Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | December 1, 2015

New Language Requirement for 1 Million: German

New Language Requirement for 1 Million: German

by J. Douglas Guy

Imagine a situation where a million people would unexpectedly arrive in your homeland in a short period of time. Authorities would have to scurry to provide food, temporary shelter and other accommodations while trying to figure out more permanent solutions to this emergency. While dealing with that crisis, authorities predict another million will be on the way shortly. This is the situation facing Germany as 2015 draws to a close.

As the violence in Syria and Iraq became life-threatening this year, hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and others fled from the area. This has created the greatest mass migration of human refugees since the end of World War II, all of them aiming for the safety and prosperity of the European Union (EU). But for the vast majority of them the goal was getting to Germany. In response to its horrific treatment of minorities under the Nazi regime, the modern German Constitution guarantees asylum to all who can demonstrate persecution in their homeland. This guarantee, combined with Germany’s status as the strongest economy in the EU, as the dominant force in EU politics with an unemployment rate of only 5%, made it the go-to goal for migrants.

But getting there was no easy task. Refugees needed to trek overland to Turkey, then go by sea to Greece in dangerous watercraft, and then hike overland across the Balkans to the borders of EU nations. In Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and elsewhere they were frequently met with hostility and barbed-wire fences. As fall descended on Europe and the weather turned, the situation was getting more critical and life-threatening. At this very significant point German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany was prepared to permanently take in 800,000 refugees and encouraged other members of the EU to do the same. Since then the number of refugees expected in Germany by year’s end has grown to 1 million, and in 2016 German authorities reckon with a second wave of asylum seekers of similar magnitude.

Suddenly Germany faces the task of not only housing and feeding its new residents, it urgently needs to teach them German.  Modern Germany considers itself a multicultural nation with two million Turkish immigrants among other ethnic groups. Turks were not treated well when they first arrived in the 1960s and 1970s but they now form the base of Germany’ modern multicultural society, along with foreign workers from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and elsewhere. Early Turkish immigrants were forced to learn German on their own, whereas more recent generations have become Turkish Germans with better language skills and more upward mobility. Syrian and Iraqi refugees don’t have 50 years for that to happen: they need schooling in the German language, they need to develop competencies to be ready for school and the workplace and they need it now.

Unfortunately, the pressure of simply processing hundreds of thousands of newcomers has overwhelmed the government. Individual citizens and local groups are starting to provide German lessons, but as of yet immigration authorities and state departments of education have no concrete plans for organized German instruction. They also just won’t have enough teachers for one million new students. Unless conditions in the Middle East improve radically, Germany can plan on two new minority groups for good: Syrian Germans and Iraqi Germans. And unless they are to remain a permanent underclass, Germany is going to have to teach them German.

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