Pic by Rainer Sturm/PIXELIO
That Berlin is a multicultural city is evident in the many options for bilingual childcare and schooling. In almost every neighborhood there are several child care centers and kindergartens with a bilingual language concept, mostly based on immersion - and there are a number of languages available. The range of bilingual or international primary and secondary schools is less extensive but is still considerable.
Creches & Kindergartens (taking children from 1 to 6 years old)*
Most of the child care centers, kindergartens and primary schools listed below offer so-called language immersion programs. This means that there are two caretakers, one speaking English (or the institute’s designated language) and the other speaking German. German is integrated into daily life, while the language of communication, or immersion, is English (or Spanish, Turkish, French, Polish, etc.). Children have contact with both languages for approximately the same amount of time. The concept is designed for German children as well as for children with a bilingual background.
Berlin is also one of the top cities in Germany with regard to childcare for toddlers, and most kindergartens offer a daycare group for children starting at either 1 or 2 years old.
Primary schools (for children 6 to 12 years old)*
According to German law, you are required to enrol your child in school by the time he/she reaches six years of age.
The state of Berlin has a couple of videos published on their website: Videos - Berlin.de, they come in different languages but not in English. Bulgarian, Arabic, Turkish and Romanian is offered. The speaker speaks slowly and clearly, so if you speak some limited German you may be able to understand.
Berlin offers a vast landscape of primary schools offering bilingual or multilingual programs. English, Russian, Polish, French, and Spanish are just some of the languages available, making it relatively easy to find a school where your child is exposed to his/her mother tongue. English is the language sought after most, and therefore it is more difficult to find a slot in an English bilingual school.
Classes are mostly offered following the immersion concept, with native speakers teaching courses in German as well as in the "other" language. All primary schools offer some form of afternoon childcare, taking into consideration the needs of parents who work. Most of the bilingual schools are private and require a tuition fee.
In regular public schools, first and second graders are taught in combination classes, and the subjects are flexible, as educators assume that pupils of this age have very different skill levels. Over the course of the school year, teachers set up smaller working groups to respond to students’ progress and needs, enabling educators to help children explore and expand their skills on a more personalized basis. The regular schools are free of charge and a slot in the neighbourhood school is guaranteed. Usually, there are minimum 2 schools considered neighbourhood school. The commute in walking is up to 20 minutes maximum, more likely it is around 10 minutes.
Berlin has adopted a concept which has long been discussed in the rest of Germany: the timing of the transition between primary and secondary school. In contrast to other German states, where children attend primary school up to age 10, in Berlin and Brandenburg children attend primary school until age 12 (grade 6) and only then are evaluated regarding the best secondary schooling options. This is especially helpful for children who tend to be "late" developers. And it is also beneficial for children who are slower than others because of language issues.
Most of the bilingual schools are private schools and are therefore outside of the Berlin school authority. That means you have to enrol your child with them actively. Often, slots are not given before registration has been conducted, or at least a lease agreement is signed, as it is not uncommon for expatriates' plans to change.
When planning your move there are two ways to tackle this. Try to find a school first and then an apartment and be prepared to have a considerable commute, meaning more than 30 minutes. The rental market is very, very fierce in Berlin and the likelihood that you do not find a home in the immediate neighbourhood of the school is much bigger than finding one. The disadvantage is not only the commute but also that it is impossible to arrange playdates with classmates. Or, you find the apartment first, then have a look at the local school assigned to the address and give it a try. In case your child really suffers you keep monitoring if a slot at one of the bilingual schools becomes available and then change.
From experience we can reassure you that children up to 10 or 11 years old very quickly adopt and learn the language in just a blink of the eye. After a year, all of them are fluent, unless extraordinary shy of with handicap.
Welcome classes for children with no German skills
As long as your child speaks little or no German when in grade 3 and up, they will usually attend a so-called welcome class in order to acquire language skills. Grade 3 means usually around 8 or 9 years old. In these welcome classes, the necessary knowledge of German is conveyed and the transition to a regular class is prepared. The classes were invented during the period where a lot Syrian and Afghan refugees came to Berlin. It should be wisely considered whether these classes are benficial to your child. Teachers are of course specifically trained to teach German as second language in a structured way, and also to work with traumatised children, but no classmate will speak German. Participating in regular classes may be a big hurdle, but the language may come much more easily to your child as it is environed by proper German from all sides, teachers and classmates, morning and afternoon (playdates).
In order to be able to attend a welcome class, the parents must first register the child in the coordination office of the education authority in the district where they live. The school authority decides which in school and in which class a child will start and whether the child should attend a welcome class. The age, a language test and the school doctor's examination of the child are taken into account. The parents then go with the child to the assigned school in person and register it there.
While the parents' wishes count little, they are considered, too. If you don't want your child in a Welcome Class we recommend to help your child learn at least some basic phrases before the interview. Typical questions asked are about name, age, family and where you are from. The different ways to ask questions should be understood. The officer will speak slowly and will repeat and phrase differently, but at some stage, your child shoul dbe able to understand, and answer. More sophisticated questions are about friends and hobbies and school education in your home country, like how many children are in a class, the favorite subject, whehter teacher was male or female, how long a school day was.
We offer crash courses remotely, and also face-to-face in your home country together with our language partner. the latter only for a significant volume, i.e. when a parent also takes classes.
Secondary schools (for children from 13 to 19 years old)*
After students graduate from primary school, there are three types of secondary schooling options in Berlin:
- Integrated secondary schools ("Integrierte Sekundärschule") - designed as preparation for university or vocational training
- High schools ("Gymnasiums") - designed as preparation for university education
- Private foreign schools
Students who attend integrated secondary school or high school graduate with all of the available graduation certificates in Germany: Hauptschulabschluss, Realschulabschluss and Abitur. Depending on their individual profile, students can also graduate with an International Baccalaureate (IB) certificate or the foreign equivalent. Private foreign schools usually offer graduation certificates in accordance with the educational norms of their respective countries.
In a written evaluation at the end of a student’s primary school education, the primary school recommends the type of secondary school best suited to the student: an integrated secondary school or a high school. This recommendation is based on student performance, learning skills, and student preferences as well as matching offers from the different types of schools.
Parents are free to choose their child’s secondary school, which can be located in their district of residence or another district. It is important to consider, however, that schools sometimes receive more applications than they have space for. In this case, they make their admissions decisions based on a student’s distance from the school and whether they have siblings already attending the school.
While you have the freedom to select where your child attends school, it is important to consider the primary school’s evaluation to ensure that your child's capabilities match the secondary school’s requirements.
For example, if you register your child at a high school (Gymnasium) despite a recommendation for an integrated secondary school, you must attend an additional consultation at the high school. In this case, it is up to you to make an appointment with the school(s) of your choice. In an interview, the school's admissions officer or the headmaster will discuss the school's expectations and requirements in more detail and complete a form verifying your participation in the consultation. This form must be submitted to all the schools to which your child is applying.
* We try to keep this page up-to-date, however, whether a creche group is opened or not depends very much on the number of children applying for one and the availability of a teacher. For toddlers, it is therefore recommended to give all Kitas a call in case something changed.