6 German language certifications to prove your German skills

6 German language certifications to prove your German skills

by Lea Hauke

Updated October 20, 2023

There are many good reasons you might want to acquire a German language certification. Maybe you’re applying to a German university, or perhaps you’re interested in working in Germany and require a working visa. There are a few options available, and you should make sure to choose the option that best suits your needs. 

Let’s dive into the ocean of German language certifications together and figure out which one of them is best for you. Here are six different options to assess your German language skills. 

  1. Goethe certificate
  2. TestDaF certificate
  3. DTZ certificate
  4. DSD certificate
  5. DSH certificate
  6. TELC certificate

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German language certifications overview

There are a number of German language certifications to choose from. They are targeted at learners in different circumstances, ranging from a more general approach to assess the language proficiency of foreign workers, including university students or doctors and nurses who are seeking to support the German health care system. In some cases, a certification is needed to apply for a visa in Germany. To set a standard for language levels, the CEFR (Common European Framework for Reference for Languages), developed a six-step system. This system ranks language proficiency levels from A1 to C2, from “basic” to “proficient”. 

We listed six German language certifications and the available language proficiency levels in the table below. 

1. Goethe CertificateChildren and adults, students A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2
2. TestDaF CertificateStudents and Workers at universities B2-C1
3. DTZ CertificateImmigrantsA2-B1
4. DSD CertificateStudentsA2, B1, B2, C1
5. DSH CertificateStudentsB2, C1, C2
6. TELCStudentsA1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2

1. Goethe Certificate

The Goethe Certificate is administered by Goethe-Institute, an independent organization which is dedicated to the promotion of German language learning and cultural exchange. There are over 160 institutions in 100 countries all over the world that offer exams. German learners can take an examination at any Goethe-Institute or institute partners. The certification can be used for a German visa, residence permit, citizenship application or university admission. 

The certification is offered in all six language levels according to the CEFR. While the levels A1 to B2 are not limited to an age group, the levels C1 and C2 are directed at adult learners and certify a language proficiency at native speaker level. In the exam, language learners are tested in reading, writing, listening and speaking German. 

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2. TestDaF

TestDaF stands for Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (test German as a foreign language) and is directed at non-native speakers who would like to study or work in German universities. The exam is available in 95 different countries all over the world, and there are over 170 test centers that offer the TestDaF in Germany. 

Contrary to the Goethe Certificate, the participants do not choose the language level they want to be tested in, but everyone is taking the same exam. The test is graded with levels from 3 to 5 which correspond to B2 to C1 CEFR levels. To enter most universities in Germany, reaching level 4 is mandatory. 

3. DTZ Certificate

DTZ is short for Deutschtest für Zuwanderer (German language test for immigrants). The certificate is specifically directed to immigrants in Germany and is often an integral part of integration courses in Germany, which are offered by the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (Federal office for migration and refugees). Passing the DTZ is a requirement for a residence permit. 

The test was designed on the basis of learning materials and courses by the Goethe-Institute and is available in different versions for adults and children. By passing it, you are assigned a German language level from A2 or B1. 

4. DSD Certificate

The Deutsche Sprachdiplom (German language diploma) or DSD for short, is directed to language learners studying German as a second language abroad. The diploma usually takes place after several years of German classes. DSD exams can be taken in over 70 countries and at more than a thousand schools.

Students are tested in reading, listening, speaking and writing German and can use the diploma as proof when applying for university. There are two levels, DSD I and DSD II, which correspond to CEFR levels B1 and B2. 

5. DSH Certificate

Just like the TestDaF, the DSH is a language certification that is accepted by universities. DSH is short for Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (German language test for university admission) is typically taken at the university you want to apply for. Unlike the TestDaF, the test is only available at universities in Germany. 

Students are in the four disciplines of reading, writing, listening and speaking. The DSH levels from 1 to 3 are equivalent to the CEFR levels B2 to C2. 

6. TELC Certificate

The European Language Certificates, or TLC for short, is a subsidiary of the Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband (German adult education organization) and offers certifications for over 90 different languages, including German. 

The tests are available from level A1 to C2 at education centers and language schools in over 20 countries. 

What is the best German language certificate for your purpose?

There are many different types of German language certifications available. Which certificate is the right choice for you depends on what you need it for. Some of them are directed at students who require certification for admission to university, while others are part of integration courses. Learning German is not always easy, and preparing for a German language test can be nerve-racking. Feeling prepared with a German course that supports your journey and is specifically designed for your language level will help you achieve the certification you need for your next adventure. 

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Lea Hauke

Lea is a writer and translator for English and German and lives in Austria. Her love for literature is only met by her enthusiasm for music. During her studies in Berlin, she started writing for different music magazines and was the singer and drummer of a punk band. When she completed her Masters in English Literature, she moved to Tyrol, where she started her own business. Since then she has made it her mission to help others to find the right words for their ideas and projects. You can find more information about her on her website and on LinkedIn.

Lea Hauke
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