Become a real Berliner(in) – Learn German
No matter how many people tell you how international Berlin is, how everyone speaks English and that you can easily get by without German, the fact of the matter is that Berlin is the capital of Germany and therefore German is the language of life here.
Yes, there is most definitely an English speaking culture here. A whole lot of Berliners, and Germans that live here, do indeed speak English and can be eager to practice and show off their skills. There are whole companies that operate in English, and plenty of hip coffee shops and restaurants that will have no qualms with you ordering everything in English.
So while you can get away with it, it’s important to remember that the English speaking culture is not German, nor in fact Berlin culture. “Zwei Bier/Kaffee/Falafel, bitte” might suffice in order to get you through the weekends, but if that’s as far as your German goes you will forever be an outsider.
And it’s not just little things that you’re prevented from, like being able to ask where they stock currywurst sauce in Lidl, or having a decent conversation with the matron-esque barmaid at your local Kneipe. As you most certainly know by now, the German bureaucracy is complex, even for German speakers, and while you may never get to the level where you understand every single one of those longwinded words on the never-ending forms necessary to live life here, having a good enough grip on the language to ask for help makes a huge difference.
What it comes down to is how much you want to invest yourself into the city. If you’re coming for a year or so you might be able to get by on what you pick up, but if you want to start a life here, take it (relatively) seriously and make the very most of it, then you’re going to have to learn the language.
And hey, it’s not all doom and gloom. Firstly, learning another language is awesome and impressive, you can’t deny that. Secondly, where better to learn German than in Berlin. Thirdly, it will only bring good things, opening up sides of the city that would otherwise remain closed to you. Win-win!
There are different ways to learn the language, from formal classes to casual conversation, but if you want to follow your progress closely, or you need to reach certain levels for visa requirements, there is an official learning structure. Defined by the Council of Europe, the Common European Framework of Reference for Language defines the competency levels which can be attained, starting at A1 and progressing to C2.
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Ways to Learn German
German Language Schools
Signing up for language classes is a good idea. A great idea in fact. The classes will provide you with a solid foundation knowledge of the fundamentals of the German language. Having someone standing in front of you explaining at a beginners pace, and being able to ask questions (you’ll probably need to!) is a really good way to get started. Plus they can be a great way to make shiny new friends that you can enjoy/bemoan/struggle through language learning with.
There are a lot of German schools in Berlin; all offering various styles of learning, types and times of courses, prices, settings and other quirky things that might make them stand out.
Generally speaking, the types of courses available are something like this:
- Intensive – Around three to four hours per day from Monday to Thursday or Friday, in the morning or afternoons.
- Super Intensive – Same idea as intensive but with more hours per day.
- Evenings – Mostly two sessions a week for about two or three hours with some schools offering two different start times.
- Weekends – Some schools also offer weekend courses.
Before you decide what school might suit you, it’s important to check out where courses are offered that fit with your schedule. For example, you work full time so you need evening classes. You find a school that you think looks suitably cheap/ prestigious/ casual. Their evening classes start at 5.30pm. You don’t finish work until 6pm. Bummer.
Timing is a big factor, as is cost. Work out how much you are willing or can afford to spend on German classes. Prices vary greatly depending on the school, from in and around €200 per month right up to €1000 or more. When doing so, take into consideration whether learning materials are included or not. It may leave lots of options or it may rule out specific schools or courses. A word of warning however; cheap doesn’t always mean cheerful – when it comes to language classes it can often mean crowded. The bigger the class the harder it can be to make progress or get your teacher’s attention, so just remember that when you’re thinking of what you could buy with your savings!
Here is a list of just some of the many different German language schools in Berlin:
- Goethe Institut
- Humboldt Institut
- Die Deutschule
- Kapitel Zwei
Private German Lessons
These can often be arranged through a language school or found online. Whilst seemingly more expensive, at €30 or more per hour, the time is dedicated specifically to you without interruption.
Learning German Online
There are a number of websites that offer the opportunity to learn German online in your own time, for example Chatterbug and Lingoda. They are often a combination of self study with learning materials provided combined with face to face video classes, either in small groups or one on one. They often allow for you to pick and choose your own schedule and therefore can be great for those that need flexibility.
Apps for Learning German
There are a growing number of language apps that let you learn on the go (if you don’t mind saying random German phrases into your phone in public that is). While they can be a good way to introduce yourself to the language or to further your vocabulary, they often lack clear explanation of grammatical rules and so may not be the best thing to rely on solely. That said they are a good way to compliment your learning. Swap 15 minutes of Instagram scrolling for 15 minutes of Babbel and you’re bound to get more out of it.
No, you’re not going cycling. A language tandem partner is someone who speaks the language you want to learn, so you would find a German speaker that wants to practice or improve their English or any other language you might speak. It can be a good way to pick up new things and practice having the confidence to actually use the German you know. Again this is best as a supplement to another form of learning. Not all people find it a good learning match; it can depend on your partner, both your language levels, and whether or not you have things in common. It can be fun to try out, and is another way to meet new people in the city. Check out tandem.net to see if it’s your thing or not.
TV, Movies and Radio
While you’ve chosen the path of righteousness (that is the path of deutsch lernen) you may as well give it all you’ve got and try to absorb as much of the language as you can in your day to day activities. Sometimes it’s the little things that help, for example watching German TV shows or movies with English subtitles, or vice versa. Hearing and reading the language side by side will help you pick up bits and pieces along the way. Listening to German radio and picking out words or phrases you can understand and trying to piece them together is also helpful. The more of the language you hear, the more familiar it gets.
We’ve pointed you in the right direction, now off you go! Let us reiterate, it will be worth it. Viel Glück und viel Spaß!