In demand around the world: German as a foreign language

Primary school pupils in a classroom

Not only in demand at schools: German as a foreign language, © Deutsche Schule Silicon Valley

04.06.2020 - Article

With 100 million native speakers, German is the most widely spoken language in Europe. Some 15.4 million people are learning German as a foreign language. A new survey has shed light on where people are learning German around the world.

Whether in Europe, Africa or Asia, ever more people are learning German as a foreign language with 15.4 million people in total. The largest number of German learners is to be found in Poland. With some two million people, the country has the most students of German. France and Russia also feature among the countries where more than one million people are learning the German language. And these numbers are rising. Since 2015, both countries have recorded an increase of 16 and 18 percent respectively. In three of Germany’s neighbouring countries, there are also more people learning German as compared with 2015: in Denmark (+62 percent), the Netherlands (+30 percent) and Czechia (+4 percent). An increase can also be observed in African countries. Alongside Egypt, Algeria, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire have registered rising numbers of people learning German.

This was the outcome of a survey by the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Federal Office of Administration – Central Agency for Schools Abroad, which is conducted every five years to research how many people learn German as a foreign language worldwide. Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State for International Cultural Policy, presented the results of the survey today at a virtual panel discussion together with the Goethe-Institut, Deutsche Welle and German learners from all around the world.

Minister of State Müntefering issued the following statement in this regard:

Learning German enables people abroad to establish a long-term relationship with a cosmopolitan Germany. For us, this is not an end in itself as teaching the German language opens doors. It affords access not only to an excellent university system, but also to a labour market in need of qualified professionals with knowledge of the German language. Moreover, the German schools abroad and the PASCH schools are an investment in good relations between our societies. At the end of the day, these ties often last a lifetime!

Promoting language learning worldwide

German as a foreign language plays a key role in forging long-term ties with the country, building bridges and communicating a modern image of Germany. Promoting German as a foreign language is therefore a major goal of cultural relations and education policy. The Federal Foreign Office promotes, among other things, the teaching of German in schools, initial and further training for teachers and university scholarships, as well as extracurricular and independent language courses.

One particularly important project in this area is the PASCH initiative, which advises schools in 130 countries on introducing German as a subject and connects pupils through a wide range of virtual and analogue projects.

Regular surveys

Since 1985, surveys have been conducted every five years that, among other things, record the number of people learning German at schools and universities or attending extracurricular and independent courses. The number of people teaching German as a foreign language in the country as well as the number of educational institutions offering German as a foreign language are also part of these surveys.

The surveys are conducted in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, the Federal Office of Administration – Central Agency for Schools Abroad and the German Academic Exchange Service. Deutsche Welle was involved in this process for the first time as the users of online courses were also part of the survey in 2020.


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