When you’re first moving to Germany I completely understand that this is a valid question.
You want to know that when you get here you can rent a flat, do your weekly shop, visit a doctor and buy a couple of beers; because it’s important that you can take care of the basics in a language you understand.
In that transition phase of the first few weeks you don’t need to speak German and you will get by without it (unless it’s somewhere really rural).
But once you’re set up, the question is still often asked, “Do I need to speak German to live here in Germany?”.
So it’s a question I really want to address in an honest way. Here goes:
Of course you fucking do.
If people moved to England and didn’t bother to learn English you’d have an absolute field day with them. You’d complain about how these immigrants come over here, don’t bother to learn the language and never try to integrate with British society.
Well those immigrants are often Expats and why is it one rule for them and one for you?
Why should you be expected to move to Germany and not learn their language. What entitles us as English speakers to move to a country and continue to use our native tongue when we wouldn’t allow (read: tolerate) that of other people in our home countries.
I’ve heard the excuses that come with it:
- “But people always speak English to me”
- “English is just easier, their English is better than my German”
- “Germans enjoy speaking English”
Well, let me give you my honest opinion on that too:
So fucking what?
Neither of those stop you from going out and learning the language. I have C1 level German and people still try to speak English with me. So what? That’s not the point. The point is that I can speak German and if it’s needed I can call upon it, or politely ask that we move the conversation back to German.
However, you don’t need to speak perfect German. Hell, I know I don’t. But you should at least be able to hold your own in a conversation and socialise with people. You know, to ask for your basic needs, wants and talk a bit about what’s going on in the world right now.
Really, how long does that take to achieve, six months of a bit of attention and time given up? It’s nothing in the grand scheme of things.
I’ve known of expats who have been here for five or six years and boast about only being able to order a coffee. I’ve met Germans who have laughed about how little of their language their bosses or superiors at work can speak, while also complaining about how frustrating it is.
Why would you want to be that person?
The person who has never taken the time to get to know, understand or integrate with the people around him. Who has lived in Germany for the best part of a decade and never truly experienced the place. To understand why Germans are the way they are and see the world through their eyes. To me that is an opportunity lost.
You don’t need to speak German because it’ll make your day to day life easier. You don’t need to speak German because you’ll struggle to live here without it.
You need to learn German because you live in Germany and that’s their language. If you want to live here, beyond your expat bubble and integrate with people on their level, then the language is the tool you need to achieve that.
So yes, you need to learn German to live here.