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Language acquisition: refugees nearly achieve proficiency level of other migrants

Report of September 7, 2016

Whether they’re looking to participate in social life, enter the German labor market, or obtain relevant training certificates, learning German is a critical part of integration for the majority of refugees—and yet only a handful of studies have examined their language acquisition patterns and skill levels. The IAB-SOEP Migration Sample, which was collected by the Institute for Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung) and the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), offers new findings on German language acquisition among refugees; the present analysis, conducted by DIW Berlin, identifies factors that have been positively correlated with German language acquisition among refugees as well as non-refugee migrants. According to the survey, most refugees did not speak any German upon their arrival in Germany—but with time, they approximated the German language proficiency of Germany’s non-refugee migrants. Positively correlated factors include the refugee’s age at the time of immigration as well as his or her prior educational background. Once they were in Germany, refugees’ fluency improved with time, participation in the German education system, and frequent usage of the language, especially in the workplace.

The full report by Elisabeth Liebau and Diana Schacht in: DIW Economic Bulletin 34-35/2016 (PDF, 161.98 KB)