Where can you live?

Students

Student dormitories of Deutsches Studentenwerk (DSW – German National Association for Student Affairs) are most popular amongst international students in Germany. Studentenwerk (student services organisation) is an organisation whose task is to provide services as accommodation or cheap meals to German students.

If you are inscribed to a German university you can apply for a room at DSW. Don’t forget to do this as soon as possible, because there are much more applicants than places.

Language Students

Many students who prepare for German university language exams are not yet inscribed to a German university, that’s why they cannot apply for a student dormitory. So there’s no other way than to look for private accommodation.

The easiest but in most cases most expensive way to find a room is to let your language school do the job for you. Language schools for international students usually offer all types of accommodation such as private apartments, shared flats (WG), hostels, hotels, guest stay in families, and so on. But surely they’ll charge you for their services.

So, how to find a place to stay on your own? Remember that it might not be too easy to find a good place depending on what city you want to stay especially if your financial resources are limited. That means that you should start your research as early as possible.

Shared Flats

Many German students live in WGs (Wohngemeinschaften). WG means that several students share one apartment. Each student has his own bedroom, but they share the kitchen, the bathroom and perhaps other rooms depending on the apartment. Also they have to care about cleaning the shared rooms.

Perhaps this may not seem too attractive to you, but once you have studied rental charges in German university cities you’ll find that this is not the worst alternative. 😉

There are many popular websites where you can search for places in WGs. Most popular are wg-gesucht.de, studenten-wg.de or wg-suche.de.

Please keep in mind that most offerings around there are reliable but be cautious anyway especially if you ‘ll have to pay something in advance.

Apartments

If a WG does not conform with your ideas and you have enough money in your pockets you can take a chance on the “normal” real estate market. You can check one of the big real estate portals in Germany as Immobilienscout or Immowelt.

Unfortunately all the big ones are only available in German language. On Google you’ll find smaller portals for speakers of English, but offerings there are very limited.

Mind that usually you’ll have to be in Germany to sign a rental contract – what I would recommend anyway because you’ll be able to see whether everything is as you expected.

If you are already in Germany you can also pay a real estate agent to do the work for you. Many real estate agents charge three month’s rent as a commission.

What is DSH?

DSH is an abbreviation for “Deutsche SprachprĂźfung fĂźr den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber” which could be roughly translated as German language exam for university admission of foreign students.

DSH is accepted by many German universities as proof of German language proficiency. DSH is run by certain German universities.

Although there are some efforts to make DSH more consistent, DSH is not a standardized exam as for example TestDaF. That means form, content and difficulty of DSH can vary considerably between different universities.

The DSH exam

In many universities DSH exam covers two parts: written and oral examination. The written part often comprises the three resp. four sub-tests reading comprehension and grammar, listening comprehension and writing (text production).

Results of DSH are usually expressed as a percentage, which is mapped to a so called “DSH-level” (DSH-1, DSH-2 or DSH-3).

For example DSH-1 means that at least 57% of the requirements were met in both the written and oral examinations. DSH-2 means that at least 67% of the requirements were met and DSH-3 means that at least 82% of the requirements were met.

In many universities DSH-1 offers only limited access to some courses, while DSH-2 and DSH-3 guarantee access to all courses.

How much does DSH cost?

Examination fees for DSH differ from university to university, but usually the prices are oriented on the price of TestDaF in Germany, which is 175 Euro at the moment. (July 2015)

Registration

As I said above DSH is run by German universities. Therefor DSH usually is not open to everyone but only to prospective students of the university, that offers DSH. Registration has to be done in the local university department, that is responsible for DSH exam.

What is TestDaF?

TestDaF is an acronym formed by the word “Test” and the abbreviation “DaF” (Deutsch als Fremdsprache) which is translated as GFL (German as a Foreign Language).

German language proficiency test for university admission

TestDaF is a German language proficiency test, whose main purpose is testing German language skills for university admission. TestDaF is recognized – as far as I know – by all German universities as proof of German language proficiency.

The TestDaF Institute

TestDaF is developed by the TestDaF Institute in Bochum, Germany, which is supported by well-known German institutions as the German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz), German Academic Exchange Service and Goethe-Institut. It has been licensed to “Test Centers” around the world, where you can take TestDaF six times a year.

The TestDaF exam

The TestDaF test covers four parts: reading comprehension, listening comprehension, writing and speaking. Results of every part of the exam are separately assigned to one of three levels the so called “TestDaF levels”, in German “TestDaF-Niveaus” (TDN): TestDaF level 5 – TDN 5 (highest), TestDaF level 4 – TDN 4 (intermediate) and TestDaF level 3 – TDN 3 (lowest). TestDaF does not differentiate lower levels than TDN 3. If you did not reach the minimum level TDN 3 in one part of the exam, your certificate states “under TDN 3” for this part.

How much does TestDaF cost?

Examination fees for TestDaF differ from country to country. At the moment (2015) the price in German test centers is 175 Euro.

Registration

You can register for TestDaF online at www.testdaf.de. The registration period starts about eight weeks before the test and lasts about four weeks.

What do the levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 mean?

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is one of the major outputs of an early nineties project by the Council of Europe. An important goal of this project was to provide a reference for comparing language skills, language programs and language exams. One main idea of the CEFR was to describe achievements of language learners on six so called reference levels.

The Reference Levels

The six levels of the Common European Framework are A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. A1 is the lowest level and C2 the highest. The characters A, B and C divide the six levels into three subgroups translated as Basic User (A), Independent User (B) and Proficient User (C). In the early days we used “Beginner” (A), “Intermediate” (B) and “Advanced” (C). 😉

The six levels of the CEFR are nowadays widely accepted as a European standard for grading language proficiency. Language skills are specified in four different fields (“Listening”, “Reading”, “Speaking” and “Writing”) on each level.

The Global Scale

You can think of the “Framework of Reference” as a thick book, that describes language learners’ skills very thoroughly. But as you know in real life no one wants to read a thick book to figure out the level of his/her language skills.

That’s why the most important characteristics of each level had been summarized in the so called global scale.

In the global scale you can find out for example that at level A1 a language learner is able to “introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details (..)” and “can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.”

For C1, the level required for German university language exams like TestDaF or DSH, the level description sounds clearly more ambitious: “Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.”

The global scale with the short description of all levels you can download here for example:

Global scale – Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)

Only Recommendations

You should keep in mind that the CEFR is only a recommendation. There is no institution that is responsible for example to map language courses or language exams to the CEFR. That means that language schools can define on their own what level their language courses or their language exams have.

If you check the description of level C1 in the global scale (see above), you can easily imagine that there are different interpretations of the meaning of “demanding, longer text” or “express him/herself fluently”.

Anyway the global scale can help you to provide a suggestion of your language level, if you try to look at your language skills in an objective way.

What prerequisites do you need?

Some students think, that they might need some knowledge of German before they can start their German course in Germany.

It is definitely a recommendation to learn as much German as you can, before you come to Germany, but it is not mandatory. A lot of international students start from absolutely or almost zero.

If you really have zero or almost zero knowledge of German you’ll definitely have to expect that learning German will be a full time job for you, as intensive German courses for students in Germany advance very quickly.

But there is no special level of German required before you start. So the only requirements for your German course in Germany are that you have enough money to pay for the course and the cost of living and that you’ll get a language course visa.

About these topics I have written here: