Migrant Lives

Learn The Language, The Only Real Path For Immigrant Integration

Refugees who are allowed to stay in Germany must attend an integration course. But many of them fail the language test. Why is that?

Language courses with migrants in Roedermark, Germany
Language courses with migrants in Roedermark, Germany
Hannah Beitzer

BERLIN — There are beautiful moments in the life of a language teacher. Going to the market with their class, cooking together and sharing the new vocabulary that comes with it. And there are the difficult moments as well, says Lena Kettler, who has taught integration courses for refugees in Berlin: For example when the topic in the textbook is housing, and the participants have to describe where they live. "I know that they have lost their homes, and are living in a refugee shelter."

People like Kettler have great expectations for Germany. Despite the change since Angela Merkel's "we can do it" slogan in the summer of 2015, language remains the real key to integration. Classes designed to give refugees this opportunity are not lacking. They range from friendly language cafés to the official integration courses of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees for migrants who have good chances to stay.

The courses include 600 hours of language classes and 100 hours of "orientation," including lessons about the German legal system, history, culture and values. At the end, there is a language test. However, there are doubts about the success of these courses. Not even half of the participants who make it to the final test achieve the desired language level B1, which is the basis for simple jobs. Why is that? And what does that mean for the broader national integration project? Here's a look from multiple points of view:

The Adult Education director

At the Volkshochschule Berlin Mitte, an adult education center, 8,000 people learn German each year in various courses, with 60 government-funded integration courses running at the same time. Director Michael Weiss says expectations are always high, but "change with the political situation."

The mission in 2015 was to open classes to as many people as possible. This succeeded, although in some places the quality of classes took a hit. New teachers appeared, even driving schools started offering lessons. Teachers were in short supply and were trained hastily. Teachers, who had previously taught mainly academics from southern Europe, now met a new, heterogeneous student body, comprised of Syrian linguists as well as people who had never attended school.

The course material is not much help, because it often does not correspond to reality.

"After New Year's Eve in Cologne, there was also the expectation that the courses should convey our values," says Weiss, referring to the sexual assaults by non-Germans that made headlines for months. The Germans do not even agree on what their values ​​are. And the course material is not much help, because it often does not correspond to reality. "Someone named Mustafa is never a German in the textbooks." Of course, there have been German Mustafas for a long time. "Showing how diverse society is would be a good starting point for integration," says Weiss. "Instead, the value debate often revolves around what you can and can not do here."

The teacher

Lena Kettler taught integration courses in 2016, followed by lecturers for the courses. She is using a fake name, but wants to speak openly: "Many teachers hardly dare to deviate from the textbook, work chapter by chapter." But she is convinced: A trip to the market could sometimes bring more, just because the students then use the language in everyday life. "Many of my students barely had any contact with Germans."

But of course there is a reason why many lecturers prefer to avoid such experiences. Because at the end of the course is the final test — and it doesn't always fit into everyday life.

Walking along the Berlin Wall — Photo: Luc van Loon

The linguist

The written tests are particularly difficult for people who have learned to read and write in Germany, reports linguist Christoph Schroeder from the University of Potsdam. "It's not just about the pure mastery of writing," but to find your way around in another world of experience. "For most of us it is normal to create worlds through writing and to move in them."

For people who have never held a pen, it is not. "This is shown, for example, in the following question: Bananas grow where it is hot. In England it is cool. Do bananas grow there?" For people who are used to writing, the answer is clear," says Schroeder, and it doesn't matter whether you know something about England or not.

The language classes are not sufficiently geared to this audience.

Unlike people who have had no access to written material previously, "There is a greater likelihood that they will answer: I do not know, I've never been to England." The language classes are not sufficiently geared to this audience. "It's always said: Language is the key to integration," he says. "It should actually be: Integration is the key to language."

The migration researcher

Jochen Oltmer, migration researcher at the University of Osnabrück, says that integration amounts to "networking between those who come and those who are already there." As important as language is, a 600-hour language course is not networking, because the other person is missing. This can be translated to the 100 units of field research: The principle of "men and women are equal" is something other than experiencing in exchange with others what it means. Taking an integration course doesn't make you automatically integrated. Germany is best learned through everyday life.

The refugees

As important as the courses are, real life is crucial to integration. In the clothing store of Moabit Hilft, a Berlin refugee organization, Iranian-born Maryam guides visitors through the rooms. The young woman, whose name was changed at her request, speaks in an accented, fluent German: "Just go over here, please." Her integration course has just begun, although she came to Germany in 2015. At the time, she was pregnant with her second child. After the birth, she attended a literacy and a language course. Although she was in school for nine years in Iran, she first had to learn the Latin alphabet. She is still missing some steps to obtain the B1 language certificate. Why does she still speak German so well? "I am a Christian and have found many German friends in the parish," she says. "I'm not that good at writing yet."

Real life is crucial to integration.

She has one goal in mind: "I was a housewife in Iran, but here I want to become a nurse, or a pharmacist" — both occupations for which level B1 is insufficient. So Maryam still has some courses ahead of her. If you believe the experts, then the course is set for her successful integration, without a certificate. Because she has a goal in mind; because she feels she is succeeding in her community, in her volunteer work. And because she can use what she learns in the language course in her daily life. And much of what she will hear in the orientation course will already sound familiar to her, from the everyday life she leads in Germany.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport


Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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