Expat Essentials

Laura Kaye in Berlin: The expat’s essential guide to the German integration course, Pt. 2

(Editor’s noteThis is Part 2 of Laura Kaye’s series detailing how to register for, then make the most of, the German integration course. You can read Pt. 1 here.)

After having completed an integration course at the Volkshochchule (VHS) in Berlin, I’m here to share my experience to help you decide whether this is where you want to invest the precious time you’ve set aside for learning German.

I’m also going to share a few tips for finding and enrolling on a course, give you an idea of what to expect when taking the Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer Prüfung (German test for foreigners’ exam), and explain the options available if you want to continue to learn German at the VHS once your integration course is finished.

In Pt. 1, we discussed the Volkshochschule and thIntegrationskurs.

Now, let’s find that course

If you’re searching for VHS integration courses in Berlin, there is a search engine here to help you find a suitable course. However, the courses can’t be reserved, applied for, or paid for online (with the exception of a few summer courses). Also, you might find that the information about available space within each course isn’t necessarily up to date.

To register for a course, I first had to show up at the central VHS school for my district during their Sprechstunden zur persönlichen Anmeldung (office hours for registration).

This is usually just a couple of hours once or twice per week.

Consider yourself forewarned: if you go outside of these hours you will be told very bluntly to come back at the correct time.

Different schools have different registration hours, and you can find the open hours for your local school here. You should be aware that some districts have more than one school, so if you’ve already found a course you like the look of via the website, note that the office where you register might be at a different location from where your classes will take place. Make sure you’re heading to the right place to register.

Communicating with the ‘linguistically challenged’ as a career

So I somehow managed to turn up at the right place at the right time. As per a friend’s advice, I’d arrived around 15 minutes before the beginning of the registration hours. Which turned out to be a good decision, since by the time the office opened there were already 20-plus people waiting. Turning up early can mean the difference between waiting for just a few minutes to see an adviser versus an hour or more. I was given a numbered ticket and told to wait until someone called my number.

The adviser was direct but friendly, in that typical German style that initially makes it difficult to see the “friendly” due to the sheer level of “direct.” She spoke to me in German, but could also understand English. When I couldn’t explain myself in German (which was frequently), I answered in English, and she then continued to answer me in German.

The aim here is to begin to test your level of German comprehension and your speaking ability so they can figure out which class to put you in.

If – like I was – you’re nervous about communicating with your limited or entirely absent German, try to remind yourself that communicating with the “linguistically challenged” is basically their job description.

In my experience, most of the advisers will understand you perfectly well if you need to speak to them in English. And I’ll also note they are used to interacting with a large number of registrants who speak neither German nor English, and they manage somehow. The adviser I spoke to was very patient and helpful.

Tip: Start with the lowest level class

I was asked to complete a written test at a desk in the corner of the room, which took about 20 minutes. The adviser graded my answers, and based on my test results and hearing me (attempt to) speak, she decided that I was between level A2.1 and A2.2. When students are between levels, she explained, the VHS will place them in the lower level. If you are in a rush to complete your course, you may stand a slim chance of arguing your way into the higher level (providing you can do so auf Deutsch, of course).

However, in my experience, it makes absolute sense to start in the lower level class. This will obviously make it easier to follow the classes and give you the opportunity to consolidate a little.

But it will also give you an additional 100 hours of subsidized classes that you won’t be able to get back later unless you fail the DTZ exam at the end of the course.

She then went on to ask me a few details about my status here in Germany. I’m an EU citizen who has been registered in Berlin for a few years already, having moved here because of my husband’s job… “Sie können einen Integrationskurs machen”, she informed me.

Great, I qualified for the subsidized course!

With that, she helpfully filled out a lot of complicated looking forms on my behalf and set about finding a course date that fit with my schedule. I was a bit disappointed to find out the next available class was two months away, but was also told that this was a good thing since it allowed enough time for the VHS to process everything with BAMF, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (another insight into German bureaucracy).

It’s safe to say, if you’re already thinking about registering for a course in the future, aim to do so a few months in advance, especially if you are registering as a private student. These courses are very popular and places are limited.

The registration process

During the registration process, she made a copy of my passport and Meldebescheinigung (proof of residence document). If you have a German visa or residence permit, they will also need to make a copy of that. You should also take along any other supporting evidence, such as any letters you might have received informing you that you are required to/qualify to take an integration course, or any evidence that might qualify you to take the course at a reduced rate (e.g. a letter from the Arbeitsamt).

I was given my freshly filled in documents and photocopies and sent to the next room, where another employee entered everything into the computer. They then told me to await a confirmation letter via post.

Once you receive said letter, you will need to pay for your course ahead of the start date.

Since it’s not possible to pay online, this meant returning to the school where I registered and paying in person at the Kasse. If your local school also happens to be laid out like some kind of red brick labyrinth, I recommend doing as I did and wandering around with a confused and desperate look on your face, shouting the word “Kasse” at people until someone directs you to where you can pay.

Remember to take your letter with you as it has your registration number on it, which you will need to pay for your course. Also note that the Kasse also has very limited opening hours which, in my case, were the same as the registration hours.

I paid my €195 for the first 100-hour chunk of the course and that was that! I was all signed up, paid up, and ready to learn.

Los geht’s!

Coming up in this series:

• What are the VHS classes and teaching style really like?

• What do you need to know to prepare for the DTZ exam?

• What exactly is the Orientierungskurs and Leben in Deutschland Test?

• And what are the options for studying German at the VHS beyond B1?

About the author:

Laura Kaye is a freelance writer, researcher and editor. Her work focuses on social and development issues, parenting and family life.

Originally from the Wirral in the United Kingdom, she is a serial expat now happily living in Berlin, Germany.

More posts by Laura Kay

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Having a baby in Berlin, Pt. 2: Learning German whilst pregnant so we’re not ‘those expats’

Having a baby in Berlin, Pt. 3: A Berliner is born, and the German benefits you need to know about

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