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EXPLAINED: A language teacher’s guide to passing the German tests for citizenship

Depending on whether they take the regular track or the fast track to German citizenship in future, applicants will likely have to pass either the B1 or C1 German test. Here’s what a language teacher tells us to expect.

Studying German
German is not an easy language, but there are a lot of resources to help you study. Photo: Jeswin Thomas / Unsplash

As long-time German residents start preparing their applications for when Germany changes its citizenship laws to allow dual nationality, some are already booking the language tests they’ll need for the German language requirement.

Those applying on the regular track, which the government plans to allow after five years of legal residency in Germany, will need to pass a B1 German exam – the third level out of a possible six in the Common European Framework of Languages.

Meanwhile, those looking to naturalise as German after just three years on the government’s planned fast-track scheme, will likely need to pass the C1 exam – the second-highest level possible.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What’s in Germany’s draft law on dual citizenship?

What does someone need to be able to do for the B1 exam?

B1 is an intermediate level where the speaker can understand the main points of conversations around everyday topics, such as work, school, or living. They can also deal with most situations that would come up on a trip and they can make basic arguments about a subject they’re familiar with, such as the field they work in.

“They need to be able to discuss a topic with the pros and cons,” Birgit Schneider, a Goethe Institute language teacher with 33 years of experience, told The Local’s Germany in Focus podcast. “The main part in the oral exam and the written exam will be discussing a point.”

READ ALSO: PODCAST: Language tests for German citizenship, fireworks fallout and new train routes

A German exam will have four sections: listening, writing, speaking, and reading. Schneider says the listening and reading parts are easy to practice on your own using internet resources. There are also some practice tests available to get you used to some of the types of questions that will be on the real test, such as fill in the blanks.

But she says the oral and writing sections are harder to prepare for alone.

“Here I would suggest to take a course – it might not be a long course – where you practice. You need to practice to find ideas,” she says. “You need to acquaint yourself with everyday topics, like, is it good to live in a WG? Is it good to live with other people?’”

Students study from a textbook at a school in Munich

Students study from a German textbook at a language school in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Schneider says one example of an oral exam questions would be whether children should move out of their parents’ houses when they turn 18.

“It’s an everyday discussion, but you need to be able to say something to that topic. You have only five or ten minutes—you’re nervous. So you have to be able to come up with pros and cons in a very, very short time,” she says. “That needs to be practiced.”

For the written section, students will have an hour to write three different texts. One answers a question with pros and cons before the test-taker comes to a conclusion. One is a standard letter and one is a formal letter.

Again, Schneider recommends finding a German-speaking space to be able to practice without German speakers being able to switch into English.

“Unfortunately, Germans like to speak English,” she says. “You have to find a person, a course, a group, where you say ‘ok, now we are speaking German.’”

READ ALSO: What we know so far about the new language requirements for German citizenship

Prepping for C1

The C1 exam for planned fast-track citizenship after three years is a much more difficult endeavor altogether.

C1 speakers are able to write structured texts on a wide variety of complex subjects, from globalisation to the impact of climate change. They can use German well in social, personal, and work-related settings. They can also understand implicit meanings and sarcasm.

Schneider says while there’s not many differences between B1 and B2, it’s quite a leap from B2 to C1. A C1 requirement, says Schneider, marks a clear difference between academic immigration and non-academic immigration.

“You have to have good nerves to enter the C1 exam,” she says, pointing out how C1 topics are more academic and less everyday.

For example, you might be asked deliberately vague or broad question about early childhood education. “Here, you come up with more academic and more sophisticated answers,” she says. “You need more knowledge.”

READ ALSO: How hard is the C1 language test for Germany’s upcoming fast-track citizenship?

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For members


Chancenkarte: How many points could you get on Germany’s planned skilled worker visa?

Under plans passed by the cabinet on Thursday, non-EU citizens will in future be able to apply for a special permit to look for a job in Germany - provided they score enough 'points' on things like language skills and qualifications. Here's how many points you could get.

Chancenkarte: How many points could you get on Germany's planned skilled worker visa?

What’s going on?

After months of hype, Germany’s new Skilled Workers Immigration Act is finally on its way. On Thursday, the cabinet passed a draft of the law, paving the way for it to be voted on in parliament. 

Alongside simplified routes for skilled workers to enter the country and incentives for Blue Card holders, the government wants to launch a new jobseekers’ visa aimed at qualified professions.

The Chancenkarte – or Opportunity Card – will be primarily based on a points-based system. It will allow foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to 20 hours a week while they look for a job in their field. It can be granted for up to a year but can’t be extended if the job hunt is unsuccessful. 

READ ALSO: German government signs off on sweeping reforms for skilled worker visas

How many points do I need?

To be eligible for an Opportunity Card, you’ll need to score at least six points out of 14. Your constellation of points will depend on your life situation, but there are some criteria everyone has to fulfil before they can apply.

To be in with a chance of getting a Chancenkarte via the points-based system, you need: 

  • At least sufficient German (i.e. B1 level) or fluent English (C1) 
  • Proof that you can support yourself financially, and
  • A professional qualification or degree that required at least two years of training or study

Age: Up to 2 points

It may sound ageist, but how young you are – and, by extension, how many years you’ll continue to work – can count towards your Opportunity Card application. 

If you’re lucky enough to be under the age of 35, you can net a full two points towards your application. If you’re under the age of 40 but over 35 you can score one point towards it. 

Language skills: Up to 3 points

If you already speak a bit of German, you should be able to score either two or three points towards your Opportunity Card.

According to the draft law, people with “good” German skills get three points, while people with “sufficient” skills get two.

So, what do good and sufficient really mean?

Well, while this isn’t detailed in the draft, it’s worth noting that elsewhere in German immigration law B1 is described as “sufficient”. That would mean that you would likely get two points for B1 and three for B2 or above. 

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘Chancenkarte’ and other visas for job seekers

German dictionaries in a language school.

German dictionaries in a language school. Good knowledge of German can net applicants up to three points. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Marcel Kusch

Qualifications and experience: Up to 7 points 

If you’ve completed a professional qualification that’s considered equivalent to a German qualification – for example, a degree or training to obtain a licence to practice – you could net four points.

This can increase by three points if you’ve practiced in a field relevant to your qualification for at least three years out of the last seven. 

Connection to Germany: Up to 2 points

Having a link to Germany of some sort can net you either one or two points towards your application, depending on how many of the criteria you fulfil.

The first way to prove a link to the country is to provide evidence that you lived here for at least six consecutive months in the past five years. You can earn one point for this.

The second is to get a sponsor to write a letter promising to assist you in your job search and integration into the labour market. This should be an individual rather than a company and they should have resided in Germany for at least five years. It’s important to note that they shouldn’t have provided a letter like this for anyone else. This sponsorship will net you one point.

READ ALSO: Will immigration reform be enough to combat Germany’s worker shortage?

What else should I know? 

There is another route to getting hold of an Opportunity Card: being what’s known as a ‘skilled worker’. 

It’s not entirely clear what the government’s definition of a skilled worker is, but generally you would have completed a qualification that’s required in your field and accrued a certain amount of professional experience. 

It’s also worth noting that, in some cases, you’ll be able to apply for an Opportunity Card even if you live in Germany – but this will depend what kind of visa you are currently on and whether you fulfil the above requirements. 

READ ALSO: COMPARED: Germany’s Chancenkarte vs. Austria’s Red-White-Red card for skilled non-EU workers