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German Language: German for university and everyday life

However, you can also choose one of the many degree programmes in English, which means you will only need German language skills for everyday life. In day-to-day situations, it may be important to be able to speak some German.

by the Editors (last updated May 2019)

The German language © DAAD/ contentküche
The German language . © DAAD/ contentküche

Is German a difficult language?

Mark Twain is reported to have said: “If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.” True, German is not an easy language – but it is possible to learn anything! Many international students do just that, and very successfully too. As the German saying goes: “Übung macht den Meister” (Practise makes perfect)!

German grammar is challenging. In German, there are four cases: nominative, accusative, genitive and dative. Three genders are also used: male, female and neuter.

In the past, German – alongside English and French – was one of the main academic languages used all over the world for nearly a century. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous scientific findings and inventions came from the German-speaking countries.

Nowadays, many academics also write their papers in English, of course – even though a lot of ideas can be expressed more precisely in German.

International students learning German © DAAD/ Jan Zappner
International students learning German . © DAAD/ Jan Zappner

DIALECTS

As with all languages around the world, there are regional differences in pronunciation and intonation in Germany. People in the Rhineland speak differently from those in Bavaria; Berliners speak differently from the residents of Hamburg.

Most people will make an effort to speak High German (standard German) to you if you are not a native speaker. However, many German native speakers are simply unaware that their German sounds different from the German you hear on the CDs in your textbooks. Don’t worry: you will quickly get used to the German spoken in your region. And there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of if you can’t understand something straight away or make yourself understood immediately.

How much German do you need for everyday life and for studying in Germany?

In your everyday life

German is not only important for your degree programme. It is useful to learn the language of your host country even if you use hardly any German in your studies – for example, if you are enrolled in a degree programme in English. Having good language skills will help you feel more at home in Germany. You will be able to settle in faster, take a more active part in life in Germany and make friends much more easily.

In cities, it is usually easy to find services such as English-speaking doctors or events in English. However, when dealing with public authorities, you may find that not all staff have a very good command of English. 

In your studies

The amount of German you need to know for admission to a degree programme depends on the programme and the higher education institution. For degree programmes in English, you don’t need any German language skills in most cases, but you do need a very good command of English. For degree programmes in German, you usually need better German language skills for the humanities and social sciences than for natural science subjects – especially when it comes to writing and speaking.

Your level of language proficiency must be sufficient to understand lectures and follow discussions in seminars. You need to be able to understand academic texts. You should be able to discuss academic topics at an appropriate linguistic level and examine and analyse them in writing.

Please see the admissions requirements for more information about German skills and German tests >>

Opportunities for learning German: how can I learn German or improve my German??

Students at Tandem learning © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Students at Tandem learning . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

In your everyday life

In your everyday life, you can quickly improve your German in various ways, e.g. by watching TV or listening to the radio in German. If you live with German students, you are sure to learn German fast.

Tandem learning

Tandem language learning is a great way of improving your German. A tandem partnership brings together two people who want to learn each other’s native language. You meet regularly and practise speaking one language, then the other. Some International Offices, international student organisations or student representatives have a website or a file of people who are interested in language tandem partnerships.

Language courses

There are many ways to learn German or improve your German in Germany. Higher education institutions offer language courses alongside their degree programmes. There are many summer courses at higher education institutions throughout Germany which can help you improve your language skills in preparation for a degree programme. These often take place between June and September and are offered at various levels of linguistic proficiency. You can find details of these in the DAAD database of language courses and special courses >>

A language course at a higher education institution costs approx. €150–450 per semester.

If the language courses at your higher education institution are already full, you could attend a language course at an adult education centre, other language centre or the Goethe-Institut . However, these language courses are likely to be more expensive than the courses at your higher education institution.

A good overview of language course providers >>

Online Deutsch lernen

Student learning German online in the library © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Student learning German online in the library . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

Well-known institutions, such as the Goethe-Institut and Deutsche Welle, offer a broad range of German language-learning programmes. Some can be used directly online from your computer, others are available as apps which can be downloaded onto a smartphone.

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