Wuppertal , Germany

Taking a National Language and Integration Class Local

Stadt Wuppertal

March 6, 2013

Language training and employment services open doors to work, school and the everyday business of daily life

Language fluency opens or closes doors for many immigrants, whether at work, school or during the everyday business of daily life. Learning the language is the single most important lever to integrating into a new culture.

In 2005, a new Immigration Act in Germany introduced provisions to ensure all newcomers from non-European Union countries receive language training. The City of Wuppertal acted immediately to build on its experience in creating a multicultural society that valued diversity.

With a population from over 150 source countries, Wuppertal has a long history of working to build an open, welcoming culture. In 1980 Wuppertal opened the state of Nord-Rhein Westphalia’s first and only adult education program dedicated to supporting foreign workers (VHS, die Bergischen Volkshochschule). Since 2002, the Department of Immigration and Integration (Sprach/Integrationskurs Beratung) has been a central contact for both newcomers and local residents while supporting the city administration by monitoring local progress.

Tailored language training

Wuppertal’s practical approach aims to meet the needs of program applicants, their families and local employers. Language level and professional background are assessed during a personal interview by city social workers who are trained to identify additional factors that can interfere with language and job acquisition. A continuous process of support and feedback ensures that applicants do not fall through the cracks.

Training is offered in 14 language schools across the city – part-time, full-time, day-time and evenings. The classes consist of 600 hours of German language instruction and 30 hours of classes about the basics of German culture, history and law. Applicants are required to have had a residency permit for at least two years, but many who participate in the language programs are from EU countries or are long-time residents who can still benefit from the free language training. Successful completion of the training means an accelerated naturalization process –seven rather than eight years.

Wuppertal also offers special integration courses for young people, senior citizens, women and even German nationals with poor language skills. Customizing the approch to the audience means greate success in the longterm. For example, parenting courses are available for those with young children; classes are offered with childcare; older immigrants have the option of taking classes at a slower pace; and discussions are tailored to the interests of young people. Additionally, specialized courses are available for individuals with limited schooling in their home countries and may have basic literacy needs.

The participation of the local job centre helps ensure newcomers are also better oriented to the realities of the job market. Importantly, the program includes services for the unemployed, often long-term residents with a migrant background still marginalized by low language skills or unemployment.

Regular interaction between Wuppertal’s language programs, employment and integration services and the Federal Bureau of Migration has resulted in new program development, including: for the first time, language courses for deaf persons offered in schools and migrant-led organizations; bridging courses to connect integration to formal language classes; and vocational language classes targeted to job level (from high skilled professionals to qualified craftsmen to low-skilled workers).


Interest in the nationally-sponsored language and integration courses was high right from the start in Wuppertal. Although federally-imposed quotas were cancelled by 2008, the municipality continues to regularly increase the number of reserved spaces available within the city’s program. Since the 2005 Immigration Act, almost 6,000 people have attended the courses, making Wuppertal a nation-wide leader in attendance.

Today, immigrant integration in Wuppertal is a more of a movement than a city service, and has the support of the mayor, the city manager and all democratic parties in the city council, and is regarded as a model of social and economic success to other German cities.

For this Good Idea contact:

Christine Roddewig, Stadt Wuppertal,
Ressort Zuwanderung und Integration
An der Bergbahn 33
Wuppertal, Nordrhein-Westfalen , Deutschland,

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