Enfeeblement triumphs Sophistication

How is German as a Foreign Language doing in Egypt? The short answer: quantity wise never better. The quality aspect needs elaboration.

When I came to Egypt in late 1992, opportunities to learn German were few.

There were three German schools in Cairo and Alexandria. The Deutsche Schule der Borromäerinnen (DSB) in Kairo was founded in 1904, after the success of its sister school in Alexandria, which was founded in 1884 to educate Germans and Austrians, whose parents were working in Alexandria at the time.

The initiative for the Deutsche Evangelische Oberschule (DEO) was established by the Protestant congregation of Cairo. The school was built along with a rectory in the spring of 1873 on land given to the Prussian consul von Theremin by the Khedive Ismail.

The sole provider to achieve a sound proficiency level for learning German as a foreign language had been the Goethe-Institute Kairo, established in 1951, a semi-governmental actor, under the umbrella of the Foreign Office assigned for ‘foreign cultural politics’.


When in November 1993 the EU started to create its pillars, naturally, the goals of German foreign cultural policy underwent a new impetus.

Ever since the ’70’ies, the parole for learning German as a foreign language has been ‘German for Everybody’, in contrast to instructing only the elites of foreign countries, which constituted the self-understanding in the ’50-ies and ’60-ies of

course book authors especially for primers.

With Germany seeking foreigners for less sophisticated work-places beginning in the late ’60-ies, the traditional approach to learn German has been perceived as too difficult. Soon, assisting political aspirations, text-books started to flood the markets, in which grammar was sought to lose its ‘horror’.

Ever since, you’ll find new books almost annually. Competition between publish houses in the meantime have become highly professionalized.

Teachers or University graduates from Egypt receive 2-weeks-stay-all-inclusive plus pocket money ‘work-shop’-invitations from publishing houses.

The Universities in Egypt, all of whom have departments of German studies, with thousands of freshmen every year, certainly are an important target-group.

Over two  decades, I have noticed, that the level of acquired language skills from

University graduates, has improved. – When in the early ’90-ies, an average graduate came to Zentrum für Deutsch [ZFD] to enhance their German language skills, a replacement test usually resulted in ‘early-beginners-level’. That had changed into ‘mid-beginners’ by the end of the ’90-ies. By 2005 about 70% of the graduates qualified for lower intermediate.

I have hardly met any average graduate from the German studies departments until now, who were adequately eloquent or fit to take up any German language related job-assignment, be it as teacher in governmental schools or in the very crucial field of call-center business, let alone tourism.

As I stated in the beginning: there have never been more places to learn German in Egypt like now. A boost can be noticed after the revolution.

Since about 2006, the federal government of Germany started an acquisition initiative of foreign medical doctors and engineers.

As main-stream instruction books are in practice being boiled down to a few basics, with class room work focused on making it to pass one of the German-language-standard-tests to obtain an officially acknowledged certificate for the respective proficiency level.

It should come to no surprise to learn, that the proficiency-standards, set by the commission of European Framework for Languages [GER] in 2000, have been lowered in the meantime. So we are seeing an international trend, rather than an Egyptian dilemma.

As for Egypt: the quality of places to learn German has deteriorated in direct proportion to their growth.

Why is that? From my perspective, this development has a lot to do with copying the role-model. The role-model is the Goethe-Institute (GI), entrusted by the Egyptian government with furthering, fostering and supervising the German language in Egypt.

Despite budget-cuts in 2000, the GI did exactly that. They can provide a clean sheet. They offer teacher-training courses, ending with a certificate, against a fee of a few thousand EGP, they have sponsored and heavily supported a German language center, run and owned by a then lecturer, now Professor from the German department of Al-Alzun, and they are sending delegates to schools, who offer German, in case they request their expertise.

As the standard of language proficiency has deteriorated dramatically over the last decade, personal assigned to evaluate the German skills of potential

candidates, initially found increasing comfort in standard certificates, only to find, those certificates have lost their validity; as a result a spiral of increasing proficiency-levels has started. This comes from the sensible field of medical doctors, where miscommunication between doctor and patient raised grave concerns.

Coming back to the multitude of possibilities to learn German in Egypt: as the GI and their local cooperation partner are talking quality, while being committed to quantity: this attitude has inspired to ‘that cake should be big enough, to provide enough for everyone’, especially, since traffic and commutation still are plaguing all. So many centers opened, advertising ‘we do exactly the same as Goethe’, and that still has an appeal.


What we need in Egypt is a supervisor for German, who is not concerned about its own economical survival.

In 2000 the GI actively sought to increase its revenue. Apart from the leading staffers who are being paid from another budget, the GI should be profitable by now, as the number of standard tests is skyrocketing and their courses and teacher trainings surely bring in posh amounts of income.

Historically, Egypt has assigned high importance to establish sustainable ties with Germany, as one can conclude from the very early founding and perseverance of the German schools.

Parallel to this, economical ties to German key companies such as Siemens might certainly have profited a lot, thinking of local employees, most of whom enjoyed their school-days in one of the German schools.

When I came to Egypt in late 1992, tourism had been booming, tour-guide has been regarded as an attractive and promising career-prospect.

Later, in early 2000’s, the service-centers-hotline business took German department graduates by storm, as they have been offering well-paid jobs in their German accounts.

More technical companies, requiring sophisticated skills next to the language mastery, have set up shop in Egypt, as of mid 2000’s. Now, as Egypt is on its way to recover from the years of unrest, it seems that Egypt is becoming the hub of the Middle East for innovative projects in all sorts of fields.

An excellent environment to start and expand ones business with local staff, one might think.

As I outlined before:

To meet the demands of German language proficiency that allows communication on a meaningful -or work-efficient – level employers needs to make sure, that  their human recourses departments are located in Egypt and staffed with competent, old-fashioned personnel-officers, who, when it comes to German, have the capacity to tell ‘liability’ from ‘treasure’.






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