German as a foreign language: Growing numbers learning German in Africa and Asia

04.06.2020 - Press release

Joint press statement issued by the Federal Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institut, Deutsche Welle, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Central Agency for Schools Abroad

Interest in German is undiminished: as found by the survey “Deutsch als Fremdsprache weltweit” on international interest in the German language, more than 15.4 million people around the world are learning German as a foreign language. The instruments in place to promote German language learning are having a lasting effect. As before, most learners of German are to be found in Europe, but the language is growing in significance in Africa and Asia in particular. The number of schools that offer German has risen from 95,000 in 2015 to some 106,000. The provision of language qualifications for skilled workers from abroad plays an increasingly important role in the promotion of German, and the popularity of digital language-learning options is on the rise. The Federal Foreign Office publishes this survey at five-year intervals in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, Deutsche Welle, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Central Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA).

Europe is still home to the largest number of German learners (11.2 million). The rate of growth here is highest among neighbouring countries – Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and France, the latter boasting an 18% rise to 1.185 million. In Russia too, where numbers had fallen more than anywhere else back in 2015, an increase of 16% has now brought the total of people learning German up to 1.79 million. On the other hand, some European countries are seeing a reduction in German learners. Numbers in Poland, for example, while still the highest in the world at 1.95 million, have gone down by 15% since 2015. Hungary is also showing a downward trend.

The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU seems likely to further accelerate the loss of interest in German, which has already plummeted by 25%.

Outside Europe, a remarkable 50% rate of growth is discernible in Africa. The African countries showing an increase in German learners include Algeria, Egypt and Côte d’Ivoire. Another important growth market for German is Asia, and particularly China. In the United States, in contrast, there are now 15% fewer people learning German.

The survey also reveals that German is chiefly learned in schools. While around 95,000 schools around the world offered German in 2015, some 106,000 do so today. One successful instrument for promoting German as a foreign language is the Schools: Partners for the Future initiative, which has grown to involve around 2,000 schools and more than 600,000 pupils in over 100 countries. The initiative is run in collaboration with the Central Agency for Schools Abroad, the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Educational Exchange Service of the Standing Conference of Education Ministers. The schools convey a modern image of Germany and work intensively on German language and culture.

Over and above that, German broadens pupils’ prospects by giving them access to one of the world’s best university systems and an attractive market for training and employment opportunities. There are currently 1.27 people studying German at university. Compared to 2015, there has been a slight reduction of around 60,000 students. Each year, some 20,000 school-leavers from around the world gain the right to study in Germany with DSD German Language Certificates and qualifications from the ZfA’s German Schools Abroad, and 45% of them start degree programmes at German universities. The Studienbrücke programme run by the Goethe-Institut and the German Academic Exchange Service also helps to facilitate access to Germany’s tertiary education.

In view of the German Government’s new Skilled Immigration Act, providing language qualifications for skilled workers is going to be an essential element of promoting the teaching of German in the coming years. The total number of people learning German in the context of adult education has risen from around 374,000 in 2015 to 433,000. Some 309,000 people are learning German in language courses provided by Goethe-Instituts, 73,000 more than in 2015. This rise can be traced to the increasing importance of language qualifications for skilled workers.

This is the first time that the survey has also covered digital language-learning methods. The results show that online options are growing in significance and look set to become still more important – both in teaching the German language directly and in training German language teachers. The survey did not cover the time of the coronavirus pandemic. The digital and mobile language-learning options provided by intermediaries and included in the survey have seen considerably more use since March 2020. Current visit numbers for the Goethe-Institut’s language-learning platform reveal a significant rise in the use of online resources while lockdowns have been in place across the globe and language schools and other educational facilities have been closed to the public. While some 326,000 visits were recorded in May 2019, the same month in 2020 saw more than 1.2 million visits. Use of Deutsche Welle’s online German courses also doubled in the same timeframe, to 4.2 million visits.

However, the growing demand for German in many places cannot be met by the available German teachers. The Federal Foreign Office and its partners are therefore treating the training of teachers as a top priority. As part of this, initial and continuous training programmes like the German Academic Exchange Service’s Dhoch3 or the Goethe-Institut’s DLL (“Deutsch Lehren Lernen”) are helping to improve provision for language teachers.

Headed by the Federal Foreign Office, the German Language Network works with local working groups to collate data on German learners around the world every five years. The 2020 survey was conducted in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service, Deutsche Welle and the Central Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA). The Goethe-Institut coordinated the survey and processed the data.

The results of the survey are available (in German) here:



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