Learning German in Germany: All You Need to Know

Learning German in Germany featured image

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you why you should go to Germany – it is one of the most visited countries on the planet. German (unlike Icelandic) is also one of the most studied languages, although we all know that studying doesn’t necessarily equal results.  This week my languages around the world series takes us to Germany, and I’ve handed it over to Carly from Flight of the Educator to tell us how best (or at least what she did) to learn German in Germany.

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 My name is Carly Heyward from Atlanta, GA in the US.  Right after college I was struggling to find a job (relatable much?), and I lucked out with a job offer to work at a hotel in Germany!  Nothing too fancy: pouring drinks and advising on things to do in the town.  I hadn’t had any experience with German prior to going except for the workbook I bought myself before I left. Imagine my surprise when I showed up in my picturesque medieval walled city to discover the cover of my book was three doors down from my new home.

I ended up living in the postcard town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber for about 6 months back in 2008 and had an amazing time.

How to Stay in Germany

 When I went to Germany, you didn’t need a visa for 90 days or fewer as per the Schengen agreement (which is still the case today for many nationalities). I just made sure to leave the Schengen countries before my 90 days for a little trip, and then I popped back in.  I received the invite to stay and work at the hotel in exchange for meals and some cash from an Aussie acquaintance that I’d met when I studied abroad in Australia.  It definitely isn’t a path that everyone can take because I just lucked out.  I think it does show the importance of keeping in touch though!

If you want to study German in Germany, you could consider a language school, and then plan your trip around that. Click here to compare language schools in Germany.

I’ve been all around Germany, and there really isn’t a bad part of it!  However, I think that living in Rothenburg aided in learning (vs a large city) because there were not as many English speakers.  Some of the hotel employees spoke reasonable English, but the general population of the city didn’t.  That necessity to communicate with people in their language pushed me to practice more.  

Languages in Germany

English in Germany

At this point, I’ve been around Germany quite a few times, and Germans have a firm grasp of English.  I met a German who spoke PERFECT English, so much so that he didn’t even have an accent.  What a waste of a European (just kidding. Kinda).

It’s not until you go to the rural areas that you might run into people that don’t put as much sway in English.  I met a woman who was tri-lingual, but she didn’t speak any English!  It all depends on the area because where she lived, she didn’t get a lot of English speakers versus the big cities.

German in Germany

I’m not sure that I was ever really fluent enough to notice major differences in the language between the German speaking places I went (Northern Germany, Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland).

  • I (Ich)

 The biggest difference I noticed was how people said “I.”  Similar to France’s “yes” where people would pronounce it “we” or “whey,” it was just a pronunciation difference.  Bavarians pronounced Ich a little softer to sound more like Ish or almost Itch, but northern and other countries it was more like Ik or Ick.  

  • Goodbye:

 Auf wiedersehen (until again to see or until we see each other again) is how most people imagine Germans say goodbye. In fact, tschüß is also really common.  Although it started off as a northern thing, I went ahead and used it enthusiastically because I thought it was really cute (and it was already pretty obvious I wasn’t from “round here”).  Bavarians have their own way to greet people: Grüß Gott which means like “Greet God” (which is also pretty cute).  

  • Cute:

 Remember in Mean Girls when Queen Bee said, “Quit trying to make ‘Fetch’ happen”? Well that’s how I remember what fesch means.  It’s how Bavarians say cute or pretty instead of hübsch.

  • Beer:

Lastly, probably the word that I used more often than I’m willing to admit is m. It’s that GIANT mug of beer that you see in conjunction with Oktoberfest.  

People and culture in Germany

 Germans as a whole seem to be very supportive.  They’d patiently repeat what they said if I asked them to.  They’d say each syllable if I was struggling (I had a hard time understanding a man’s name – it was George, but with the pronunciation…).

I remember when I went to Paris once, and I was excited to practice my baby French.  Most of the Parisians just scoffed at me and insisted on English.  Nothing like that in Rothenburg.  I found them to be very encouraging and happy that I was trying.

 Even speaking slowly and trying to remember vocab words, I always had a smiling face eagerly waiting for me to finish, so they could help me.  I just loved Germany!

How to learn German in Germany

 Before I moved to Germany, I was so stoked about the adventure that I bought the previously aforementioned book.  While I did make my way through it, nothing really stuck until I got out there. To be honest the biggest aid in my learning was *drum roll* nerdiness.

Books in German

 I worked in the hotel lounge in a hotel in a day trip city, so often times it was pretty empty in there.  During my down time, I read Harry Potter in English and in German.  

 I’d use the following method:

  • read a sentence in German, try and translate it
  • read the sentence in the English version to confirm
  • re-read in German, write down word meanings that I wasn’t sure of and/or was guessing
  • then later I’d verify on the internet.

  Slightly tedious, maybe?  But if definitely helped with retention. Plus I was able to read my beloved Harry Potter (and learn that wand is zauberstab)!

 Movies in German

I also did the same with Disney movies – I watched in English with German subtitles and then again in German with German subtitles.  

 I decided to do this with Harry Potter and Disney movies because I’m so familiar with them that I don’t have to focus on what’s going on. Instead I can use my knowledge of what’s going on to translate the words.  I think what also helped is that English is a Germanic language, so sometimes there were a lot of similarities.  German is also very literal and specific, and it seems to follow “the rules” more than any of the other languages I’ve studied (Spanish, French, ASL).  

Then, of course going out there, talking with people, making mistakes, getting corrected, and trying.  Just trying is so important.

If you want to learn German online before or during your stay in Germany,  German is a hugely popular language and is offered in all of the online courses mentioned in this post.

If you want to study German in Germany in a more formal environment, find a German school here.


 I’m Carly “Wayward” Heyward, and I’ve been a 7th Grade English teacher for the past 6 years.  When I’m not teaching, I’m traveling, and I just hit my 51st country Summer 2017! I love animals, exploring, photography, and getting into silly situations!
Connect with Carly: Travel Blog | Instagram | Pinterest | Facebook

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> Have you learned a foreign language in another country? If you would like to share your experience for my Languages Around The World series, contact me here.

> If you are interested in learning German in Germany or you have done it yourself, comment below as we’d love to know your thoughts!

How to Learn German in Germany

How to learn German in Germany

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8 Comments

  1. I was born in Germany and my family still lives in Nuremberg so this post resonated well with me! Learning Germany is tough, but so necessary if you really want to experience the authentic culture. Thanks for sharing!

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