So you’ve been hard at work studying German, perhaps even visiting German-speaking countries to enhance your studies, and now know deep within that you’ve reached a certain level in the language.
But how do you prove to others, as well as to yourself, that you are in actual fact working at that level?
Even though the reception you get when conversing with native speakers is good, not even this type of confirmation is enough to prove to prospective employers that you can get by in the language.
Recruiters will usually want concrete evidence of your language ability in the form of a recognised qualification or alternative certificate.
Options For Studying German
The natural way to gain a qualification in a language like German is to study it at school or college.
Pupils can enrol on GCSE or A Level German courses, but some schools offer language lessons in Years 7, 8 and 9 too which provides students with a good grounding of the subject.
Colleges, universities and other higher education establishments also offer courses whereby German is the lead subject or part of a selection of courses.
However, it isn't just private and public schools, colleges and universities that offer certification in German. Learners can benefit from a number of organisations which award independent certificates to confirm your language skills.
The best-known centre for this is the Goethe-Institut, whose headquarters are in Munich, Germany but who offers examinations to language centres across the world. The Goethe-Institut has offices in Knightsbridge, London.
Information On German GCSE Level Courses
German at GCSE Level is offered by AQA, WJEC, Eduqas and OCR, among others. The qualification is designed to help learners to develop language skills and thus provides activities that have real-life relevance.
AQA officials have worked alongside teachers to create a specification that will stimulate and motivate students. As such, they’ve introduced a range of topics, many familiar but others focusing more on the culture of Germany and German-speaking territories.
While the AQA syllabus offers an insight into culture, popular areas of interest and study and employment relating to German, the course is examined on the pupil’s speaking and writing abilities.
The reformed German GCSE (which is now graded 9-1 as opposed to A*-E) is being taught from September 2017.
OCR offers a flexible course whereby tasks can be completed out of the classroom, which can help teachers to set assessments in more relevant settings to encourage a higher performance.
In a recent move towards offering even more flexibility to students too, OCR has introduced a short course whereby learners can either focus on just the speaking part or just the writing part of the course. This means that if you are better at one part, Speaking or Writing, you can opt to only be examined on these sections.
Edexcel, another one of the principal exam boards offering German courses, has developed a syllabus that intends to motivate pupils by bringing language to life using cultural references and varying themes.
The content covered is clear and manageable and has been trial led by teachers and students alike.
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An Overview Of German A Level Courses
Through the understanding of culture in Germany and other German-speaking countries, students will be motivated to grow more curious about the language and its heritage and thus encourage interest to keep them engaged with German lessons.
It is this enthusiasm that will enable a language learner to be one more proficient and to start to think about broadening their skills either through further education or by embracing opportunities to travel.
All of the same exam boards offer German at the higher levels of AS and A Level, and these will follow the standard exam structure in terms of assessment for the unforeseeable future (i.e. being graded from A*-G).
With new specifications having been brought out this year for German (teaching from 2016 and exams from 2017), AQA has modified its previous syllabus which now includes, at a glance, modules on Social issues and trends, Artistic Culture and Grammar, with optional module Literary texts and films.
The contents of this higher level course reflect the sophistication of the course in comparison to the GCSE syllabus.
The qualification offered by AQA is linear, which means that students sit heir exams at the end of the course. Therefore, pupils will be assessed for the AS Level at the end of Year 12 and for A Level in Year 13.
As with AQA, OCR is currently reforming its qualifications in line with the government programme of general qualification reform.
While AQA has developed a new syllabus for German at AS and A Level, OCR has decided not to redevelop this specification and, as such, the final assessment opportunity for these courses (H076 and H476) will be summer 2017 and the re-sits taking place in summer 2018.
The purpose of the course is to give candidates a good grounding in all aspects of the language and culture of Germany, with the aim of enhancing speaking, listening, reading and writing skills within German.
With just one written assessment and speaking test at each level, the course’s examination methods are straightforward and cuts the burden and stress on pupils. There is no coursework required on this course.
Edexcel has developed a new accredited specification in German. The newly constructed syllabus includes cultural content designed to engage and inspire students while also offering pupils the chance to read and learn about German Literature to further enhance their language skills.
As previously mentioned, many AS Level pupils will have completed a GCSE in the language therefore this course supports the progression from GCSE Level and encourages students to develop and use the transferrable skills already gained in language learning.
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WJEC provides an exciting opportunity for German beginners to build on their knowledge of the language through social, intellectual and cultural themes. The course is designed to develop a better understanding of linguistic properties and to provide a deeper understanding of the culture of Germany and German-speaking countries.
