German Intensive Class for Children
When children from non-german speaking countries with little or no German knowledge arrive in Germany, the schools (read public schools) mandate them to take an exclusive German Learning programme called ‘Intensivklasse’. I shall share my experience with this program in this article.
Please note that this article is based on my personal experience. I would strongly recommend that you take it only as a basic guideline. For concrete information, always refer to the official website of your child’s school or the school authority in your city.
Let us start.
About three years back, when we, as a family, arrived in Germany, my children were of school-going age. After registering at the Rathaus, we fixed an appointment with the Schulamt ( Education Authority) in our city to figure out the next steps in schooling for our children. We had already decided to send our children to a public school in Germany.
After a brief interview with my children (to gauge their german level), the person in charge advised us to put the children in Intensivklasse.
Please note that because we had decided to put our children in a German public school, our starting point was Intensivklasse. There is no Intensivklasse when you put your child in an English medium school.
What is Intensivklasse?
Intensivklasse or intensive class is a class in which all the children who come from non-german speaking countries and have little or no german language proficiency are put together and imparted exclusive and focussed German language learning.
Do children of all ages together attend the course?
Yes and No. It works for Grundschule Kids, i.e. primary school kids ( from 1st to 4th Grade), slightly different from the way it works for older children ( 5th grade and above).
Intensivklasse for Grundschule (primary school)children ( 6-10 years of age):
If the child’s age is between 6 and 10 years ( or the age that matches the ages of primary school children in that state), he or she typically attends the regular class with children their age. Additionally, the school offers an Intensive class, which takes place after school hours ( after 1:10 pm). In that class, other children of other age groups ( between 1st and 4th grade) join them. They all learn together. The frequency of the classes depends on the school. So, you can understand Intensivklasse as an extra class in German after school hours.
At the end of Grundschule, the teacher organizes a meeting with the parents and tells the further course of action. If he/she thinks the child has learnt well and can join a regular class, she will mention that in her feedback. If she/he feels that the child’s german language still is not enough to enter middle school, she may suggest further learning in an Intensive Class.
Intensivklasse for Children in Middle school and above ( 10-16 years):
If the child is in 5th grade or above, they don’t join a regular class. They join an exclusive Intensivklasse and learn with children who are between 10years-16 years of age. However, the teacher forms subgroups and teaches them.
Initially, only German is taught, but later, if the school decides, subjects like Maths (which don’t require high-level language proficiency) are also included. Only after the child finishes this course can he or she join regular classes. So, this course can be considered a prerequisite to joining regular classes.
These classes happen in schools and have children from different nationalities. There is a special teacher/s appointed for the job who specializes in teaching children from non-german backgrounds. During these classes, children are taught the basics of German and gradually taken to a level where they can handle everyday communication, reading, writing etc.
Depending on the strength of the class; the learning capacity of the children; or sometimes according to age, the class is divided into groups, and each group is taught according to the level of the group. The teacher recommends study material, and parents must buy books, notebooks etc., needed for the course.
Typically, how many students are there in Intensivklasse?
The class strength usually depends on the location and number of immigrants in that location. When we came to Germany in 2019, the intensive class strength was about 6-8 children. However, the situation drastically changed in Yr. 2022 when many refugees from Ukraine arrived in Germany. In many schools, the strength was close to 40.
How long does the course last?
In my experience, the length of this course depends on the speed at which the child is able to grasp and learn. If the teacher observes that the child is a quick learner and can grasp more, they provide him/her with more material to learn and help him/her progress faster in the class. Children who take more time to learn are allowed to learn at their pace. So, how soon a child completes this course depends on the child. There is no fixed timeline for the course to end. However, the teachers try to align the ending of the course with the ending of the 1st half of the school year or the 2nd half of the school year.
How does the course proceed?
When the teachers feel that the child is progressing well and is ready to learn more, they usually start with ‘Teilintegration’, meaning partial integration. The child is allowed to attend a few classes (on subjects which don’t require high german proficiency) along with children of his age in the regular class. For example, apart from attending the Intensivklasse, the child may be allowed to attend Maths or 3rd language classes with children of their age in the regular class (Which classes they attend also depends on the timetable, called Stundenplan in German). That gives the child ‘a real feel’ of regular classes and makes them better prepared. Once the teacher feels that the child is fully ready to be integrated, he/she asks for a meeting with the parents. He/she explains the part about moving the child to Regelklasse, i.e. regular classes with other children of their age. The regular class could be in Gymnasium, Realschule, Gesamtschule or Hauptschule. The teacher discusses and gives his/her feedback to the parent.
Do the children receive a language proficiency certificate at the end of Intensivklasse?
All children receive report cards (called Zeugnis) – one at the end of each half year (The first one around early Feb for 1st half of the year and the second one in June for the second half year). In this report card, the details about what the child was evaluated on, the level of the german reached etc., are mentioned. This is an official document from the school, and two copies are sent to the parents- one original and one copy. Parents retain the original and sign and return the copy to the school. That copy stays in the school records.
