be written in your home country as well.

But, it is not all about studying. To feel at home in a foreign country, knowing the language is essential. Knowing German will help you get settled into daily life faster, participate more intensively in German culture and make friends much easier.

Language Courses

There are many ways of learning or improving your German in Germany. Universities offer language courses parallel to their degree programmes. There are numerous summer courses at universities throughout Germany which can help you improve your language skills for university study. These usually take place between June and September and offer German language courses at various levels. To view a list of upcoming courses, check out the DAAD database for Language and Short Courses.

https://www.daad.de/deutschland/studienangebote/sommerkurse/en/?p=l&q=&fos=0&fee[]=0&sortBy=1&page=1&display=list

Many German language courses are offered outside the university, for example, at the Goethe-Institute and private language schools. Fees are charged for these courses. A good place to look for German courses and language schools is the database operated by the German as a Foreign Language Association FaDaF (http://www.fadaf.de/de/daf_angebote/sprachkursangebote/)

Language partnerships/Tandem/Buddies

Taking a conventional language course is not the only way to learn German. Participating in a language buddy programme is an excellent and inexpensive alternative. In a language partnership, two people get together who want to learn the other’s native language. They meet on a regular basis and practice speaking one language for a while, and then the other.

At some universities, the International Office, international student organizations or the student council keep a list of names of people who are interested in starting language partnerships.

Testing your language level

The levels of language course in Germany follow the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. There are six levels of proficiency – from basic user (A1) to proficient user (C2). If you wish to assess how good your language ability is, you can test it yourself. The Goethe-Institute offers a short, free assessment test (www.goethe.de/einstufungstest). After completing it, you receive a recommendation for the course level you require.

If you wish to obtain a more accurate assessment and prove your ability with a certificate, you can take the online test OnDaF for a fee (www.ondaf.de). This test can tell you whether your language ability is sufficient for passing the TestDaF.

Want to know more? German Dialects

As with all languages, there are regional differences in pronunciation and intonation in Germany. Residents of the Rhineland speak differently than those in Bavaria. People in Berlin speak differently than people in Hamburg. There are even variations in dialect between villages in the same region.

Practically all of the courses you attend at German university will be held in “Hochdeutsch” (High German). But even then, you might come across professors or fellow students who speak a dialect. Many people consciously cultivate their dialects because they’re proud of the region where they grew up.

Most people make an honest effort to speak “Hochdeutsch” to foreigners. However, there are many native speakers who are simply unaware that their German sounds different than the German you hear on the CDs in your language books. But don’t worry – you will quickly become familiar with the German spoken in your region. And if you don’t understand something right away or can’t make yourself understood on the first attempt, it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.