What happens when we require newcomers to learn a country’s dominant language before they can work, study and become citizens? At first blush, this may seem beneficial for newcomers and local communities alike. In fact, language proficiency requirements across Europe are often treated as innocuous components of broader immigration policies. However, recent scholarship in linguistic anthropology and related fields has demonstrated that such policies can, in practice, turn into significant sociocultural and economic barriers for newcomers. Understanding the impact of language requirements in the German context is particularly pressing: language learning is so central to German immigration and citizenship policy that it has become a core branch of a nationwide ‘Integration Programme’. Since 2015, Germany has granted asylum to over 1.1 million displaced people. Five years on, over 800,000 remain in Germany, most of whom are still seeking employment. How these nationwide programmes impact the everyday lived experiences and socioeconomic (im)mobility of newcomers in Germany is, however, largely underresearched. My doctoral research has responded to these gaps through 15 months of in-depth ethnographic fieldwork within Berlin’s state-funded language and integration programmes for adult newcomers. Drawing on research in social and linguistic anthropology, I demonstrate that although these programmes are designed to accelerate newcomers’ socioeconomic incorporation, in practice they significantly delay their access to work, higher education and a sense of inclusion. What is more, in part because of the slowing effect these programmes have on their sense of progress, newcomers to Germany encounter temporal disruptions, which lead to acute experiences of stalling, boredom and temporal uncertainty. These findings contribute to enhancing our as yet limited understanding of the ways in which language is enmeshed in the temporal dimensions of migration and displacement, how policy-making impinges on experiences of temporal disruption, and what we can learn about newcomers’ positions of (un)belonging from their experiences of time.