If English is a popular second language in many places and countries, Germany is definitely part of the trend. You can hear English in Germany in everyday interactions, on television and internet shows, as well as in text on merchandise and items in stores. Though, when it comes to English, how widely spoken is it actually in Germany?
English is very common and widely spoken in Germany. 94% of Germans believe English is important for children to learn for their future. This leads Germany to claim the number 8 spot on the English Proficiency Index of the top countries in the world in terms of English proficiency.
The situation needs to be tempered by the fact that Germany has a high emphasis on its own language and national identity. All immigrants wishing to work or gain citizenship in Germany are required to learn German for school and work. The high level of English is seen as an important second language and is pursued with German precision and drive.
- 1 Will Using English Be A Problem In Germany?
- 2 Do They Really Speak English In Germany?
- 3 How Many Speak English In Germany And Where?
- 3.1 German Cities Where English Is Most Widely Spoken
- 3.2 Tourism And Education Bring English To Smaller German Cities
- 4 English In Europe vs English In Germany
- 5 Do Road Signs In Germany Have English On Them?
- 6 Is English Spoken In The German Workplace?
- 7 Is English On German Television And Movie Screens?
- 8 Is German Hard To Learn For English Speakers?
- 9 Final Talking Point On How Common Or Widely Spoken English Is In Germany…
Will Using English Be A Problem In Germany?
According to wide reaching polls, 58% of Germans say they use English on an occasional basis in their daily lives with 64% saying they use foreign languages as a whole. In comparison, any foreign language use in the United States is statistically negligible on a daily or weekly basis.
Using English will not be a problem in Germany for short or even long term stays. 66% of Germans believe using English at work is essential with 64% of them use it while on vacation abroad themselves. Especially near larger cities and universities, English is highly usable in Germany.
Germans live in a much more multilingual environment even if they strongly hold to their primary language and culture. For their children 56% of German parents think it is beneficial for study abroad to learn English and other languages. For their children’s future, German parents have increased over 6 percentage points in believing English and other languages are important.
Do They Really Speak English In Germany?
If you are wanting to use English while in Germany, I can tell you from personal experience. Their English is more than likely going to be much better than your German. I became conversationally fluent in German through self study. I had a speaking partner that I met with for over 5 years with hours per week in complete German conversation.
When I traveled to Germany on several occasions, I was hard pressed to get anyone to carry on conversations with me in German for more than a few minutes without switching to English. It is a common thing to meet someone that speaks English in Germany. It is even more common to find those that speak it on a higher level than many other places in the world.
You will be just fine with English in Germany. Learning German actually surprises them and the number one question I was asked when there was…
Warum sprichst du Deutsch?(Why do you speak German?)
How Many Speak English In Germany And Where?
In total the population of Germany is 83.02 million people. This takes into account both immigrants and native born citizens. The official language in Germany of course is German, but what about its most popular foreign language, English? How many speak English in Germany?
Estimates range from 56% to 58% of the German population speaks English. This means that between 46.49 million and 48.15 million people in Germany speak English at least with some proficiency. These numbers are more concentrated in north and west Germany and around major cities.
Though there are slight differences in proficiency levels across the regions of Deutschland, it is not helpful to highlight 1-2 percent increases or declines. The amount of English speakers in Germany is relatively evenly distributed no matter which area is measured.
What is relevant to the actual usable English levels is to center on more specific locations like cities and the locations within those cities where English is more or less likely.
German Cities Where English Is Most Widely Spoken
English is definitely easier to find in German cities than in the countryside. This is generally how it goes in any country.
I have visited most of the major cities and many smaller towns in Germany. What I have found is that unless you are actually in farm villages or communities over an hour’s train ride from a major population center you are only a few people away from finding someone with conversational English skills.
When in cities, it is rare to find many employees or even random people on the street that don’t have some level of English ability. Let’s look at the major cities in general and look at where English will be most easily found.
English In Berlin
Population 3,426,354 – The capital city of Germany is host to everything from business to education and from national to international government. Tourism is a major factor in the English levels in the city. Around major attractions like the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Reichstag building (German Parliament Building), and Checkpoint Charlie, English is most certainly usable.
There is also the presence of Humboldt University of Berlin right in the middle (or as the area is known to locals Mitte) of the city’s center. I have personally eaten at the cafeteria in their urban campus and spoken English with many there. These university campuses are home to many students eager to try out their English. This also happens at the Technical University of Berlin.
English In Hamburg
Population 1,739,117 – Hamburg is essentially a shipping based city. It is home to one of the biggest harbors in Europe. This brings everything from tourists to business traffic that need people with English language skills. With its many canals and green spaces, the tourist appeal is apparent.
