Discover how to learn German in Germany or before you move with our helpful guide for non-German speakers relocating to the country.
How will you and your children cope in a country where, to quote Mark Twain, “some words are so long that they have a perspective?” The German habit of creating seemingly unpronounceable compound words aside, there is hope. However, not every word is as long, as baffling, or as difficult to say as Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften (yes, it’s a real word, and it means, simply, legal protection insurance companies). So, learning German shouldn’t be too hard.
This guide explains that help is available to assist parents and children master the language of Goethe, Freud, and Einstein.
This guide to learning German covers topics such as:
- Why bother learning German?
- Learning German before moving to Germany
- Learning German online
- Other popular online language-learning resources
- Learn German with a computer or smartphone app
- How to learn German in Germany
- Learning German through daily life
- How to help your kids learning German
- Learning German for professionals and business use
- Official German examinations and qualifications
- List of language schools in Germany
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Why bother learning German?
If you’re an English speaker, you should be able to wing it right? Well, not necessarily. As a matter of fact, much depends on where you settle, as English was not taught in former East Germany; few people over the age of 40 in the east will be able to understand you.
Elsewhere, while it is quite likely that most younger people will be able to hold a conversation in English, you can’t count on it. Approximately 65% of all Germans claim to be English speakers, whereas, fellow recent immigrants aside, all your neighbors will speak German.
Approximately 100 million Europeans speak German as their first language, making it second only to Russian as Europe’s most dominant mother tongue. It is also the official language of seven countries. With an estimated 200 million German speakers around the globe, it’s one of the world’s great languages.
It almost goes without saying that if you want to have an enjoyable long-term stay in Germany, if you want to make friends, understand the television and radio, enhance your job prospects, as well as fully grasp what’s going on around you in the office or the café, you should learn German. In fact, 60% of expats in Germany say it is difficult to live there unless you can.
More important, if you one day want to apply for German citizenship, you will have to prove your language proficiency as a qualifying requirement.
The good news is that there is no shortage of help available for those who want to learn, and every day is an opportunity to improve whether you are at home, at work, or out and about.
Learning German before moving to Germany
If you have time, it makes sense to get a grounding in the language before relocating; it will help tremendously with administrative tasks when you arrive, searching for a home, opening a bank account, setting up utilities, and even job-hunting.
International German-language schools
The Internet is an obvious place to find helpful words and phrases, and you’ll even find online resources that take language learning to new heights. Many reputed language-learning computer or smartphone apps can also get you in the swing of things.
However, if you’re looking to acquire more than the basics, more formal courses will get you off to a great start:
- The Goethe-Institut offers reputed online lessons, but what sets it apart is its global presence (150 locations in 98 countries)
- Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH) is part of global network of more than 2,000 schools
Learning German online
If you are looking to seriously immerse yourself in the language, options to learn online are vast; you should also have no trouble finding something that suits your budget. You will also find some solid online German classes with the most reputed schools:
- The Goethe-Institut: they promote the study of German abroad and are an international market leader for German tuition. Users have access several options such as courses for day-to-day or leisure use, or those more suitable for professionals or students.
- Deutsche Welle: they offer a free German course developed by the national public broadcasting network. Users also have access to material tailored for their level of proficiency, from beginners to those looking to take examinations.
- Deutsch-Uni online: they provide online comprehensive German courses, including basic, intermediate, advanced as well as business level German.
- Lingoda: their private and group classes are available 24/7 and tailor to each student’s needs, providing maximum flexibility, and also allowing teachers and language advisers to work closely with each student.
Other popular online language-learning resources
- Babbel has millions of subscribers taking its award-winning courses in more than a dozen languages including German. You can start learning the language as locals speak it even if there’s no textbooks or grammar exercises. Students can also progress at their own pace.
- The BBC has a very innovative product that also includes audio files, a valuable asset when trying to learn a language.
- Deutsch-Lernen provides 10 online lessons for beginners, 24 at an advanced level, as well as numerous tests and interactive language exercises.
