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‘Memorise grammar’: How foreigners in Germany passed the B1 language test for citizenship

News that the federal traffic light coalition will soon allow dual citizenship has more than a few long-term residents booking their language tests. So how hard is the B1 test? We asked a few people who’ve done it.

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

German citizenship laws are set to get a big overhaul this year, but at least one requirement will remain the same – the B1 German language test for people who want to get citizenship on a standard track.

In addition to allowing dual citizenship, the German government’s new draft nationality law is set to reduce the amount of time someone needs to have been resident in Germany from eight years to five for a standard track. Applicants on a fast track will be able to get citizenship after just three years – if they can pass a C1 German exam.

That fast track is down in time from six years but carries a higher language requirement than the current fast track ask of B2 German.

If you’ve been a resident for at least five years though, most of your requirements generally stay the same. You won’t have to renounce your other passports, but you’ll need to pass both the German citizenship test and a B1 language test – just as you do now.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens next with Germany’s plans to allow dual citizenship?

What does B1 level mean? What can a B1 speaker do?

A B1 speaker is classed as having an intermediate level of command in a language under the Common European Framework for Languages. There are six possible levels, with B1 being the third.

A B1 speaker should be able to communicate with native speakers without a lot of help, at least about everyday topics or even certain subjects they might be more familiar with, such as their hobbies or a bit about the work they do.

With this level, a B1 speaker would also be able to handle most situations that would come up on a trip, explain simple opinions, and describe events.

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

How does the B1 exam work and how hard is it?

Like most German exams, the B1 exam is divided into four sections – speaking, reading, writing, and listening. You need to get 60 percent to pass the exam.

Most Local readers we asked said that, with a little preparation, the B1 exam is nothing to be scared of.

“I actually found it quite easy,” says Fraser Seifert, a New Zealander coming up on his fifth year in Germany. Seifert took an intensive class that gave him a lot of practice material. “Find as many practice exams as you can. If you can find a preparation class, I found it super helpful.”

Taking so many practice exams, Seifert says, will help you understand exactly what the exam is asking you to do.

“I knew that in order to pass the writing section, I had to put certain grammatical clauses in each paragraph or sentence and write them in a specific format,” he says. “It’s very formulaic.”

The B1 test is full of writing exercises that will test specific points of German grammar. Many readers recommend getting special study material. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Uwe Anspach

Local readers also suggested using several online resources to help out, especially if you haven’t really done conventional language learning, like in a class.

“I picked up my German from speaking, so had to hit the grammar books to iron out a few irregularities,” says Beth Ingham. She’s already passed her B1 test and is going for her C1 soon.

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

Ingham recommends the VHS Lernportal.

“I would recommend memorising phrases which show off your command of grammar – ie. dative, adjective endings,” says Emma Midgley. “Find a textbook with grammar drills that you can practice.”

Midgley also recommends the Coffee Break German podcast.

“I went through the practice exams that Goethe Institute provided as well as a textbook for the exam prep,” says Jon Morris. “I also arranged a few 30-minute language exchanges with native speakers to go through the oral exam stuff.”

Another thing to prepare for is the exam environment itself.

“I remember the reading and writing elements being in one classroom laid out like an exam hall and then the speaking exam was in a much more relaxed environment,” says Charlie D., a Brit based in Bielefeld who did his exam after going to evening classes twice a week for three months.

“I ended up having a very good conversation with my examiner and getting 100 percent for that part of the exam.”

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

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German minister vows to ‘learn from Canada’ on immigration

Visiting Canada this week, German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said he wanted to take inspiration from how the country had dealt with a previous lack of skilled immigration.

German minister vows to 'learn from Canada' on immigration

In February, the German government published its new draft Skilled Worker Immigration Act – a raft of reforms aimed at attracting more workers to Germany to help plug its huge worker gap. Currently, around 400,000 new workers are needed each year to compensate for the shortfall. 

With the plans soon expected to be approved by the federal cabinet, two of the principal architects of the draft bill – Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil – are visiting Canada to take inspiration from the country’s highly successful immigration policy.

No other country in the world – in relation to the number of inhabitants – has a stronger immigration of labour and skilled workers than Canada.

“We want to learn how they do it,” said Heil.

The ministers plan to exchange ideas with Canadian government representatives, companies and experts on the planned reform of the Skilled Worker Immigration Act.

Heil said he hoped the visit would give him a “look into the ‘engine room’ of the Canadian system – also to take good examples and suggestions back to Germany”.

Canada as a role model

Sixty years ago Canada was struggling with a severe worker shortage similar to the current situation in Germany. To combat this, the government changed immigration policy and developed a points system, based on the principle of bringing those who have the best qualifications for occupations with current shortfalls into the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

Germany wants to follow this example with the introduction of a points-based system and the Chancenkarte, or “Opportunity Card”, for people who want to look for a job in Germany.

As well as education, the Canadian points system also takes age, language skills and work experience into account. Applicants via the Canadian points system can collect up to 100 points across these categories, and those who reach 67 are granted a permanent residence permit.

Under the new plans, people will be able to come to Germany for up to a year in order to look for work – even without a job offer – if they earn enough points in the following categories, among others:

  • Age
  • Connection to Germany
  • Work experience
  • Language skills

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What’s in Germany’s new draft law on skilled immigration?

‘Oversupply’ needed for a points system

The opposition CDU/CSU, meanwhile, have been pouring cold water on the hopes of learning from Canada. 

Hermann Gröhe, vice chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, told the Rhenische Post that he is not convinced that a points system would be as successful in Germany as it is in Canada. According to Gröhe, for a points system to work, an oversupply of qualified immigrants is needed. 

READ ALSO: Are Germany’s proposed immigration law reforms unworkable?

Instead of making “educational trips to Canada”, he said Germany needs to concentrate on making itself “more attractive” and creating a “welcoming climate” for migrants. 

CDU labour expert Ottilie Klein told German news outlet RND, that the ministers should be concentrating on “the real hurdles to the immigration of skilled workers”, such as the need for more staff in immigration offices and reducing bureaucratic hurdles, by digitising procedures, for example.