With a number of students wanting to learn a foreign language, and an equal number of institutes mushrooming at every corner – it becomes a difficult choice to weed out  the unsuitables from the rest of the crowd. Taking the specific scenario of German, and survival in Germany – it goes without saying that a minimum of a B1 (3 levels) is a must for anyone who intends to make Germany their base for a few years – be it for work or study. Despite many Universities offering courses entirely in English, I would still emphasise the importance of learning the language up to B1 – just so you will have more confidence and for easy transition when you actually get there.

What should you be able to do after 3 levels of German?

According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) – a B1 student has :

The ability to express oneself in a limited way in familiar situations and to deal in a general way with non routine information.”
Example: Can ask to open an account at a bank, provided that the procedure is straightforward.

But what is the actual scenario?

Many people seem to have successfully surmounted the hurdle that is “Zerifikat Deutsch”. That means the candidate has undergone up to 350 to 400 hours of practice in German, and thereby a certain level of fluency can be expected from them. But sadly, employers seem to feel otherwise. In reality the Zertifikat Deutsch unfortunately does not seem to translate to the relevant fluency. Harish, who currently has completed his Masters at Esslingen, says “one cannot equate B1 with fluency. I have friends who have a B1 but not so fluent..sometimes they don’t even get the pronunciations of basic words right” . Harish who studied his three levels from The Languedge says he was quite confident with his B1 “I’ve had all my Interviews in German and I was able to manage all of them without any problem. Every time the panel at the interview asked me how and where I learnt German because they were surprised that I spoke fluently and understood what they spoke. “

Bharadwaj GS and Vidhya – also currently studying in Germany concur, that while they have had a good foundation with their B1, the same cannot be said of other students who have a similar certificate. Asserts Bharadwaj “ I can say this with firm conviction that most of my friends with a “recognized” B1 can’t even hold  normal conversations like I am able to. Yes, sometimes I felt that I was slightly lacking the vocabulary that the others had… But I was always able to communicate and get my point across”

So keeping that in mind let us analyse – how does one evaluate the effectiveness of a candidate with a B1 certificate? Go SOFT on them. Surprised? Here’s how –

Scrutinize

So your candidates possess that Zertifikat Deutsch when they come for their interviews. It could be from a recognized institute, but what we are really looking for is communication and if the candidate would be able to manage a real life / work situation. It is all very great with the right grammar, and fancy vocabulary – but can he recall it as and when needed? So,scrutinize the certificate and focus on their “ Sprechen”  scores–  one could have had a bad  day with the listening, panicked a bit while writing, or just blanked out on jargon when it comes to reading. But speaking requires consistency – it is only when a candidate has been applying himself right throughout the course – would he be able to successfully conduct himself in a way where he makes himself understood clearly.

Observe

An effective B1 candidate would actually be confident and would take the effort to make himself/ herself be understood. He/ she will try to use more examples, and synonyms in order to make a lucid presentation. He/ she has no qualms about asking you to repeat yourself in case they have not understood something the first time.

Filter

This is a judgement call. I have seen many an A2 student who possess the caliber of a B1 student and vice-versa. So again, as has been reiterated above – one cannot just equate a B1 certificate with fluency. Rajsri, who works with Amazon India feels “A B2 is actually better suited for work environment conversations whereas if your work entails a majority of written work – then a B1 would be sufficient.”

Test

It is always better to test your candidate a bit in an extempore situation in order to aid you with the previous step of filtering. Ask them their opinions about an everyday topic /event, have a general conversation to assess how well they articulate their thoughts and then make a call if the candidate would be a good fit for your organization.

To sum up, omnia perfecta sunt or in a world where everything were perfect –  a perfect teacher imparting lessons to a perfect class – maybe the B1 could be taken at face value. But in the real world, things being as they are – it would make sense to take a bit of initiative and apply the principles of going SOFT to ensure a good decision being made.

Mathangi has been involved in translations during the initial stages of her career. She has been teaching / training/ conducting workshops in German language and culture for corporates,universities and individuals since 2004. Passionate about languages- French and Spanish also are part of this MBA graduate’s qualifications. Her clients include Bosch, Dürr AG,Dow chemicals, Citigroup Global Services to name a few. Her other interests include travel , long distance running and writing. She was a freelance journalist with the Times of India as well.
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