With the University of Hamburg student population reaching 43,957 there are plenty of younger crowds of eager English speakers throughout the city. Between the university presence, shipping industry, and tourist activity, it will not be a difficult task to find someone able to speak English in Hamburg.
English In Munich (München)
Population 1,260,391 – This southern Bavarian city makes the list of the top places to live in the world regularly each year. The high level of income and education makes English easier to find in the workplace or on the street. I personally had to try to speak German with natives on my many visits as soon as they heard my US accent. English was hard to get away from here.
There is also Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich with its 51,000 students that causes the English to be more widely spoken. Around the university German is what locals speak to one another, but they usually are ready to speak English whenever possible.
English In Cologne (Köln)
Population 963,395 – Köln is a strange mix of outdated 70s architecture, modern buildings, and towering Gothic Catholic Cathedrals. I witnessed this first hand. This tourist draw coupled with it being the center for much of German language television makes it a vibrant city. This also draws many from the media and tourist industry with English language skills.
The University of Cologne is home to more than 51,250 students. With this level of younger populations in the city and of college age, the English in and around the campus is much higher than many may expect.
English In Frankfurt Am Main
Population 650,000 – Frankfurt has a reputation among German locals. It is said that it attempts to mimic Manhattan in New York city with its mirrored skyscrapers and modern cramped downtown. Mirroring this is the high English level in this city known as the financial capital of Western Germany.
Goethe University Frankfurt has a student population of 45,533 with many of them at least partially conversational in English. The vast majority of them have learned English throughout Gymnasium (college prep high school) and are very receptive to its use.
English In Stuttgart
Population 589,793 – Home of the Mercedes Benz Museum and Europe’s largest Zoo and botanical garden, Stuttgart is known as an upper-class city. The Christmas markets that uniquely meander through the city center also attracts plenty of seasonal travelers. All of these tourist attractions combined with upscale living and entertainment is fertile ground for English language to thrive.
Then there is the University of Stuttgart, one of the world’s leading research universities. With a large university population comes an increased chance of finding many English speakers among the German locals.
English In Dortmund
Population 588,462 – From Germany’s largest Weihnachtsmarcht (Christmas Market) to the growing high tech industry, Dortmund is a center for tourism and business. In both areas you will find a large influence of the English language and Germans who speak it.
The Technical University of Dortmund makes its home in the city with approximately 35,000 students. The technical nature of this university lends itself the what is fast becoming the language of science and mathematics: English.
English In Düsseldorf
Population 573,057 – This German city with the unique sounding name to English ears has a wonderful old city center (alte Stadt) on the Rhine river and famous shopping street for tourists to enjoy. The city is an economically stabilizer for the region. All of this creates an environment where Germans can use their English skills and others can find them.
The Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf is home to around 33,000 students. As with most universities, English is more popular on and around campus than in many other areas.
Tourism And Education Bring English To Smaller German Cities
With the prevalence of English in the larger cities and around tourist locales, one might think that smaller cities and towns will have less English usage. Well, you would be right. Yet, in these smaller towns and even villages, at least in the younger populations you may be surprised at the level of English you find compared to the rest of the world.
Population 143,345 – Heidelberg has a rich history with a looming castle, old town, and cathedrals. The Christmas markets are amazing and we had a very easy time using English all around the city. The University of Heidelberg is also a main source of English speakers alongside of the ample tourist population.
Population 129,151 – Regensburg is known as one of the most beautiful cities for tourists with its Old Stone Bridge, Medieval city center, and popular Regensburg cathedral. This added to the population of the University of Regensburg leads this city to be a center for English in the area.
English In Europe vs English In Germany
Europeans outside of other native English speaking areas have generally the most widely spread use of English and the most common high proficiency levels of English in the world. Compared to the rest of Europe, Germany leads the way in incorporating English skills into their business, education, and social lives.
According to the EPI, Germany is number 8 in 2021 ranked against the top countries of the world for English language proficiency. In Europe where the highest levels of English as a 2nd language can be found, Germany beats out 26 of the 34 countries with measurable levels in their populations.
There are signs that the upward trend in English may be gaining steam in Germany. It has been on the rise since 2013, after Germans have increase nearly 15 percentage points from 2005 to 2012 in those deciding they are not motivated by any influences to learn English or any other foreign language.
Some of the major causes for this is increased international trade, higher education, and collaboration between governments internationally. Though the levels of English have risen in Germany, the governmental regulations on the German language for schooling and the work environment have stayed strongly intact.
Do Road Signs In Germany Have English On Them?
For the most part, road signs in Germany follow the same pictograph style that most major countries use. There is not only little English to be found on any of these signs, but there is also very little German as well.
