You dream of spending your summer on the shores of Lake Constance, exploring the Black Forest, and hiking in the Bavarian Alps.
You already know all the places you want to visit and you’ve already booked all of your accommodation ready for your incredible trip.
But you’ve heard from several friends that German people don’t speak good English.
But this is the 21st Century. Does all of western Europe not speak some English? Is this even true?
Yes! In fact some 56% of the German population speak English as their primary or secondary language. English is taught in secondary schools all over Germany as much of international business is conducted in English. Large multinational corporations with bases in Germany will have many expats from the US, UK, Australia and other parts of the English speaking world living and working in the country too.
I’ve met many Germans over the last 4 years and every single one of them had at least a basic command of the English language. Pretty much all of them that I met that were under the age of 30 were able to speak English almost fluently.
Much of western civilisation is heavily influenced by English. Most of the popular TV shows, movies, songs, and computer games, are almost always made with a focus on an English speaking audience. If Germans want to enjoy the best media on offer then they need to learn English.
Also the Lingua Franca (a language spoken between two individuals that do not share a native language) of the western world also happens to be English. If a German wants to travel then it will make their lives considerably easier if they have a basic command of it. Nobody likes to be the tourist abroad using hand gestures while butchering the native language to try and communicate with the locals.
In recent times Germany has been viewed as the economic powerhouse of Europe. However, despite the high number of Germans speaking English, expats will nevertheless find it difficult to fit in to German culture if they don’t have some basic command of the German language. Especially outside of the larger cities such as Berlin and Munich.
A study conducted by InterNations, researched something called the “settling-in-index”. This looked at how easy it is for an expat to assimilate into German culture. Basically, how easy is it for someone moving to Germany to feel at home, make friends, and integrate themselves into normal day-to-day life. The study found that a staggering 37% of expats stick to their expat bubble and that Germany is in fact one of the most difficult countries for an expat to settle into in the whole of western Europe.
Germans have a reputation for being somewhat colder and more unwelcoming than their other European neighbours. Expats with little to no knowledge of German may very quickly find themselves stuck in their little English speaking expat bubble with no hope of escape unless they begin their German learning journey.
As I alluded to earlier in the article, English is widely spoken in many of the larger German cities, such as Munich and Berlin. A survey from 2021 found that 20% of Berlins population were foreign born and that Munich has a huge 30% of it’s population being international. Most of whom will have a command of English before German.
You’ll hear English in the train and metro announcements. You’ll read signs in English. You’ll hear English being spoken around you as you walk about the park. When you go to a city restaurant or Café the waiters and waitresses will most likely speak some English. It’s everywhere! You’ll encounter it very often.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put some effort into learning a few words of German before visiting or moving there. The default spoken language is still German. When you go to a restaurant or buy a train ticket you’ll be greeted in German.
Germans are also very appreciative of you at least attempting to speak their language, even if it’s a little (or a lot) broken. If they sense that you are struggling they won’t hesitate to switch to English. This can be both a blessing and a curse depending on if you are deliberately trying to practice your language skills.
Some very useful German words:
Most Germans will have, at the very least, some basic command of English, with most of the younger generation being close to fluent. It’s very unlikely you’ll ever find yourself in a sticky situation trying to order something in one of the larger German cities. However, having some basic knowledge of German will help you go a long way. At the very least, it’ll maybe get you a smile from the locals.