The Language: A Make-or-Break Factor in your Decision to Move to Germany?

The Language: A Make-or-Break Factor in your Decision to Move to Germany?

If you’re thinking about moving to Germany, now’s the right time to consider the language factor. So many expats don’t know what it’s like living in a country where another language is spoken until they arrive. Then they discover they have no idea what’s going on, because it all sounds like gobbledy-gook.

At that point, some people panic and want to back out.

In this post, I’ll help you avoid having that experience. You’ll find out how much German you’ll encounter in your daily life in Germany, and how to see if you’re prepared for the change. I’ll also give you a glimpse into how far English will really get you.

Then you’ll be in a better position to decide whether moving to Germany is really the right thing for you or not.

letter box, post office, old-460515.jpg
Letterboxes in Germany

Picture these scenarios

You open your letterbox. There are five letters, all in German.
You find a new home and now need to sign a rental contract—it’s in German
You call your internet provider when broadband stops working. The customer service is all in German.
You bump into your neighbours in front of the building, who proceed to greet you in German.
Traffic signs are all in German.
People in the park chat away in German to their friends and their dogs.

I think you’re getting the picture. In Germany, it’s completely, absolutely normal for people to speak, read, and write in German. It will be all around you. And people naturally expect you to reply in German; they’re not being rude when they do this.

I know English-speakers who visited Germany with the dream of eventually moving here. After two or three days of sitting through conversations they couldn’t understand, and waiting for translation, they were discouraged. Their romantic ideas of castles and forests in Germany were forgotten once they realized how essential communication was for them, and how often they would be misunderstood or left out of conversations. And they also knew they didn’t have the way to invest time in learning German either. So they decided that moving to Germany wasn’t right for them.

These examples show that the language struggle is real, and you shouldn’t underestimate it when deciding whether to move to Germany.

So how can you know what will work for you?

Test your own reaction to German

To find out if you’ll be comfortable surrounded by a foreign language, I suggest that you visit Germany before making a permanent move. During your trip, spend time relaxing in trains, cafes and parks, simply listening to the people around you. See how being surrounded by a foreign language makes you feel, and ask yourself if you could see yourself living in this environment.

If physically travelling to Germany isn’t possible, you could try watching a video on Deutsche Welle for at least 15 minutes (without breaks) to gauge your inner response. Does listening to German make you feel stressed, or can you relax and try to guess what’s happening from the visuals?

After these litmus tests, if you can see yourself thriving when surrounded by the German language, then your current lack of knowledge doesn’t need to hold you back. You’re ready for the adventure and linguistic challenge that come with moving to Germany and learning German.

Now here’s another frequently asked language question that’s important when asking yourself if you should move to Germany or not.

Can you get by with English in Germany?

At the beginning of your stay in Germany, when you’re new and in desperate need of help, I’ll admit that many people in Germany may jump at the opportunity to practice English with you. This is especially the case if you work in an international company and your colleagues speak fluent English. In academic circles, too, many people had an advanced education with plenty of opportunities to practice English.

So English will get you a long way… at first. But if you rely fully on English for the long-term, you’ll eventually be limited.

As your circles of acquaintances gradually widen, you’ll come across many topics that others can’t discuss in English. Even the academics who are competent in English may be out of their linguistic depth when talking about everyday matters like unloading the dishwasher or paying taxes. The rest of the population didn’t even have the privilege of an advanced education with hours of English practice. Think of customer service in train stations, call centers and the plumber or electrician who come to fix things in your home. Many of these people can only communicate effectively in German.

So English will not open every door for you. If you plan to stay in Germany for the long-term, you need to learn basic to intermediate German for everyday communication. Maybe that’s not something an English-speaker likes to hear, but it’s true.

So, does not knowing German mean I shouldn’t move?

Whether knowing the German language is really a make-it-or-break-it factor in your decision about moving to Germany depends on you.

Definitely consider visiting first, to see how you respond to the language. If you’re willing to let a little linguistic chaos into your life, and you like learning something new, then the language won’t be a hurdle for you.

On the contrary, moving to Germany and learning German will be enriching, exciting experiences that you’ll never regret.

Learn more about moving to Germany
Invalid email address

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *