Tales from a German Language School
Shortly after arriving in Germany, Andy and I went into the immigration office to get my visa allowing me to live here. Since Andy has a job here and we’re married, there really wasn’t much to it. But I was told I needed to take a German integration course, which is 600 hours of language classes followed by 60 hours of an orientation course. The orientation course teaches German history, the government structure, the school system, and basically how German society functions. I finally began the integration class in June 2012, and thus began a stressful and intense eight months. (Note: I will not be mentioning the name of the school or any people involved.)
Revolving door of teachers and vacation switch up
There are a limited number of schools that offer this particular course. I could’ve learned German at any number of language schools in town, but by going to one of the schools on the list, I was paying pennies in comparison. It turns out going to a school that relies heavily on government supplements for students like me has its downfalls.
The first big irritation was finding out the school changed the two weeks we were to have off, long after we had booked our trip to Brussels in August. I ended up missing six days of class because of this.
Then there was all the teacher switching. The first teacher I had was there for a few weeks before she left for an extended trip to visit family. Understandable. The second teacher was great, the best one I had at this school, but the vacation change screwed her up too.
At the beginning of August we started with teacher #3. She was awful. She didn’t want to answer people’s questions, she treated us like children, and she was rude. I was so frustrated, I considered complaining about her after three days, but someone beat me to it. That was her last day teaching us, and though I thought maybe she got fired, I have since seen her around the school.
We had teacher #4 for about two weeks before I left for Brussels. When I returned, teacher #2 was back! Unfortunately it didn’t last. The school shuffled the classes around, and after just a few weeks, we started on teacher #5.
We had her for the remainder of my time there, and even though she started out decent enough, eventually I got frustrated. She constantly interrupted to “help” instead of just letting us work out a sentence for ourselves, and none of us got much opportunity to talk. Not good for a language class.
Students from around the world
One of the good things about being in a class like this was getting to meet so many people from so many different parts of the world. Germany has one of the strongest economies in Europe, so it attracts a lot of people from other EU countries that aren’t doing so well right now. Plus there are plenty of people like me and Andy who just want to live here, and others who have married German citizens. We had anywhere from 10 to 24 students in the class at any one time. People came and went, but over the eight months, these are the different nationalities in my class:
- Russia (6)
- Spain (5)
- Romania (5)
- Italy (3)
- France (3)
- Argentina (2)
- USA (1 – just me)
- Canada (1)
- New Zealand (1)
- Australia (1)
- Ukraine (1)
- Chile (1)
- Cuba (1)
- Mexico (1)
- Hungary (1)
- Syria (1)
- Algeria (1)
- Turkey (1)
- Nigeria (1)
- Cameroon (1)
- Kosovo (1)
- Macedonia (1)
- Pakistan (1)
- Brazil (1)
- Colombia (1)
- Armenia (1)
I remember sitting in that class the first month or two when most of us could barely communicate with each other. A few spoke a little English, and I spoke some Spanish with a guy from Argentina and the people from Spain, but mostly we all muddled through with the few words of German we knew and hand gestures. Slowly we were able to talk to each other more and more over the following months. I reached a point where German, though still not very good, was more of an instinct than Spanish.
I met some really great people, including some I consider friends now. But they weren’t all great. There was one guy in our class for about a week who was so disruptive that several of us were constantly scolding him like a child. Finally after one too many obnoxious outbursts, our teacher lost it and gave him a long speech in front of the whole class. It turns out he had smoked pot during the break. Luckily our teacher found out, and he got kicked out of the school.
Another day, we were working in pairs and my partner and I finished early. He was from another EU country and his English was really good, so he switched to English with me. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but it pretty much ended when he said, “Well, I know that blacks and women are inferior…” Excuse me? I couldn’t believe he just said that to me. You’d think an immigrant sitting in a class filled with other immigrants would have a better understanding of cultural awareness, tolerance and equality.
Is it all about the money?
I totally understand that a language school is a business and needs to make money. But it’s the type of business that exists to teach and help people, so when greed becomes visible to the students, they’ve gone too far. Schools like the one I attended certainly make more money from private students, but they get lots of government supplemented students.
My class started at three hours per day because we only had about 12 students. Once more people enrolled, the school was willing to pay its teachers more per week to be there, and our class went up to four hours a day. This meant not only were there more students packed in, but we were learning at a much faster pace. Not a great combination.
As the test grew closer, we started doing practice tests to prepare. At this point we had teacher #5, and she explained that students needed to have completed 600 hours to take the test. So even if someone learned some German previously and placed into a higher level to start, they weren’t being permitted to take the test. This was the school’s rule, not the government’s rule. Teacher #5 claimed this was better for the students because it gave them extra time to prepare, but since they couldn’t actually go above the B1 level class and would basically repeat B1, it seemed like the school just wanted to get as much money as possible out of each student.
