“Wer fremde Sprache nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.
(Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.)”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
So you’ve decided to take a brave leap of faith and come to Germany or a German-speaking country to pursue your tertiary studies. BUT – you don’t know any German yet! There are many reasons as to why one shouldn’t think twice about giving picking up a German a shot, some of which are covered in our Top 10 Myths & Facts sections (e.g. Myth & Fact No. 7). Here’s where we introduce to you the institutions in Singapore and Germany that offer German courses, most of them targeted at students. After your course, you may just find yourself falling in love with the language on top of being armed with the additional language skills needed to help you understand the country and people better; picking up a new language is after all an advantageous life skill no matter where or when!
Learning German in Singapore
Although not always the case, a lot of our members studying in Germany and German-speaking countries such as Switzerland and Austria first had contact with German as a Foreign Language (FL3) at the Ministry of Education Language Centre (MOELC). Established in 1979, the MOELC German Department has since offered German classes from Secondary One (7th Grade) all the way to Junior College level (GCE ‘A’ Levels) to eligible students for no additional fee. This provides school-going pupils with the opportunity to pick up German as one of their elective subjects in school, with special programmes such as the Language Elective Programme (LEP) and pre-university scholarships provided to those who continue learning German up to their ‘A’-Levels; in some cases, this additional language proficiency also puts students in good stead for tertiary education scholarships, both private and public, as scholarship providers are increasingly seeking to send their scholars to non-traditional countries outside the Anglosphere. Our advice to those who are offered an opportunity to learn German as a Foreign Language in school, currently already learning German or simply know of someone who has the chance to pick up German: seize this opportunity and don’t give up! Your teachers, as well as us here at SSAG, would be more than glad to provide assistance and support if you need any.
For those who are considering coming to Germany or a German-speaking country for studies but have never heard German in their lives before (not to mention taken any courses!), you may wish to do some courses in Singapore before your arrival especially if you have the luxury of time (e.g. weekends during National Service or spare time after school). They are offered at the well-established Goethe Institute with a choice of extensive, intensive, small group as well as individualised courses – all geared to ensuring you are professionally picking up the language according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages while preparing you for internationally-recognised language qualifications such as the Zertifikat Deutsch (ZD), TestDaF or Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom (GDS). There are also several other private language schools in Singapore which offer German classes – a simple Google search would yield a handful!
Learning German in Germany
If you only came to learn of the usefulness of the German language and the advantages of studying in Germany after you’re done with school (or for the guys, National Service), the best and most effective way to pick up sufficient German proficiency to enter a German institute of higher learning is to do an intensive language course in Germany itself – with hard work and determination, many of our members were able to master German to an adequate level for entry to university within a year.
At most universities, for courses completely held in German, applicants are typically expect to demonstrate at least a B1 or low B2 level of proficiency at the point of application; if accepted, students would then have to improve their German to a high B2 or C1 level of proficiency either by the start of their first semester or second semester of study at latest. Normally, a TestDaF result of ‘4’s in all components or a DSH overall result of DSH-2 would be sufficient proof of adequate knowledge of German; some courses such as German Studies and Law, however, would require higher scores (e.g. TestDaF score of 4-4-5-5 or DSH-1). For those intending to embark on an intensive German course in Germany itself, here are the various options:
Courses at the Universities
Many universities offer German courses from the beginners’ level onwards. Class sizes are moderately sized at around 20 per class. Prices range from €200 to €300 per month and you can study all the way to the DSH Vorbereitungskurs (preparation for the university-administered language proficiency exam) and subsequently sit for the DSH exam sometime in September. It is important to note that as the DSH is often tied and independently administrated by a particular university, it may not be accepted at another university which administers its own DSH. An alternative to the DSH would be the TestDaF – a test conducted several times a year and is a commonly recognised ‘universal’ proof of German proficiency.
During your language course in Germany (around May to mid-July), you could start applying for a place in several universities and perhaps visit these universities to get a feel of the city as well. Accommodation is usually not covered by the university but you can apply for a place in hostels (Wohnheime) through the Studentenwerk, or look for a private alternatives.
For more information, do check with the international offices of the respective universities.
Courses at the VHS
The VHS (Volkshochschule) is an educational institution for everyone, irrespective of age. Some offer intensive German courses (daily, 4 hours per day as the case in Aachen) but some do not (e.g. Heidelberg). Course prices can vary substantially, usually ranging around €300 for a 3-month course. Classes are somewhat larger (up to 30 students per class). Accommodation has to be settled privately.
Private Language Classes
There are many language schools in Germany offering intensive German courses. Such schools include: Goethe Institut (~€1000/mth), Carl Duisberg Centren (~€700/mth), Inlingua (~€400/mth). Another alternative is DKFA, an institute affiliated to the University of Munich (€720 for 8 weeks). These schools offer smaller class sizes (10 on average, maximum of 15) at a higher price. Accommodation can usually be arranged through the schools, either for a shared apartment or a room with half-board in a German family.
Already speak some German but not sure if you are good enough, or need a refresher course after spending 2 years in NS? Fret not – many German universities offer summer schools where you can pick up German from wherever you left off. The DAAD has a huge database on such summer courses, which can be combined with other subjects, such as Business Administration, Medicine, or even European Studies. For more information, please refer to the DAAD Summer School Catalogue.
If you are seriously considering coming to Germany, you are also welcome to e-mail us with your specific needs or concerns and we will try our best to help you!