Is the child expected to start performing like other students as soon as he/she enters regular class?
The answer is yes and no. While the general expectation is that all children learn and perform well, children from intensive classes, apart from getting language support ( mentioned below), also get something called ‘Notenschutz‘.
In Germany, student performance is evaluated by giving them a grade. This grade is called the Note. It can range from 1-6, 1 being Very Good and 6 being Insufficient. The word Notenschutz means that the child is protected and is not given any grade in certain subjects, even after they move into a regular class.
To understand this better, let’s say the child completes the intensive class and enters a regular class. Then he/she appears for regular tests/exams. Suppose, due to language limitations, the child’s performance is considered ‘not up to the mark’ in a certain subject; then, instead of giving the child Note 6 in that subject, the teacher gives him/her a Notenschutz in that subject. This means that the child is not graded in that subject. Typically Notenschutz is given to the child for 2 years after he/she completes the intensive class. However, this is not fixed. How long a child gets this protection is discussed and decided in the Schulkonferenz– a meeting of all the teachers in which they discuss each child’s progress.
When it is decided that the child will be moved to a regular class, parents can discuss this topic with the teacher and understand this better.
Do extra german learning classes stop after the intensive class is over?
It depends on whether the school where the child studies has staff or specialization. For example, some schools specialising in languages have an extra class called DaZ ( Deutsch als Zweitsprache), which means German as a second language. Even after the child joins regular class, he/she is offered a DaZ class, which typically takes place after school hours ( after 1:10 pm) on the school premises. In these classes, children get the opportunity to better their german language skills and also take additional help, if needed, for completing their homework or understanding something taught in the regular class etc.
The school typically informs the parents about such courses and takes their agreement, after which the child attends those classes once/twice a week. The teacher in charge gives the practice material, like worksheets etc.
Is there any exam at the end of the DaZ classes?
No. The idea of the classes is to provide extra german language support to children. However, if the teacher wishes, he/she may take tests in the class to gauge how well the students have learnt. The child’s performance in DaZ is entered in the report card (called Zeugnis in German). However, the subject is not graded with Note 1-6. Usually, there is a remark next to it. These remarks are given as mgEtg (mit großem Erfolg teilgenommen – participated with great success) or mEtg (mit Erfolg teilgenommen – participated with success) etc.
Are there other special German language courses that children need to take up?
Yes. There is a program called DSD (Deutsche Sprachdiplom) for children above 14. In this program, children read from a specific book and are trained by a specialized teacher on reading, writing, speaking and hearing. Schools offer this course free of cost to children between 14 and 16 years of age. Parents must bear the exam cost if the child is above 16.
At the end of the course, children give an exam called the DSD Prüfung, in which they are tested on all the abovementioned aspects. The exam takes place on two separate days – On one day, they are tested on their reading, writing and hearing skills and on another day, on their speaking skills. For the speaking part, they prepare a presentation on a topic of their choice and present it to a panel of internal and external teachers.
Before the final exam, children are also given a chance to give a ‘Probeprüfung’ -a practice exam in which the same format as the actual exam is followed. This practice exam takes place a few months before the actual exam. It helps them gauge their level and improve. The teachers give them feedback, and based on this feedback, they get a month or two to better themselves.
The DSD exam typically takes place around February/March, and the results arrive two months later. Children who clear the exam are awarded a certificate proving their language proficiency at the B1 level. Children who don’t pass are given one more chance to give the exam.
How is the Intensivklasse experience for children?
It depends on the child and how long he/she stays in the intensive class. Children who generally demonstrate a will to learn and are motivated tend to move faster, finish the course, and move to regular classes.
Children who are less interested in languages or are generally slow are made to stay longer in the intensive class. For such children, it sometimes becomes a challenge. One challenge is boredom because they are all the time only learning language and nothing else. The second challenge is that they don’t get to learn other subjects they may be interested in because their language level is not yet up to the mark. So they may not feel excited about school.
In addition, the children from intensive classes are not ‘officially’ a part of the school. Neither do they participate in other school activities like fests etc., nor do they have class trips etc., as a part of their class plan, so things could get monotonous and boring for them.
Moreover, some children also feel stressed because they don’t know till when the Intensivklasse with continue for them and what happens after that. Sometimes the child may aspire to be in a particular school system, say Gymnasium, but the teacher may feel that Realschule is better for him/her. While the final decision still lies with the parents, the child may need to perform under pressure.
Having said that, intensive class is something that all children, who come with little or no german knowledge, have to go through. It gives them a good foundation in the language, which is a must if they plan to study in a public school in Germany.
How is the overall German learning experience for children?
Once children come to Germany, German learning becomes an inherent part of their lives. They begin with intensive classes and later do DAZ, DSD etc. In addition, they learn German as a subject, in which they learn German literature and grammar. And, not to mention that they learn all other subjects also in German ( if they are not in a bilingual school). The learning is steep, and children make many mistakes in the beginning, but the exposure they get in school, makes them better with time.
I shall soon post more articles on the German schooling system. Keep watching this space.
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