She also explained that anyone who didn’t pass the test would be given another 300 hours by the government. She emphasized this so heavily and highlighted the fact that these additional 300 hours helped so many students, that a few of us started getting the impression the school didn’t actually want us to pass on our first try.
We were further irritated when our teacher continued to call on students who weren’t taking the test yet to answer questions on the practice test, instead of letting those of us who were signed up for the exam practice. Beyond that, when I told my teacher how much I was hoping to pass, she smirked, gave me a skeptical look, and said, “But you’ll get another 300 hours, that’s so helpful!”
At the end of the 60 hour orientation class, we had a 25 question test. Since you don’t have to be enrolled in the class to take the test, four people showed up that day who weren’t in our class. However, they were on the roll sheet that the rest of us signed each day, so our teacher had them sign for every day as if they had been there. That’s my only evidence, but I can only imagine they were getting government money for these extra “students” as if they were enrolled in the class.
German is a hard language to learn. There are so many grammatical differences, and trying to learn at such a fast pace was extremely stressful. The situation was made worse by all the drama of this school. I did pass my language exam (YAY!!) so at least I don’t have to go back. I’m just waiting on my official integration course certificate from the state, which could show up tomorrow or six months from now, no one’s really sure. German efficiency is a myth, I swear. But I’m done with school and done with the drama. I can’t begin to express what a relief that is for me!
March 4, 2013 @ 11:34 PM
Congrats on passing and the drama, well if you didn’t feel you were on an episode of Survivor, it would have been dull. 🙂
March 5, 2013 @ 2:54 PM
Thanks Maria! Never thought to compare it to Survivor, but I can see that!
March 5, 2013 @ 12:24 AM
Congrats on passing dear!
March 5, 2013 @ 2:54 PM
Thank you Andi!
March 5, 2013 @ 5:11 AM
Congratulations for sticking it out through the multitude of Teachers. Wow Blacks and Women are inferior. How did you control yourself!
Now that you have finished the course do you have any other plans (beside travel, lol)
March 5, 2013 @ 2:56 PM
Thanks Jan! No idea how I controlled myself. I wanted to slap him. I basically just decided never to speak to him again, and I avoided sitting near him so I never ended up partnered with him again.
I have a few ideas, and Andy and I have some plans in the works, but nothing I’m ready to announce yet 😉 But yes, travel of course!
March 5, 2013 @ 8:57 AM
Yikes. Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience at that school. Hopefully your next experiences with learning German will be more positive!
I hate how bad organization, greed and lack of skills can disrupt a learning process. The learning should come first.
March 5, 2013 @ 2:58 PM
I agree, if you run a school, the learning and teaching should be the number one priority. Then the money will just work itself out. I think my next experiences with learning German will just involve talking to people and trying to improve that way. No desire to go back to school again, even at a better school.
March 5, 2013 @ 12:24 PM
Congrats for passing the exam Ali! I’m sure you’ll be fluent in speaking German soon… 🙂
Just ignore those rude people and the guy who said that the black and women are inferior… The world would be boring without them… 😉
March 5, 2013 @ 2:59 PM
Thanks Jemma! “The world would be boring without them.” Well, that’s one way of looking at it! It certainly was interesting!
March 5, 2013 @ 3:13 PM
No thank you. 😛
I’m proud of you though. Seriously. German blows my mind.
March 6, 2013 @ 1:27 PM
Thanks Erica! I am by no means fluent, but at least I was good enough to pass the test. German is sooooo hard!
March 5, 2013 @ 6:15 PM
Wow, this was a REALLY informative article. In Italy there is no such language or culture requirement. In theory, I like the idea of requiring foreigners to integrate. But after reading your account, it seems like a good idea has been exploited for financial gain. But I’m glad that you’ve succeeded in the end!
March 6, 2013 @ 1:29 PM
Thanks Rick! I’m only speculating, but the school certainly did act a little money hungry, and I can’t see any other reason for having people who weren’t enrolled in a class sign a roll sheet. I’m just so glad I’m done with it. I agree with you though, it is a good idea to make sure foreigners know the basics of the language and a little about the government and the history.
March 5, 2013 @ 6:30 PM
Wow – sounds like an ordeal…but congrats on passing! =)
March 6, 2013 @ 1:29 PM
It definitely was. Thanks Andrea!