- FluentU has a collection of authentic videos, audio, and other learning material to help users progress to the next level in lots of languages including German. Users can also take a free 15-day trial to see if it is likely to work for them.
- GermanPod101 provides free podcasts and YouTube videos making it easy to learn not just conversational German but also cultural information that will help you better understand the local way of life. More than 1,400 audio and video lessons are available.
- LanguaTalk lets you choose from a number of tutors based on availability, price, and more for 1-to-1 sessions.
- HelloTalk is a free opportunity to learn from native German speakers by chatting with them online. Basically, it operates on the swap principle as your HelloTalk contacts will require you to help them with their English.
- Italki is a website for users to hire their own language tutors at a reasonable price. Hundreds of German teachers are listed and most offer a discounted trial sessions. You can use Italki to find a language partner to practice with using Skype.
- Radio Lingua Network has some free content that will help you to learn the basics.
Learn German with a computer or smartphone app
Since everyone learns differently, explore the teaching style used by each program before you buy. The most popular language software titles, which prices range from €30 to €150, include courses such as:
- Fluenz German
- Hello-Hello World
- Instant Immersion German
- Living Language Platinum
- Pimsleur Comprehensive
- Rosetta Stone German
- Tell Me More German
- Transparent Language
If you are busy and always on the go, you can also learn German easily using a smartphone app. Here are the top ten free apps to choose from:
- Rosetta Stone
- Wie geht’s German
- Slow German
- Der Die Das
- German verb conjugations by Brainscape
Learning German in Germany
Once you settle in Germany, there will be numerous opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture and improve your use and understanding of the language, whether through your daily life or with professional German lessons. The range of courses will be greater and you will be able to strike up conversations with strangers to ask for help with vocabulary and grammar. Nothing will endear you more to the locals than making an effort to communicate on their terms.
There are international and local language schools in all the main German cities and you will be able to tap into online resources at home whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced learner. Costs vary according to the choice of school and level as well as the type of course. See our list of German-language schools below.
How to start learning German through daily life
While it’s possible to study your way to German-speaking proficiency, either at a college or online, you can’t fully enjoy the country if you don’t get out there and do what the locals do:
- Find opportunities to interact with your neighbors, local shop owners, and your kids’ friends’ parents.
- If your children are little, don’t be afraid to host play-dates: hanging out with five-year-olds will organically teach you all the basic vocabulary – and they won’t judge your wonky grammar and pronunciation.
- Join a sports club or a local society and don’t be afraid to explain to people that you are eager to learn the language. Apologize in advance for the mistakes you make; as a matter of fact, your efforts will be appreciated.
- Always speak German with your new friends and acquaintances and persist even if they take pity on you and try to converse in English.
- Watching television and films with subtitles in German will be a huge help.
Children learning German
The majority of schools in Germany are run by the state and are, in fact, free. Parents can opt for one of the fee-paying private schools or international schools. For information on the differences between state, private, and international schools, you can also read our guide on how to choose a school in Germany.
If you opt for a state school, the grade into which your children are placed will depend on how well they speak German. Children who don’t speak German at home and didn’t attend a German kindergarten often repeat the first or second grade. However, there is no real stigma attached to this.
Since the number of non-German students has constantly risen over the years, some adaptations have been made to ease their integration. Children who were not born in Germany or whose parents do not speak German at home may also receive additional lessons in the form of preparatory classes, bilingual classes, intensive courses, and remedial classes, depending on the state and availability.
At an international school, students become increasingly familiar with the German language every day. Initially, German is translated into English so there are no misunderstandings; over time, English will be removed until the lessons are held almost exclusively in German.
A qualified school will generally offer different language courses to meet the various levels of language acquisition and needs of the students.
Learning German outside of the classroom
To help your children familiarize themselves with the German language, there is nothing quite like throwing them into the deep end of the pool. Set your Netflix Kids to German, read them some German books, teach them funny words like butterfly (Schmetterling) or dragon (Drachen). And of course, send them on play-dates with their new friends. Children are highly adaptable, and they’ll probably speak German circles around you soon.
