Can I work in Germany without speaking German?

Worldify - Two women speaking German at work
Written by
Team Worldify
Published on
May 2, 2023

If you've ever dreamed about living and working in Germany, then there's a good chance you'll need to speak German. But what if you don't know any German? Is it possible to work in Germany without speaking German? Yes, but it will take some extra effort on your part. Here's how. 

Can I work in Germany without speaking German?

Working in Germany without speaking German can be challenging, but it is not impossible. Taking language classes or immersing oneself in the German culture can help improve language skills and enhance the overall work experience. If you want to work in Germany without speaking German, it is also essential to search for companies that have an international or English-speaking work environment, or consider freelance or remote work options. We certainly advocate that you have some basic knowledge of the language, but some industries like IT or science may require less language proficiency.

Is speaking German at work necessary?

The German language is the official language of Germany and one of the most widely spoken languages in Europe. It's also one of the three official languages in Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg. And while it may not be spoken as widely as English or French (or Spanish), it's still important to know if you're thinking about working in Germany.

Situations when speaking German at work might not be necessary

Not every job will require speaking German at work. For instance, if you get hired on an international team, working either predominantly with international co-workers or with international clients. In this case, it's more likely that you'll be speaking English. International teams can be subsets of German companies, departments that have a particular focus on work outside the German or DACH (Deutschland-Austria-Switzerland) market.

There are also slowly companies, particularly in Berlin, who are switching their corporate language to English, rather than German. These tend to be companies who have a heavy emphasis on globalization and wish to work internationally. Many start-ups in Germany also emphasize speaking English rather than speaking German at work.

Is German difficult to learn?

Unfortunately, the answer is, for most people, yes. German is a difficult language to learn. In fact, the Germans even have an idiom for this: Deutsche sprache, schwere Sprache. German language, difficult language.

German grammar is complex, and there are many exceptions to rules. This can be confusing for beginners, who want things to follow a certain structure. When learning and speaking German, it's best to memorize the case for each specific example, versus trying to enforce a language that may or may not apply.

The pronunciation of German words is not always straightforward, either. While some sounds in English are similar to those in German (like [t] for example), others aren't at all. Successfully speaking German means learning how the different combinations of letter, and especially with the special characters, sound, and imitating those sounds as closely as possible.

Like all languages, there are some things about German that are easier and some that are harder. Your experience with learning and speaking German will depend on your own background and the languages you know. For example, if you know a bit of Latin or speak a Slavic language, the four German cases won’t seem nearly as bad! And if you speak English, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian or any of the other Germanic languages, a lot of German will be familiar to you. (For instance, 97 of the 100 most frequently used English words have Germanic roots!)

Prepare for speaking German at work

If you want to work in Germany but don't speak German, there are ways to improve your language skills so that it doesn't hold you back.

Learning German before you arrive

If you can, it's ideal to start learning and speaking German even before you arrive in Germany. Whether that's with an online app or an in-person course.

In-person German language courses are a great way to start speaking German. Many universities abroad offer them, and you can find more information about these on their websites.

The Goethe Institute offers classes for beginners as well as intermediate students in many international cities. You can also take part in one-on-one lessons with a private teacher if you prefer this method of learning over group classes. (If you need to prove language proficiency for a visa or for work, the Goethe Institute is also one of the few language schools that provides the official results you'll need for your application)

Learning German in Germany

Government-subsidized classes

The European Union has created several online resources for learning German. As well, the German government offers free courses to help new arrivals learn German, but these may take some time to complete, and often take place during working hours. So if you need to begin work immediately upon arriving in Germany, this option may not be ideal for you.

Privately-funded classes

Of course, there are many language schools in Germany, many of which offer classes online or in the early evening for those of you who have already started working. Though these are not broadly eligible for government subsidy, you may find your employer can help offset the cost. If not, language classes can often be written off on your taxes—especially if speaking German at work is a requirement. 

  1. Goethe-Institut: One of the most well-known German language schools, Goethe-Institut offers a variety of courses for learners of all levels, from beginner to advanced, with a focus on communication and cultural immersion.
  2. Humboldt-Institut: With locations throughout Germany, Humboldt-Institut offers intensive German language courses for adults and teenagers, as well as specialized courses for business German, exam preparation, and teacher training.
  3. Deutsche Akademie: Deutsche Akademie has several locations in Germany and offers courses in small groups for learners of all levels, as well as private lessons, business German courses, and cultural immersion programs.
  4. GLS German Language School: GLS offers German language courses for all levels, from beginner to advanced, with a focus on communicative competence and cultural immersion. They also offer specialized courses for exam preparation, business German, and teacher training.
  5. Alinguas Language School: Alinguas has locations in Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt, and offers German language courses for all levels, with a focus on communicative competence and cultural immersion. They also offer exam preparation courses for the TestDaF and DSH exams.
  6. Tandem Hamburg: Tandem Hamburg offers German language courses for all levels, as well as private lessons and specialized courses for business German and exam preparation. They also offer a cultural immersion program that includes excursions and activities.
  7. Berliner ID: Berliner ID offers German language courses for all levels, as well as exam preparation courses for the TestDaF and DSH exams. They also offer specialized courses for business German, medical German, and legal German.

These are just a few examples of the many German language schools in Germany. It's important to research and compare course offerings, prices, and locations to find the best fit for your needs and goals.

Learning German online

There are also great apps to help you get more comfortable speaking German. Duolingo will give you basic vocabulary. And Babbel is great for learning the foundations of German grammar.

Speaking German may be more important than you think

The reason? Because it's one thing to be able to communicate with your coworkers at a basic level; it's another thing entirely when they're making general conversation with clients or customers who don't speak English very well—or at all! So whether you're applying for jobs that specifically require speaking German, or just hoping that knowing some key phrases will help things run more smoothly during business meetings, having some sort of grasp on this language could make all the difference.

Even if speaking German at work isn't a requirement, we strongly suggest that you learn at least some German. It will make settling in Germany much easier, and help you feel more confident and self-sufficient in day-to-day life.

So, can you work in Germany without knowing German? Yes, but it will be harder. However, the good news is that there are plenty of options out there to help you improve your language skills and make the transition into your new career easier. This article has only covered some of them, but there are many more available if you want to find out more about how to get started learning German today!   🔵

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