Adult Education Centers

Most cities have these Volkshochschulen, and many of them offer language courses for foreigners. Instruction is usually in the evening for a very small fee.


More than sixty of them, from the Alps to the North Sea, offer intensive language studies, plus cultural and literature courses. And they can be quite inexpensive, costing around $500 a month for instruction and housing. (See box.)

Commercial Schools

These usually cost more than the government sponsored and non-profit courses, but have the advantage of carrying out instruction at the company headquarters or wherever else the client wishes. And, more than the other institutions, they can be a friend in other aspects of life.

Working adults, retirees and professionals constitute a majority of the foreigners studying German in Germany. Courses are offered in a variety of different locations, providing a cultural as well as a linguistic experience.

It’s usual to give a potential student a written proficiency test before beginning a course, to determine the level of instruction necessary. This is sometimes followed upby an oral examination to verify the level determined by the written test.

Courses are very flexible as to time. You can totally immerse yourself in a course full time. The ideal length for full-day intensive courses is thought to be two weeks. Alternately you can take courses in the afternoon or evening or on weekends. Or you can study whenever you can, even at irregular intervals over a long period.

For total beginners semi-intensive courses are best, especially if they are in the country where the language is spoken. But they need a good introduction as to how the huge “classroom” (the country they are in!) is best used.

Instruction is usually by native speakers and the “total immersion” system, under which only German is spoken in class, is generally employed. Teaching devices used include speaking, reading, role playing, dialogue, translations, grammatical exercises and telephoning. Some of the university courses even offer the showing of German films.

Dialogues are recorded on cassettes, which the teacher can use for critiques and which the student can listen to for fixing mistakes in his or her mind. Telephone training is very popular. It’s based entirely on simulations and role plays during which telephone calls are made, recorded and reformulated.

Instruction can be either one-to-one or in groups. The former has definite advantages. In one-to-one the trainer can focus on that individual and his or her specific linguistic needs and interests. No compromises need be made with other participants. Those who tend to learn more quickly are not held back by others, and slower learners don’t find themselves being left behind.

However, it is only partially true that one-to-one training is superior to group training. There are certain areas, such as negotiations, that are better approached in a small group. Spontaneous communication is also more difficult to organize in one-to-one lessons.

But groups shouldn’t be too large. Accent Business Languages feels that “for cost effective language training groups should have no more than eight participants. Ten is possible but 12 is too large.” Beginner groups, it feels “should be no larger than the ideal number of eight, particularly if the language is to be used effectively in business.”

Some schools have found that, especially with business instruction, it isn’t necessary that everyone in a group have the same proficiency level. If, say, they all work in the same department of a company they can benefit even if there are slight differences in their comprehension of the language. Some schools stress that it isn’t necessary to study General German first and then Business German. All necessary grammar and other needs can be incorporated into a Business German course.

Students sometimes have an opportunity to try out a course before making a commitment. Accent offers trial instruction at reduced cost or no cost.

Outside of school there are several things a student can do to keep improving his or her German. Among the hints for those who are serious about the language: watch German TV, and do lots of reading, especially less intimidating things like children’s books, comic books and trash novels

Sometimes it’s necessary to force oneself to speak German. There are too many Germans about who want to improve their English by practicing it on you.