March 5, 2013 @ 10:14 PM
Hey Ali! So, although I haven’t had to take an integration course I’ve been taking classes at the Volkhohschule since I arrived in Hamburg and wow…what a gong show it has been! I have met some great people in my classes who I’m now friends with….that part is great, and two of my teachers haven’t been too bad, but my second teacher was really terrible. I sent the school an e-mail about it, but never had a response. Not a big surprise in a country where people hardly respond to e-mails. You are very right about the German efficiency – definitely a myth in many respects. Anyways, I enjoyed this post a lot and plan to write about my language learning experience too. I don’t think Germans get just how hard it is to learn their language or so many reasons…..But, congrats on passing that exam! 🙂
March 6, 2013 @ 1:35 PM
Thanks Kristi, I’m so glad you enjoyed this and could relate! I can’t believe they never emailed you back, how frustrating! I think the teachers I’ve had who learned other languages understand a little better that German is tough. But this last teacher I had only spoke German and Russian, and the Russian was only because her parents were Russian, so she grew up with both. I’m sure she took a few classes of something else like most people do, but not enough to really get into it. I don’t think she had any clue just how hard German is. She kept pointing out that Russian and Hungarian have many, many more cases than German and we should feel lucky. Um, no. Knowing that doesn’t actually make learning German easier, it just makes me not want to learn Russian or Hungarian. I’m looking forward to reading about your language learning experiences!
March 6, 2013 @ 1:22 AM
Thank God for small favors, huh? And already it’s a good “telling” story. 🙂
March 6, 2013 @ 1:41 PM
Thanks Barbara, I appreciate it!
March 6, 2013 @ 3:30 AM
I took 3 years of German in college (and one 5 week immersion at a private school_ and thought it was easy…until we started learning Dative and Genative (spelling?) clauses and when I asked my teacher for the 10th time why and she said ‘really, it doesn’t matter, English dropped them because they are silly and useless’ that I gave up. I can still understand German and often help lost German tourists if I can.
In the end, I’m glad my school was private after hearing your tales!
I teach now in a private school in Korea and it seems similar with the changing vacation, but they don’t want teachers to change too often and they want kids to pass because if they don’t their parents will have them switch schools.
March 6, 2013 @ 1:43 PM
Ugh, I hate the cases! That was always my thought too, English developed from German in a lot of ways, and they got rid of the cases because they’re silly! And for the most part if I use the wrong case or the wrong article, people can still understand me. German is tough! Thanks Alex!
March 12, 2013 @ 10:07 PM
Great that you passed the test under such bad circumstances.
So I can say it in German now:
March 28, 2013 @ 9:52 PM
Vielen Dank, Christoph!
March 24, 2013 @ 9:54 PM
Congratulations on passing your exam. I love your photos of Freiburg.
March 28, 2013 @ 10:14 PM
April 18, 2013 @ 12:16 AM
That sounds very frustrating. But on the bright side, you can now impress us the next time we see you with your amazing German! Sorry it was such a hassle but congratulations on passing. yay!
April 18, 2013 @ 10:32 AM
Thanks Deb! I’m not so sure how amazing my German is, but at least I can communicate simple things now.
March 4, 2014 @ 1:17 AM
Wow, I went through the exact “integrationskurs” experience and it was day in and day out of outrageously hilarious and highly controversial comments just like that “inferior women” comment in your class! What a crazy and unique experience, but for sure a lot of fun looking back and had a positive impact overall. Four years later and I am still trying to conquer correctly using Dativ/Genitiv/Akkusativ and Perfekt/Plusquamperfekt/Praeteritum/Patizip I/Partizip II etc etc…it’s not easy, that’s for sure. Congrats for passing 🙂 Good luck with your German and enjoy the beautiful land of Germany!
March 5, 2014 @ 12:14 PM
Thanks Sharlie! It’s so nice to hear someone else had similar experiences in their class, I’m glad it wasn’t just my school! To be honest, I don’t even bother trying to figure out Dativ/Genitiv/Akkusativ because I figure as long as I can remember the appropriate words and get them close to the right order, they’ll understand me. I’ll fine tune my language skills later when I can get through a lot more than I can now in German! I hope you’re enjoying Germany too!
September 16, 2022 @ 1:13 PM
I also did the intensive integrative course over the past year and I did not have that type of experience at all. We had two teachers on different days and we consistently had both of them all throughout the course. They never engaged in any of the behaviors of trying to “take advantage” of the system like in the examples you described. They also all wanted us to pass the language exam and never made any comments about how the government would give us extra hours if we didn’t pass us or discourage us from passing the exam. So overall it sounds like my school is much better and it sounds like I had a much better experience than you did. One thing I could relate to though was how it was stressful at the beginning because of their approach with language learning and it was all in German since day one. But my teachers were very good so I understood everything from day one but it took a while to be able to speak/communicate in German. So they would often ask me to answer/explain something in German when I literally had no capacity to do so (at the beginning) so I would just respond in English which we weren’t supposed to do. We weren’t supposed to speak in English or any other language at all but at the beginning I didn’t see how it was possible to do so. So at first all of us students couldn’t communicate with each other either. But regardless, we learned German very quickly so after a couple of months we could converse in German together. The second cultural/political course also had more questions for me. So I guess they have changed it a bit over the years 🙂
October 16, 2022 @ 4:48 PM
Hmm no one ever discouraged us from passing, quite the opposite. And since the government required me to take the course, I got half my money back for passing on the first try, which was wonderful. I’m glad you had a better experience at your school than I did! Every school is different for sure.