As with the new Edexcel specification, students enrolled on the WJEC German AS and A Level course will be given the opportunity to study literature and film to increase their cultural awareness and with the objective of encouraging fluency in the language.
Being taught since 2016, WJEC offers these AS Level and A Level qualifications, which have been accredited by OFQUAL, on the basis that prior learning has taken place in the form of a GCSE or equivalent qualification.
What A German Degree Has To Offer
A German degree offers international opportunities but also provides a nationally-recognised advanced qualification within the subject.
German can be taken in the form of a Major with a Minor in another subject (like Business Studies or even another language like French or Dutch) but it can equally be taken as a subject on its own.
A German degree will offer you the chance to study the language in detail, learn about German history and study literature written by German speakers.
By continuing your studies with a Masters degree, you can learn even more about Europe’s most influential cultures.
When leaving university after a standard degree-level course, you will be awarded with a BA, ranging from a 'third' to a 'first'. Should you complete a Masters degree, you will additionally receive an MA. Most BA courses last four years, with one year spent working or studying in a German-speaking country. However, some universities offer five year courses.
The Complete University Guide has rated a number of educational establishments for this subject, and among its favourites are the renowned Cambridge and Oxford Universities, as well as Durham, St Andrews and Bristol. This selection is based on a number of factors like student satisfaction, graduate prospects and entry standards.
Alternative Qualifications For German Enthusiasts
Sitting GCSEs and A-Levels in German, and then progressing to university to major in a programme that includes German language studies is the typical and more common way to go about certifying your skill in the language of Goethe.
That is by far not the only avenue you can pursue.
What follows is a broader – more international look at what options are available to those who wish to certify their ability to speak German as a second language.
The Goethe-Institut Certificate
There are various websites and independent schools that offer you the opportunity to test your level of comprehension in German, but the best place to go is to the Goethe-Institut, an official, non-profit body for the testing of language learners in German.
While these may not be seen as mainstream UK exams, they equally serve to evidence the fact that you are working at a certain level in this important European language. In fact, this path to certification of German as a second language is ideal for people who are not enroled in any school; say, if you were already a part of the workforce.
The Goethe-Institut examinations are well-known across the world and the certificate that is awarded at the end of the course is accepted as a valid qualification by most employers and further education establishments in a number of countries.
The language courses have been designed in conjunction with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and offer options ranging from A1 (beginner) to C2 (advanced).
Centres Offering Goethe-Institut Examinations
Centres across the UK and beyond offer the Goethe-Institut certificate, including the languages centres of Durham University and Manchester University.
The International ECL
The European Consortium for the Certificate of Attainment of Languages, mercifully abbreviated to the three-letter acronym above, provides a standardised examination of the languages of European Union member states.
Unlike its more exacting sister-test, the CEFRL, the ECL challenges second-language speakers only at four levels. They are:
- A2-Waystage: beyond the ability to conduct simple conversations in a language, A2 proves those candidates to be nearly at the threshold of intermediate language skills.
- B1-Threshold: at this level, the candidate proves s/he can negotiate daily transactions and formulate full sentences, albeit with some grammar errors and with incomplete vocabulary
- B2-Vantage: these candidates are able to expound on a wide variety of topics from business to the arts.
- C1-Effective Operational Proficiency: the candidate has the ability to formulate ideas and express them with little to no grammatical errors or deficiency in vocabulary.
As with other language proficiency exams, the ECL tests in all four areas of language competence: reading and writing as well as speaking and listening comprehension.
However, there are no grammar exercises; more specifically, grammar knowledge is tested by the candidate’s ability to use the language correctly. Translation does not feature at all in this exam.
This ordeal is conducted in two parts: the oral exam designed to challenge listening and speaking skills and the written portion is meant to assess the test taker’s ability to understand and communicate non-verbally.
Each of the four skills is tested by two tasks, meaning you will have two listening exercises, two writing exercises and will sit two interviews – possibly with two different interviewers.
Candidates may choose to sit the ECL exam for German at any of the five scheduled testing dates throughout the year, and at the testing site closest to them. You only need to refer to the ECL homepage to find the location nearest you!
Test Deutsch als Fremde Sprache, literally Test of German as a Foreign Language is a language proficiency exam for non-native speakers.
This standardised language exam is geared towards people who aspire to study in Germany and at academics and scientists who wish to work or conduct research in partnership with German universities.
As expected by the exam’s anticipated audience, it goes further and gets more specific than the standard CEFRL tests.
Accordingly, levels A1, A2 and B1 – basic to low-intermediate language skills do not figure in this assessment; one must have more than a fundamental grasp on the mechanics and vocabulary of the German language to even consider signing up for it.
