Practice makes perfect
German isn’t an easy language, but it can be learned. Many international students do this every year.
A good grasp of the German language will help settling down in Germany. If your course is in German, you need to know the language well enough to follow a lecture or seminar discussion. Many courses in Germany are offered in English. But even if you decide on one of them, you still need German for daily life.
German has four cases, the nominative, accusative, genitive and dative. It also has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.
You’ve probably seen the letters ä, ö and ü. German is among the world’s languages that use ‘umlauts’. Often, for example with the words Stöcke, Päckchen or Nüsslein, they indicate plurals and diminutives. If your keyboard doesn’t have these letters, replace ä with ae, ö with oe and ü with ue.
Numerous scientific discoveries and inventions were made in the German-speaking world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and as a result German became one of the world’s leading languages for science. Today, many scientists publish in English.
Your studies aren’t the only reason to learn German. Even if you can get by with little German at university, for example, because your course is taught in English, it makes sense to learn the language of your host country. Conversational German will help you feel at home in Germany. Language skills make it easier to get around, participate fully in daily life and make contacts.
In big cities, it’s usually quite simple to find activities or consult a physician in English. But people who work in government offices in Germany don’t automatically speak good English.
How much German you’ll need to be admitted to your course of study depends on the programme and the particular higher education institution. Most English-language courses don’t require any knowledge of German but do presuppose a good command of English. For German-language courses, the rule of thumb is that you will need better language skills, particularly in writing and speaking, in the humanities than in scientific disciplines.
Your has to be sufficient to be able to understand lectures, seminar discussions and academic texts. In addition, you should be capable of conversing and writing about academic topics at a reasonable level.
As is the case with all the world’s languages, the pronunciation and intonation of German vary from place to place. People speak differently in the Rhineland, Bavaria, Berlin and Hamburg.
Most Germans will do their best to speak the standard idiom, Hochdeutsch, with you, but many may be unaware that the German they use differs from what you learned in your language course. Don’t worry. You’ll quickly get used to the German spoken in your region. And there’s no shame in failing to immediately understand or be understood by someone.
The best way to improve your German quickly is to live with German students. Watching German television and listening to German radio can also help you better your language skills.
A language buddy, or Sprachtandem, as it’s known in German, is also a fantastic way to improve your abilities. Partnerships consist of two students, two buddies, who want to learn the other’s native language and meet regularly to converse and practice. Foreign students offices, student unions and international student organisations at many universities set up such partnerships.
Well-known institutions like the Goethe Institute and Deutsche Welle have lots of language-learning resources on their websites. Some can be used on your laptop, others downloaded as apps on to your smart phone.