February 2011 issue

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German pragmatism

Language schools in Germany have noted a change in nationalities among the students learning German in the country, mainly due to economic and visa factors. Jane Vernon Smith reports.

While the global economic downturn has had a clear impact on the type of courses being requested, demand for places at German language schools showed evidence of recovery in 2010, with many providers proving flexible in their response to the changing climate. Visa difficulties, meanwhile, proved less of a problem than in 2009, according to some providers.

For did Deutsch-Institut in Stockstadt-am-Main, visa problems were non-existent in 2010, and Sales Manager Almir Krupic reports that the situation in the big cities is much improved, with the officers in the foreign ministries becoming better informed. However, experiences varied. “It has obviously become slightly better vis-à-vis Turkey and the Ukraine, which have sent more students this year, but, for many countries [visa problems are] still an important issue,” comments Henning Prüss of Tandem, Hamburg. “In some cases,” he notes, “the waiting period for a decision at a German consulate or embassy abroad has increased as well.”

According to Lennart Güthling at the Humboldt-Institut in Argenbühl, problems persist primarily in respect of Asian countries, such as China and Bangladesh, but also Eastern Europe. While noting that the situation has improved a little, Sabine Kalina at GLS Sprachenzentrum in Berlin, observes that visas are still hard to come by for students from Ukraine, Belarus and Turkey. Nevertheless, “We actually had a slight increase of Belarus and Turkish students in 2010,” she reports.

Aside from Western European students, which were the most numerous at German schools, the USA was the second-largest source country at IH Heidelberg (formerly Collegium-Palatinum), according to Ute Gleich. Meanwhile, Russia was number one for the Humboldt Institut, and second at F+U Academy of Languages in Heidelberg. Eastern European nations also enjoyed some prominence, with International Projects (IP) counting Bulgaria as its second most important source country, according to spokesperson Ute Nanninga, while Bernhard Freidl at Horizonte in Regensburg, ranked the Czech Republic and Poland as its first and second largest nationalities.

Economic factors were blamed for decreases among some nationalities. “We have registered significantly [fewer] Belgian students because of a decrease in national [subsidy]; [fewer] Greek students because of the general crisis in Greece; also fewer Polish students,” says Tiziana Abegg of F+U.

Providers are observing a number of changes in the pattern of student demand. Both Güthling and Freidl highlight a trend towards shorter courses, while several pinpoint a demand for more intensive programmes. As elsewhere, late bookings have been more prevalent, a fact that Güthling attributes to incidents such as the Icelandic volcanic eruptions and Russian forest fires making people more hesitant to commit so early.

All in all, students have increasingly higher expectations, according to Gleich, and competition between language schools is increasing. Providers have launched a number of new products in response to changing demand (see inset). In addition, both Abegg and Gleich report that their schools have increased their attendance at international agent workshops and fairs, and F+U has increased its cooperation with agents “significantly”, according to Abegg.

Providers’ varying strategies appear to have enjoyed a degree of success, with the majority of respondents reporting an upturn in student numbers in 2010. Indeed, IH Heidelberg notched up a rise of 20 per cent in student numbers, says Gleich, while did Deutsch-Institut achieved above 10 per cent. Others experienced more modest increases, with GLS reporting a decline in numbers of junior students that restricted the size of its overall increase. However, the wider picture was positive, many concurring with Prüss that, “In 2009, we felt the effect of the economic crisis much more than we did [in 2010], and we are looking forward to even more recovery in 2011.”

Responding to demand

Over the past year, German language schools have been proactive in responding to changes in student course demand. With evidence of a rising requirement for more intensive programmes, “Students can now opt to take more hours, either as single lessons, or in language studio groups, in addition to their standard and intensive courses, reports Henning Prüss of Tandem. “In these extra sessions, we concentrate on either specific wishes with regard to content and/or specific needs such as pronunciation, spelling or grammar.”

The trend towards more ‘serious’ programmes is also reflected in greater demand for both business and academic content, and Sabine Kalina comments that GLS Sprachenzentrum added courses in business German, exam preparation and phonetics recently.

With academic preparation also increasing in demand at did Deutsch-Institut, the school introduced a new university placement programme, to help students choose their university and help with the relevant preparation. It also launched a new four-week summer course in cooperation with the International School of Management, which offers successful students four credits at their home university.

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English Australia  
NEAS Australia  
Quality English  

Alphe Conferences  
IALC International  

Dr. Walter GmbH  

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Malta Tourism

Impact English
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Plato Educational
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The Language

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inlingua Berlin  
International House Berlin - Prolog  

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Clubclass Residential Language School  
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Interlink School of Languages  
Kurus English CC  
LAL Cape Town  
Language Teaching Centre   
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Malaga Si  

EF Language Colleges Ltd  

Global Immersions Inc  
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Ross School (The)  
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