This is a question that might arise in your mind, if you are considering the Land of Ideas as your next home for awhile – be it for studies or employment.

And as you research, you might find that for a student – the visa requirements state that you require a language competency certificate ONLY if your course is taught in German.  Well , my course is entirely in English. And almost everyone at my University/Workplace can understand English. So, we hear you think?

Why learn German?

Let us analyse this three word question in detail.


1.There are enough English speaking Germans – True. Of late, many Germans pick up English from a young age and are considerably fluent in the same. You will meet them at Universities, Airports, and sightseeing spots or maybe even at your office. If you are a tourist, or are on-site for a short duration, learning German might not be a must. You can tag along with your colleagues for a few drinks after work, or ask for the English Menu when you go to a restaurant.

2.My Travel Phrase book  will help  me –  True. You can get by with few phrases of:

“Sprechen Sie Englisch? “ ( Do you speak English? )

“ Könnten Sie mir helfen? “        ( Could you help me ? )

“ Wo kann ich… finden? “          (Where can I find… ?)

“Ich möchte… “   ( I would like …. )

But are you prepared for the verbal volley that will hit you, once you ask these questions. How would you react to them, besides sheepishly grinning a “Danke”.  Sorry to say, You are back to square one.

3.I have my Apps / Maps et al – Again true. We have pretty much shrunk the world to fit into our palm, disguised as a Mobile phone. You can load Apps, Dictionaries, translation tools and enough to take you through.  But what happens when your mobile settings change to German, are you deleting something important, are you giving the right instructions – and are you always connected? Somethings require a cultural interpretation  E,g, You want to book tickets for a Football match, but the translation tool throws up the word for “ Matches – to light a fire” In a foreign country, what would you do then?  Would you commit a cultural faux pas?

Or would you be smart and learn the language before you went there?

The Apps are a fantastic Hilfsmittel  (means of help) as we call them. They support and complement, but they can never substitute the real deal.


While it seems you can manage or get by in Germany without knowledge of the language, learning the same provides fantastic advantages.

i.Survival and Independence – Once you get off that flight, and you need to take a cab to your destination – wouldn’t it be easier if you knew the language? Or are you going to sit there twiddling your fingers, until a cabbie who speaks English comes along? And what would you when you have to deal with Immigration, monthly bills, rental agreement, insurance, or a special request at a restaurant for your allergies?  Would you keep exploiting the kindness of the stranger next to you?

It is one thing when you know the language, another when you have to tag along with someone who knows the language. Yes, pointing and gesturing might help and so would body language – but those will take you along just for a few days.

ii.The Great German Mentality – The Germans take pride in their language. They will tend to do a small mental estimate about your skills in picking up their language. You have been in Germany for a month, and can just about make yourself understood – then yes, the average German will help you and empathize with you. Tell him you have been there for a year – and you still have not picked up the language – his respect for you would go down a few notches.

iii.The Job Market – This is one of the biggest motivating factors. Germany is intensively looking out for skilled professionals, and they have a huge gap to be bridged. But the Germans – quality conscious as they are, will wait for the right person to come along and be a perfect fit to their organization. And guess what would just be widening the gap for you? – Yes, you got it right ! The lack of  German Language. If you are a student, who can take up his job interview in German – you have a HUGE advantage as against the next guy who is technically competent but is fumbling with his German.

It is not about the certificates that you have, even those that profess your German skills – if you cannot effectively speak and make yourself understood. And in the Job Market, you have just neutralized your disadvantage when you speak the language. It is only after that , that you can project the advantages you have to offer in terms of skills and qualifications.  You do not want to slow down all the processes at work, just because you have no idea about German, do you?

What advantages would you have in the US / UK if you did not speak English? Think along the same lines.

While you might not necessarily need the language 24 /7 in “Multi-kulti” (read cosmopolitan) cities like Berlin, Frankfurt etc, your experiencing the situations around you will change from frustrating to amazing if you grasp the language at the earliest. Making new contacts, a friendly chat with the waitress at the café/ pub, calling up customer support, reading street signs, getting a part – time job or internship – all the things that you took for granted in your home country, would be a lot easier if you knew German.

So how much German is enough, before I go to Germany?

I would recommend you learning up to a B1 before you fly to Germany for your Masters/ or for a stay over a year. But again, the focus is not on the certification, but on your ability to speak.

Look out for apps that help you prepare for your German lessons in our next !

Bis bald!