Ask überlin: Do I need to learn German?

by James Glazebrook

Of all the questions to pop up in response to our recent Ask überlin… ANYTHING! post, the one that really jumped out was Nana’s:

Is it possible to live in Berlin without knowing a word in German?

The scary thing is that the short answer is “Yes, quite possible”. We know people here who survive on very little German: they work at international companies where the official language is English, only hang out with other expats, and do the whole nod-and-smile thing at supermarket checkouts. Some of them just haven’t got round to learning the language yet, but some don’t ever plan to.

The problem with this is, like Patrick comments, “your ability to work and interact with people is going to be much more limited.” What happens if you lose your startup job and can’t find another? Or need to get your sink fixed? Or get sick of socialising with douchebags like me?

Our advice would be: don’t worry about the language thing before you move to Berlin, and don’t let it put you off coming. But when you’re settled, make steps to learn German. Like Expath’s Tia Robinson writes in this great post for VentureVillage, “you can be one of the thousands of Berlin expats bumbling around… But why not take advantage of being immersed in German language and culture?”

Scroll down for some top tips to avoid becoming this guy:

Language schools

We’ve sampled a few different language schools, and some private tutors, and our favourite is Sprachsalon Berlin in Neukölln. The teachers are great, engaging in German and resorting to English to explain the most difficult concepts, the classes are small (we learned first with a total of four students, then just the two of us) and, above all, the fees are very reasonable.

If you want some other options, check out this Exberliner article or wait for someone more experienced than us to comment below!

Online learning tools

Again, we checked out a bunch of online learning tools and stopped at one that works for us: Duolingo. Read what we wrote about Duolingo when it was still in private beta here, and sign up here.

VentureVillage included Duolingo in their 7 cool new ways to learn German, along with some other interesting resources worth checking out – including our Daily Deutsch tweets and illustrations! The list also mentions Meetup.com as a way to meet and speak to “real Germans in the real world”, which could be useful for Alex, who asked us:

any suggestions on how to “fit in” (ie not seem like a typical American/Brit/whatever living in Berlin)? I have a good comprehension of the language, but really want to try to assimilate as much as possible.

by Josh Bauman

by Josh Bauman

Other resources

We’ve heard great things about tandem learning, one-on-one language exchange with a German who wants to learn English (or another language), but we’ve both been playing email tag with our partners, so we can’t yet recommend the institution that’s connected us. And we’ve only just discovered the following:

Zattoo – live stream German TV and radio, and watch Spiegel TV on demand, for free.
Deutsche Welle media centre – get the news and other current affairs programmes as audio and video.
Learn German for Freekostenlos audio lessons on the Open Culture website.
Radiant-Flux - Patrick Wilken’s own blog tackles the issue of “Deutsch lernen”. This epic post is well worth reading for a different approach to language learning and the tactics to go with it.

We reckon that one of the easiest ways to “open your ears” to the language is to listen to local music (with vocals; German hip hop is actually pretty decent) and watch German TV and films, or English-language stuff dubbed into German.

On that note, does anyone have an answer for Paula?

Does anyone know a good website where you can stream German movies with English subtitles? Trying to show my boyfriends some German movies in prep of our big move but it’s hard to find sites that host movies with voiceover / subtitles. Any recommendations?

Help a Berliner out. Do you have any top tips for ways in which to learn German, or places to do so?

Tweet ThisfacebookDeliciousDiggRedditStumbleUpon