Why It’s So Important To Learn German in Berlin – Some may find this a bold statement, but I stand by this 100% – you should learn German if you’re an English-speaking person living in Berlin.
As Berlin is such an international city, a lot of people seem to think that you don’t need to have a command of the German language in order to live in Berlin. I’ve read and watched countless and, unfortunately, very misleading articles and videos informing aspiring Berliners that understanding German isn’t necessary. Even worse are the complaints I’ve heard from expats that Germans don’t know enough English.
To a certain extent, it’s true that you can get by speaking only English. I personally know people who’ve been in Germany for years and never bothered to learn German. They seem happy and perhaps it somehow works for them. Based on my own personal experience, I feel your Berlin experience is much richer if you can achieve only a basic grasp of German.
My advice for any aspiring and current Berliners is to learn German to the best of their ability. If you’re planning to stay in Berlin for anything beyond a brief vacation or the three-month tourist visa, it’s important that you make an effort to learn the language. Even just learning a little bit of German will go a long way. Learning German is also key for those looking to find a job in Berlin. It will not only substantially increase your chances at finding a job, it will also set you apart from other candidates who are lagging behind on the language front.
If you’re wondering whether or not there are English speaking jobs in Berlin, read our guide to get the low-down.
Why It’s So Important To Learn German in Berlin
The first time I moved to Berlin, I didn’t make a proper effort to study German. It was due in part to not knowing if I wanted to stay in Berlin long term, balancing multiple freelance clients, and dealing with some personal issues. Moving home to Canada made me realize how much I missed Berlin and that most of my troubles during that time could be traced back to not knowing the language! As I knew I wanted to come back to Berlin again someday, I enrolled at the Goethe Institut in Toronto, eventually reaching the A1.2 level. My efforts were not in vain and really helped me upon moving back to Berlin. I can now better understand conversations happening around me and can get by in fairly simple situations.
However, I’m still at the beginning of my journey. Being able to read a restaurant menu and order in German isn’t enough. Unfortunately, I still have an irrational and intense fear about speaking German in front of other people, especially those I know. I need to get over it and jump back into the language learning game again soon.
I can personally attest to the fact that there will be plenty of times when you absolutely need to know German in Berlin. Here are some scenarios that illustrate why learning German is essential when you live in Berlin.
1) At the Bank
When I moved back to Berlin, I went to my local Sparkasse to open a bank account. It turned out that none of the staff on duty could speak English very well and they didn’t feel comfortable helping me. They asked me to come back and helped me set up an appointment for the following week, with one of their younger bank tellers who spoke English. Another time, when I was in Sofia for the weekend, an ATM “ate my bank card for breakfast”. I had to enlist the help of a German-speaking friend to call Sparkasse and put a hold on my account until I could visit my home branch and order a new card.
2) Government Offices
A really good reason to learn German in Berlin? The staff at government offices like the Ausländerbehörde, Bürgeramt, and Zollamt, are notorious for speaking only German. Even though they deal with foreigners on a daily basis, it’s their way or the highway. If you can’t speak the language, it’s a pretty good idea to bring a German speaker with you to your appointment. This can be especially daunting for those who are new here and don’t know anyone. When I first moved here, my landlord helped me by letting me hire her intern, who came along with me to the Burgeramt. Depending on how many times you visit a government office, it’s either going to get very expensive or you’re going to annoy your friends who will tire at bailing you out all of the time.
Some restaurants only offer menus in German, and their wait staff may not be able to speak English very well, if at all. Unless you have the time to run every dish on the menu through Google Translate, there’s a good chance you’re going to frustrate the wait staff and maybe, but hopefully not, get bad service. Or you’ll be forced to order under pressure and end up selecting something random from the menu. When I first came to Berlin, I received many “surprise” dishes as a result of this happening.
4) Using Technology
Try troubleshooting a jammed printer that only has a menu in German. At work in Canada, I could handle printers like a pro. Here, I stare blankly at the screen and attempt to solve the problem by pushing random buttons (which always works) or opening up the printer looking for the jammed paper, getting toner ink all over myself in the process. Of course, I’d usually end up making the problem worse and frustrate my co-workers who have stuff to print as well. In the end, I have to beg their assistance and, by their request, write down the step-by-step instructions to solve the problem on my own the next time. Not embarrassing at all.
5) Interacting With Others
Another reason for learning German in Berlin? Not learning the language will actually make some locals dislike you (even though that’s totally not cool), and you may encounter some of that famous Berliner Schnauze. When some Germans find out you’ve been here for years and haven’t bothered to learn the language, they may refuse to engage you in conversation and say unkind things like “typical American!” with a lot of disgust in their voice. A British girl I know from a neighbourhood coffee shop, who actually speaks German fairly well, recently told me about how their delivery man spoke down to her and started lecturing her about not knowing German. Luckily, her German boss came to her defense by telling the old man to stop yelling at her, informing him that if he ever said anything like that again, his coffee shop would cancel their contract with the delivery company. It’s an unfortunate reality that you may have to deal with here, and there won’t always be a superhero boss around to come to your defence. And to be very clear, this is not the norm. Most Germans are very kind and friendly people, who’ll appreciate your willingness to try to learn their language.
If you’re like me, you’re also going to want to make friends with both fellow foreigners and locals. I can’t tell you how much my world opened up in Berlin after I became good friends with a small group of Germans. I’ve heard that dating one helps too. Having German friends is a good thing, but the bad part is that each time I get together with them, everyone still speaks English. It isn’t really nice on my part to expect that they adjust their behaviour because of me.
What are some language schools in Berlin where you can learn German? We recommend schools like Babylonia, Expath, Goethe Institute, Sprachenatelier, and the Volkshochschule. You can also try other learning methods using companies like Lingoda and Smarter German.
Have we convinced you on why learning German in Berlin is so important? What do you think? Drop us a comment down below.
We have plenty of other guides that will help you get settled into your new Berlin life, such as how to make friends, move to a new apartment, tackle admin type things, and so much more.
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