Integration courses: reasons, aims and structure

In late 2015, the IDS and the Goethe Institute Mannheim discussed the option of conducting a survey in integrations courses (IK) in order to compare linguistic backgrounds of refugees and other immigrants in Germany. The IKs provided a suitable setting due to their relatively controlled environment and the accessibility of participants in the courses. The IKs also are a  way station for most immigrants and refugees that want to stay in Germany long-term and have a concrete prospect of integrating into the job market. Moreover, IKs stand for a political turn in the way Germany deals with immigration today. It is a more pro-active approach often also connected to the term "Willkommenskultur" (a culture of "Welcome"). In light of the so-called "refugee crisis" of 2015 this approach is being put to the test. It is an open question whether or not the IKs are able to serve the integration of highly diverse groups of people with very different biographies. 

In 2015, the integration courses had already been operating for ten years. Germany introduced its integration courses with the implementation of an immigration law on January 1st 2005. The legal basis is spelled out in § 43 section 2 of the so-called Aufenthaltsgesetz, i. e. the Residence Act (legal text here). The section specifies

(1) that immigrants shall be supported as they integrate into “the economic, cultural and social life” of the country but “are expected to undertake commensurate integration efforts in return”.

(2) that integration courses are measures to support this aim. The course focusses on language acquisition, the legal system, culture and history. In the end, immigrants shall be able “to act independently in all aspects of daily life”.

(3) that two language courses  (basic and advanced) are to provide “sufficient command” of the language. An additional orientation course imparts knowledge of the legal system, culture and history. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) coordinates the courses and implements them with help of private or public organisations (such as adult education centers, the Goethe Institute, etc). Immigrants who are financially able to pay the courses will be charged a fee.

 (4) that the Federal Government can regulate further details concerning the structure, content and implementation of the courses and that the Federal Ministry of the Interior can regulate the examination and certification requirements of the final integration course tests.

This graph describes the sequential structure of the course. The language course is comprised of 600 units (UE), the orientation course of 100 units. Over 85 % of all lessons are invested in language acquisition. Aspects concerning life in Germany can also be part of these lessons. The language course consists of a basic course and an advanced course, each of which has three modules of 100 units. The goal of the language course is the B1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which is described in detail here. The "Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer" (DTZ) is the final test of the course. Learners can apply for another 300 IK units if they fail the test.

There are special IKs for Ianguage learners with special needs. Besides the regular (common) integration course there also are courses with 1000 units for adolescents, language learners with children, those learning a second alphabet or those who are illiterate.  Fast learners can enlist in courses with only 430 units. The IDS-Goethe study focusses exclusively on the common integration courses and was conducted in modules 1/2 (beginning of the course) and module 6 (end of the course).

The official website of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees provides more detailed information on the integration courses. It also highlights the relevance to our project “German at Work”. Under “Content and scheduling” we read:

"The language course will cover important aspects of everyday life, e.g.

  • work and career,
  • basic and further training,
  • bringing up and raising children,
  • shopping/trade/consumption,
  • leisure time and social interaction,
  • health and hygiene/human body,
  • media and media use, and
  • housing.

You will also learn to write letters and e-mails in German, complete forms, make telephone calls and apply for jobs."

The official frame curriculum (Rahmencurriculum) for integration courses from March 2017 spells out the course topics related to professional life in more detail. Three out of twelve learning objectives are concerned with the areas “Work”, “Job search” and “Education and training”. Pages 80 to 106 of the frame curriculum contain Can Do statements that describe linguistic abilities and refer to the respective language levels of CEFR (levels A1 to B1).