Heike Wendta
Anke Walzebug
Wilfried Bos
Daniel S. Smith
TU Dortmund University

Albert Bremerich-Vos
University of Duisburg-Essen

Language and Literacy

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the official language of administration and the judiciary is German. In accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of the Council of Europe, languages of minority groups with a history of residence in Germany (e.g., Danish, Frisian, Sorbian, Romany, and Low German) are acknowledged regionally as official languages.1 The demographic, cultural, and social heterogeneity in Germany differs among regions. Overall in 2014, 20.3 percent of the German population and 31 percent of students ages 6 to 20 had an immigrant background. Apart from German, Turkish and Russian were the most commonly spoken languages in families of fourth grade students in 2011.2,3

Although there are no legislative provisions on the language of instruction, German usually is the language of instruction in preprimary schools, general education and vocational schools, and institutions of higher education. Exceptions include some private schools, bilingual schools and classes, and extra classes offered in the mother tongue for students whose native language is not German.4

Many national and regional initiatives are in place to encourage students’ enthusiasm for reading. Organizations such as the German Society for Reading and Writing (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Lesen und Schreiben)—a department of the International Reading Association—advocate fostering literacy, and those efforts include its “Children’s Ten Rights to Reading and Writing.”5 The Reading Foundation (Stiftung Lesen), in cooperation with nonprofit organizations and partners in various fields like childcare institutions, schools, and libraries as well as in the media, has projects that aim to encourage reading.6 Further national initiatives, including those responding to the recent surge of migrants to Germany as well as those directed at teaching reading, are described in detail below.

  • a This is an updated version of Tarelli, I., Bos. W., & Bremerich-Vos, A. (2012). Germany. In I.V.S. Mullis, M.O. Martin, C.A. Minnich, G.M. Stanco, A. Arora, V.A.S. Centurino, & C.E. Castle (Eds.), PIRLS 2011 encyclopedia: Education policy and curriculum in reading (pp. 313–340). Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College. Retrieved from Relevant sections are reproduced or adapted from Wendt, H., Smith, D.S., & Bos, W. (2016). Germany. In I.V.S. Mullis, M.O. Martin, S. Goh, & K. Cotter (Eds.), TIMSS 2015 encyclopedia: Education policy and curriculum in mathematics and science. Retrieved from