Language barriers in Germany


Learning a new language is a part of the expat process. Let's find out how crucial it is to know the language in Germany.

What is the official language in Germany, and what are the other popular spoken languages?

Is it possible to live in Germany and get by without speaking the language?

How do you manage to communicate with the locals if you don't speak the native/official language fluently?

What are some popular and useful phrases that expats absolutely need to know?

Can you share some tips about how to survive in Germany on a daily basis without speaking the language?

Thank you for sharing your experience.


As most Germans understand some English (and often also other languages), it is easy to survive in daily life without any knowledge of German.
However, since Germans are of course most comfortable in their own language, it would be difficult to have meaningful social contacts with locals and a good understanding of German culture without being fluent in the language.
Furthermore, to find a job and to manouvre buerocratic procedures (e.g. registering with the authorities, submitting tax declarations, etc.) requires good German in almost all cases - it is naive to expect this to work in English or any other language!

I think this subject has already been covered extensively in many threads. Like Beppi mentioned; survival with English anyway is not in question. Everyone learns it in school and people’s levels are usually dependent on their level of education and/or level of practice. Germans are some of the world’s most extensive travelers. Some very old people, especially if they grew up in former East Germany might know little. Others lose their school English by not having practiced for too long. Overall, the level of English in Germany is not on a par with the Netherlands or Scandinavia but better than in southern Europe.

But it becomes a question of quality of life. One misses so much not knowing German and is always dependent on others helpfulness to get along. Both job and social opportunities will be limited. For a tourist it is no problem. For one who arrives with little German, they will get along if they make a concentrated effort to learn and improve. For the people thinking they’ll stay long term and not bother – they are kidding themselves. The excuse is often given that German is soooo hard. But compared to what? Finnish, Chinese? There are plenty of commonalities with English. The question is more the level one expects to reach. I’ve known people to sound like a local within 2 years, especially kids. Others, like myself, will always have an accent and make some mistakes in agreement or mix up some articles. Doesn’t matter! Work at it and do your best and it will be appreciated.

I agree with the others here. You can get by without German and if you work in certain fields (marketing, IT, teaching English), you might even be able to work in English. But you'll need to learn German to do most jobs, and even if you do work in a field where English is widely spoken, you'll find it easier to advance in your career if you speak German. You'll also be more at home here if you speak the language. I mean, do you really want to go through life having your friends translate all your mail for you?

All in all, my tip for surviving in Germany without German is to learn German. Take a class at the Volkshochschule, go to a private language school, watch TV, read the paper....just do what you need to do to learn it.

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