This is not to say that there is no German to be found on signs. There are plenty of signs that will have long compound names of places or short one or two word directives. Only near airports and major transportation stations will you find any English written. This is part of the nature of Germany. Most speak English, but prefer their native German in day to day interactions.
The two notable exceptions are the words:
These you will sometimes see on road signs or painted on roadways. They mean exactly what they do in English, but are not used for the language they connotate. They have become internationally recognized words associated with warning and directive signs.
One interesting note here is the extremely long names given to streets and areas in Germany. All those familiar with the German language will recognize the trend. In German much of the vocabulary is made up of compound combinations of smaller words to form more complex ones. This finds its way into names frequently, and thus to public signs.
Is English Spoken In The German Workplace?
Okay, so office workings and antics on Stromberg is not actually how a typical German office looks or opperates. As a matter of fact, my speaking partner for many years from Bayern laughed heartily and noted that it was opposite of the typical work environment.
Though it is glaringly obvious from the spoof nature of the show, I played up my ‘disbelief’ that the Stromberg cast was not actually portraying a German professional environment.
He did confirm that like most other offices in nearly the entire country, the comedy Stromberg did get it right that the day to day workings are nearly entirely in German.
English is used in dealings with English speaking clientele and reps from English speaking companies.
My friend Markus worked for a company that regularly had direct contact with factories in England. This required him to have a high level of proficiency in English not only because of the nature of his job, but because of the extreme accent differences he noted between English speakers.
Germans have trouble with some English accents even if most English speakers believe that the variations are slight. English in the German workplace exists mainly in direct contact with primarily English speaking firms.
English is not prevalent in the German workplace on a day to day basis. It is however frequently used by those with international contacts with companies located in native English speaking countries.
Since Germany is a producer of many products that are shipped internationally, this can be more common than in the markets of many countries. This is typically as far as it goes. German is strongly encouraged socially, corporately, and even governmentally as the primary means of communication in German offices.
Is English On German Television And Movie Screens?
Germany is an enigma when it comes to foreign languages. English is by far the most common one chosen, but Germans are incredibly capable of retaining their own sense of identity and being multilingual. What does this mean when it comes the English?
English is rarely on television series in Germany. They dub most all shows in English into German. Theaters on the other hand usually have two screens showing the same movie. One is in the original English (plus subtitles) and the other shows a dubbed version in German.
This is a sticking point for many in Germany wanting to watch English shows in their original language. Most when asked how they like the German actors that dub these movies and shows will shake their heads and complain.
There is also a problem with multiple companies working on the same shows and films. One company will do the subtitles and another will hire and record the actors. Either this company or the actors themselves regularly disagree with how the English is translated and will ad lib the wording.
This means that the German that you hear and any German subtitles rarely match. Each country has its own idiosyncrasies, and this happens to be one involving a common practice around English in Germany.
Is German Hard To Learn For English Speakers?
If conversing with a German speaker it is nice to have the added connection of studying their language. They may actually be shocked that you know any of their language apart from common city or food names. But what if you wanted to go the extra mile for connection to people or maybe even your past?
On the Foreign Services Institute scale for the US State Department, German is considered an Easy Language for English speakers to learn. With English being a West Germanic language, the similarities and common roots can be noticeable.
The problem comes when we see the borrowing from other languages and the divergent path English took over the centuries from its foundation. This makes much of the grammar difficult at first for English speakers and the pronunciation has some definite variations.
Here is an important note to remember about English in Germany:
- Overall, German really isn’t needed to converse in most situations with many Germans.
- It is much more advantageous for Germans to learn English than for English speakers to learn German.
This is at least the state of the world today.
I learned German to a conversationally fluent level on my own simply because I had never successfully learned another language (and wanted to do so) and had ancestral ties to peoples in what is now modern day Deutschland. Living in the United States makes it relatively unusable and during my many trips to German speaking countries, everyone’s English was more interesting to them than my German.
German is possible to learn on your own. If you would like to see how I did it, just take a look at my recommended tools page learn more.
Final Talking Point On How Common Or Widely Spoken English Is In Germany…
So how common is spoken English in Germany? How many people speak English in Germany?
- 56% to 58% of the German population speaks English
- Between 46.49 million and 48.15 million people in Germany speak English
- Germany ranks #8 on the world top 100 list of countries with the most English speakers
- Tourism in Germany brings even more English language to major cities and other designations
- All cities with universities will have much more English than smaller locations without them
In most locations you will be able to get around using only English. In major cities, around tourist destinations, and near university campuses English is the most widely spoken. Even if you are conversational in German, your interactions will usually transition to English at one point or another.