The sooner children begin to learn German – coupled with diligence and plenty of hard work – the higher the chances that they will master the language, speaking and writing German at a native level after a few years. German language learners can determine their language level after two years of German language courses through an official language test.
Business-oriented German lessons
If you are relocating to Germany as a business professional, it is important to quickly become accustomed to local business culture and the language you will need to conduct your business dealings efficiently and without misunderstandings. Look for a course that can tailor your studies to your business requirements.
Expatica has an excellent guide on learning German for professionals and businesses.
Official German examinations and qualifications
If you want to study at a German college or university, or if you want to acquire German citizenship, then you will have to prove your language competency.
The German Language Diploma Level 1 (Level A2/B1) is a prerequisite for foreign citizens who wish to attend a Studiekolleg, while the German Language Diploma Level 2 (Level B2/C1) is required for university. To become a naturalized German citizen, applicants must have at least a B1 language certificate or diploma.
One of the most important is the B1 Zertifikat Deutsch administered by the Goethe-Institut. It is an exam for those over 16 and is offered as a joint product of the Goethe-Institut, Austrian Language Diploma, telc GmbH, and the Learning and Research Center of the University of Freiburg (Switzerland).
The B1 Zertifikat Deutsch is based on the requirements of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and examines one’s ability to use language independently in everyday conversation and situations at work.
The main focus is communicative competence and it is recognized as proof of German language skills by employers.
Various language schools also have their own examinations that are accepted as proof of competency to the required B1 standards. Choose a school that offers examinations that result in a TestDaf, DSH, Goethe, or Telc-Test certificate. Lingoda offers a guide to these, including prices.
List of language schools in Germany
Here is a list of the most renowned language schools in Germany and the main German cities. You can check if any top German universities offer German language courses, or see Expatica’s listings of German-language schools.
National language schools in Germany
Berlitz is an international language school with more than 470 centers in more than 70 countries. The school has centers in most German cities. Individual and group lessons are available for both adults and children (7–17-year olds). Seminars are available for businesses upon request. The Berlitz language school also provides preparation courses for numerous internationally recognized language examinations.
Locations: Aachen, Berlin, Bielefeld, Bonn, Bremen, Braunschweig, Chemnitz, Cologne, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Flensburg, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Hamburg, Hanover, Leipzig, Lubeck, Kiel, Magdeburg, Munich, Munster, Nordestedt, Ratingen, Rendsburg, Rostock, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg
The BWS Germanlingua language school offers a variety of courses including general German, business German, exam preparation, as well as English courses.
BWS is a full member of the International Association of Language Centres. The school offers six different levels, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) to determine which level is right for students. The standard German course is 20 hours a week and offers reading, writing, listening, and speaking German in small groups. There is an average of 6–8 participants in a class with a maximum of 10 (12 in high season).
Locations: Berlin, Cologne, and Munich
The Deutsche Akademie is a low-priced, central, and practical language school. Class sizes are generally quite small (between 5-10 students).
Accommodation can also be organized through the language school. Students are assessed orally and in written form using a 12-level course model for accurate assessment of the chosen German course.
Locations: Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich
The Did deutsch-institut is an award-winning language school with four locations in Germany. Their branches are licensed test centers for the TestDaF — a university language examination required in order to be accepted to study at a German university.
Most students are academic learners preparing for studying at a German university.
Locations: Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich
The EVOLANGUAGE school offers foreign language classes and German courses in six cities.
Schools are open throughout the year and students benefit from personal language solutions, qualified trainers, intensive language training, small class sizes, as well as current teaching materials and methods. Programs offered include group lessons, intensive language courses in mini-groups, individual classes, online courses, exam preparation courses, business language courses, and language workshops with various topics.
Locations: Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart
FOKUS Language School
The Fokus school offers courses oriented towards children, business and professional customers, examination preparation, and one-to-one courses.
Prices are dependent on the course chosen and accommodation can also be included through the language school. The standard one-week course is €200.