As with all other language certification exams, this one tests all four components of language.
To demonstrate your reading comprehension, you will be presented with three texts, each followed by 10 questions. These texts are progressive in their levels of difficulty and you will be expected to understand not only the information overtly presented but also grasp implicit information and nuance.
The challenge to your speaking abilities is relatively short – only 30 minutes but requires you to address seven situations you might encounter at university: a conversation with fellow students, with your research team, with a department head.
You may also be tasked with describing a graph or interpreting data, formulating a hypothesis based on given parameters... or expressing your opinion on a certain topic.
Unusually for a language certification exam, rather than simply passing or failing it, you will be awarded a level of proficiency based on your performance. Those levels are as follows:
TDN3: the lowest level one must reach. Failure to do so will result in an ‘unter TDN3’ printed on your exam certificate. (That means under level TDN3). The other marks, logically, are TDN4 and TDN5.
As for how they match up to CERFL’s A1-C2 scale:
- TDN3 and the lower range of TDN4 correspond to B2 on the CERFL scale
- the upper TDN4 range through TDN5 equate to CERFL’s C1 rank.
Unlike other exams in which the candidate selects the level s/he wishes to test at, the same TestDaf exam is administered to every candidate regardless of his/her proclaimed (or demonstrated) ability.
None of this means that unless you’re an academic, this certification exam is closed to you if, in fact, you are highly proficient in the language. To the contrary, the acquisition of such a certificate has many uses.
Let us suppose you have earned your BA Honors and are working toward your teaching certification, with the intent of becoming a German language teacher.
It would be a good idea to prove your language competencies beyond what your Bachelors’ degree confers onto you. Sitting the TestDaF is the perfect way to do so!
What if you were fortunate to take part in an Erasmus exchange programme?
While the mention of that illustrious learning opportunity would indeed look very good on your CV, rounding out your proven skills set with a TestDaf certification is sure to put you ahead of the competition, job-wise!
The International Baccalaureate
The concept of educational techniques for peace was formalised by a French educator named Marie-Therese Maurette.
Starting out as an educator at the International School of Geneva, she went on to lead that school for a quarter-century. Her pedagogy – indeed her leadership of that renown institution were based on respect and openness and revolved around an international perspective.
So impressive was her teaching philosophy that UNESCO requested that she publish an outline of it.
With a pedigree such as this, it should come as no surprise that the International Baccalaureate, with its roots in Ms Maurette’s ideology, is the Rolls Royce of educational certification.
Today, the International Baccalaureate programme consists of four levels; development may start in students’ primary school years and continue through middle school. It then splits into two branches, the career-related programme and the Diploma programme.
It is with the latter track, aimed at 16- to 19-year-olds, that we find an opportunity for certifying one’s ability to speak and understand German.
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) provides internationally recognised and accepted qualification for gaining entry to universities all over the world.
By far more challenging than our A-Levels, the IBDP delivers an assessment of students’ abilities in six subjects and three core requirements. They are:
Theory of Knowledge: a 100-hour mandatory study course that examines the nature and limitations of knowledge as well as determining the validity and meaning of knowledge. At the end of the course, students deliver a 1,600-word essay and present their conclusions.
Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS): this is the portion of the programme where students are encouraged to expand their civic obligations, release their creativity and pursue activities conducive to personal growth. The general expectation is for students to spend between three and four hours engaged in suitable tasks each week.
An extended essay: the candidate selects a topic from a list and delivers a 4,000-word independent research work.
None of this sounds much like certifying one’s language skills... that is, until you get to the second of the aforementioned six subjects that comprise the exam: Language Acquisition.
In case you were interested, the first one is Studies in Language and Literature, taken in your native language.
You may choose to test at Standard Level or Higher level – a more rigorous challenge that includes literature from your chosen second language. Please note that you will not be called on to interpret or analyse those texts; they are used merely to assess your level of linguistic comprehension.
Should you elect to test at Standard Level, (there is no shame in that!) you may elect to review such a literary text rather than tackle one of the optional topics offered.
So, what can an International Baccalaureate do for you?
Aside from expanding your critical thinking ability and prepare you to be a better global citizen, it can certify your German language skill with authority and veneration.
An IB is accepted at most if not all UK universities; you may even enrol for study in a German institute of higher learning with your IB, provided you meet their more stringent criteria.
And, we can’t stress this enough: the prestige of having earned an international certificate of learning puts you far ahead of the competition, both in academics and in the job market!
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With multiple options open to you and every German language learner, there is no reason for you to delay asserting your skills!