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Languages for Expats in Germany

Submitted: October 2013

While English is taught in German schools and most Germans possess some knowledge of the English language, they tend not to speak English as well as they think they do. It is therefore vital for anyone wishing to live and work in Germany to have basic German language skills prior to arriving in the country.

Under German immigration law, a basic German language test must be passed by individuals from outside the EU/EEA who wish to work or join their spouses/partners in Germany. Further information can be found here: https://www.goethe.de/lhr/prj/daz/inf/dfz/enindex.htm. The website also includes sample exercises and questions that are part of the basic language test.

German language courses are widely available via the internet as distance learning projects and can enable individuals to gain the standard necessary for living and working in Germany. The German University online (https://www.deutsch-uni.com/gast/duo/info/index.do?do=index) offers a variety of courses from basic to business German.

Another option is to attend a German language school in Germany. The ‘did’ Deutsch Institute offers group and individual tuition classes in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich. The Institute also teaches business German, German for overseas students wishing to attend a German University, teacher training for teachers of German and German language for science and industry. Their website can be found here:  https://www.did.de/?L=1. In addition, children aged eight or older can take part in residential courses during the summer.

Lessons are usually structured not only in a classroom setting but also encompass practical elements such as a variety of social events that include opportunities to talk to native speakers. Language lessons are also offered by foreign nationals to help their newly arrived compatriots learn the language of their new country of residence.  These individuals often advertise in local newspapers or shops selling items from their home country.

Germans can appear somewhat impatient when someone with very little knowledge of the local language attempts to converse with them. If a German detects that an individual is struggling to make themselves understood, do not be surprised if the response is delivered in English if the person that has been addressed detects an English accent in the speaker. While the German may think they are doing a favour by helping the conversation along, a learner should persist in their effort to speak German and not immediately fall back into their comfort zone.

Even Germans think their language is difficult to learn compared to, say, English. The usual way of showing how difficult German is is that there are the three articles: der, die and das, and a total of 12 different article forms. However, these are relatively easy to learn. The real burden on the learner is with gender and plurals. Nouns have three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter.) There are rules that tell you which gender a noun is, but these only cover about 70-80% of nouns. The others you will have to learn by rote. Plurals of nouns are another source of confusion, as each gender has more than one plural form and there are many exceptions. Germans themselves sometimes get these things wrong. Compared to English, German sentences are the wrong way round and simply translating a sentence word for word in one’s head before saying it out loud will often result in nonsense.

In some parts of the country the local or regional accent presents a completely different challenge to overcome! While accents are very distinctive and a German originating from Bavaria will sound quite different to someone from the more northern parts of the country, most people are able to converse in ‘Hochdeutsch’, the German used in businesses and schools throughout the country.

No matter which country an expat decides to make his new home, learning the local language should always be at the top of the list of priorities. Germany is no exception and many Germans do have the attitude that anyone wishing to live in their country should be able to speak the language.



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