Locations: Augsburg, Berlin, Cologne, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Dresden, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Karlsruhe, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Munich, Nuremburg, Regensburg, Rostock, Stuttgart, and Vechta
The Goethe-Institut is Germany’s cultural institute, active worldwide. It promotes the study of German abroad as well as within the country to encourage international cultural exchange.
All courses include a varied and exciting cultural and leisure-time program, free access to our media resource centers, accommodation search service, and the opportunity to take examinations. Students can choose from intensive, premium, and special language courses for professionals during mornings, nights, or weekends.
Locations: Berlin, Bonn, Bremen, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Gottingen, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Munich, and Schwabish Hall
Linguarama Deutschland has been offering intensive German language courses in Germany since its formation in 1977. There are eight centers, all offering intensive courses.
Each Linguarama center is ideally situated in terms of proximity to local companies and for visits to museums, art galleries as well as other places of historical and cultural interest. They offer three types of intensive programs for people who need to develop rapidly their communication skills in German.
Locations: Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich, and Stuttgart
Sprachschule Aktiv is located in the biggest German cities but also has branches in some smaller ones. They have a large network of freelance teachers all over the country for students interested in learning privately. Sprachschule Aktiv is a certified educational institution run in accordance with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and offers courses from A1 up to C2. Interested students can also sign up for a free trial lesson on all courses.
Locations: Berlin, Frankfurt, Freising, Ingolstadt, Munich, and Regensburg
Tandem Language School
The Tandem language school attaches great importance to creating a personal and relaxed learning environment. Participants practice all four language skills – reading, writing, speaking, listening, and grammar – which are explained in such a way that it is easy to understand. There are 12 course levels to ensure accurate grading and small groups are taught in an interactive method with participants continuously encouraged to speak the target language.
The school uses up-to-date course books, complemented by authentic texts. Courses include intensive summer courses and evening courses for business German. One-to-one sessions are also available. Accommodation can be arranged through the language school, which gives students the opportunity to stay with local families in city homes. There is an accommodation placement fee of €40. The language school uses levels according to the Common European Framework of Reference.
Locations: Berlin, Bielefeld, Bremen, Cologne, Dresden, Frankfurt, Gottingen, Hamburg, and Munich
Language schools in Berlin
- Hartnackschule Berlin
Motzstraße 5, 10777 Berlin (Schöneberg) | +49 30 216 445 9 | hartnackschule.de
- Sprachenatelier Berlin
Frankfurter Allee 40, 10247 Berlin | +49 30 275 898 55 | sprachenatelier-berlin.de
Language schools in Cologne
- Active lernen
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ring 24, 50672 Cologne | +49 22 195 518 6 | activlernen.de
- Insula Köln
Vogelsangerstrasse 61, 50823 Cologne | +49 22 179 004 204 | insulakoeln.com
Language schools in Düsseldorf
- Sprachcaffee Dusseldorf
Grafenberger Allee 78–80m, 40237 Dusseldorf | +49 21 268 415 2 | sprachcaffe-duesseldorf.de
Language schools in Frankfurt
Große Bleiche 14-16 | 55116 Mainz-Wiesbaden | +49 (06131) 4925695 | languagekult.com
10, D-60311 Frankfurt | +49 69 230 020 | www.eloquia.com
- Sprachcaffee Frankfurt
Gartenstraße 6, 60594 Frankfurt | +49 696 109 1237 | sprachcaffe-frankfurt.com
Language schools in Hamburg
- Colón Language Center
Colonnaden 96, 20354 Hamburg | +49 40 345 850 | colon.de
75, 20357 Hamburg | +49 40 850 503 2 | www.german-course.de
Language schools in Munich
- ASL Internationale Sprachenschule
Leopoldstraße 62, 80802 Munich | +49 89 332 825 | aslsprachen.de
- Universität München
Agnesstraße 27, 80798 Munich | +49 89 244 104 90 | dkfa.de
Pettenkoferstr 44, 80336 Munich | +49 89 121 923 29 | wortland.com
Language schools in Stuttgart
Fritz-Elsas-Str. 60, 70174 Stuttgart | +49 71 194 571 739 | tricos-gbr.de