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German Language

I am planning a trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland early fall 08. I will be travelling alone and have a fair knowledge of German. Anyone had any problems getting around without knowledge of the language.

Posted by
12 posts

simple answer - no problems at all. Unlike here in the US where we dont really learn a second language, Europe is very fluent in English. For the most part, everybody speaks it especially baby boomers and up. Just ask anyone "English?" and if they cant speak it, somebody around does. Just be sure to speak clearly and dont use slang terms. Simple English. I go to Germany about once a year with my wife to see her Grandmother. When they go girl shopping, I go by myself exploring around. I've never had a bit of problem.

Posted by
1158 posts

Germany is one of the so called English speaking countries. It has a lot of relationships with the US,s o they learn English since early grades.So, don't worry.
Yes, majority of Europeans speak at least 2 foreign languages.

Posted by
6898 posts

While in Switzerland, many people speak 3-4 languages - German, Italian, French and English. Some even speak the more older Romansh. You won't have problems in Switzerland. We certainly didn't.

Posted by
97 posts

my boyfriend and I were in Munich in 05. We went everywhere by train and had no problems. We live in New York city figuring out a subway map written in German was no problems. Many of the ticket machines have an option for English. All of the people we met in the travel business spoke English. From the hotel manager to the man selling the tickets on the train. Many Europeans are embarrassed because they think they do not speak English well. So if you ask them if they speak English they will sometimes answer "only a little" and speak better than I do. No problems with English. So I would not worry. Have great time.

Posted by
18228 posts

French is the one and only official language in the cantons of Genève, Neuchâtel, Vaud, and Jura. Cantons Berne, Fribourg, and Valais each have two official languages, French and German, although either language might be the one and only official language depending on the district (Bezirke) you are in.

Posted by
2779 posts

Finding English speaking people in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is absolutely no problem. However, what you should learn prior to your trip are the words on signs you may need as they're in German only. I'm thinking of "bathroom", "ladies room", "gents", "cash registers", "tickets", "lockers", etc. You don't necessarily have to buy a language book. Just compile a list of those words and translate them on http://dict.leo.org

Posted by
18228 posts

If you stick to the well traveled tourist areas, you should have no problem with only English. In fact, you may come away with the same false impression of others here that “Everyone speaks English” or “majority of Europeans speak at least 2 foreign languages.” Usually, you can find someone in German speaking areas who speaks English; about half do. That said, I recently stayed in a town in the northern black forest where no one spoke English to me for a week. I spoke enough German to get by, but when I asked some of them if they spoke English, they said they learned it in school, but never used it in everyday life, and couldn’t remember it.

Posted by
8 posts

We are stationed here, and I know a fair amount of German. You should be fine in all of the areas you want to visit. Try to use as much German as you can, to be polite.

I have to disagree with the previous poster that stated you might get the wrong impression that most people speak English. Actually, most people here do speak English. It is a mandatory language in school, and most young people have a wonderful grasp of the language. Educated Europeans are not the only ones though, my cleaning lady, tattoo artist neighbor, and others around all speak English better than I speak German!

Posted by
18228 posts

According to the European Union, in a survey conducted in 2005 and reported on their official website, 50% (half) of all Europeans do not speak a second language at all - they speak only their mother tongue. So "most Europeans speak two foreign languages" is WRONG. Outside of the UK, about 38% (three out of eight) can speak English.

The proportion of 2nd language and English speakers is much higher in small language groups. The Dutch, Danish, and Swedish speak a second language, usually English, at over 80%.

In larger language groups (German, French, Italian, and Spanish), bilingualism and English are less common. Only 1 in 3 Spanish or Italians speak a 2nd language, 20% and 29% respectively speak English.

Fortunately, unlike people in other large language groups, the Germans are more proficient at languages. Sixty-two percent speak a 2nd one, 51% speak English.

The next most common 2nd languages in Europe are German (12%) and French (11%). Spanish and Russian are far behind at 5% each.

Posted by
1346 posts

A fair knowledge of German will get you by, and it will be appreciated by many Germans. Finding English speaking individuals in typical tourist areas is usually not hard. Most to point to me for me was that folks are willing to help you.

There are some parts of Switzerland where French is more common than German.

Posted by
8 posts

Sorry to continue this, but it is really bothering me. If I took a survey, I would not say I spoke German, Spanish, or French. However, I know enough in all of those to communicate. Most people you meet, when you ask if they speak English, they will say "a little." However, they speak wonderfully! The survey doesn't give a true representation of what goes on day to day. I live here! Don't you think I would know?

Posted by
95 posts

My friends who live in Germany and my experience says that, yes, most people speak at least some English. However, when my friends who spoke no German (nor, honestly, were they trying to learn) went up to someone outside "tourist" areas with a question only in English, very few people tried. When I went up with an "Entshuldigung" or "Gross Gott" and tried in my pitiful German, I got a good response every time. Rick Steves is right, if you try they will meet you halfway, if you don't try they write you off as an obnoxious American.

Posted by
36 posts

There's quite a difference between the former East and West Germanies. In the former, Russian was the mandatory second language, not English. When we were in Weimar in 2002, I had the pleasantly surprising experience of being able to use my not-too-wonderful German everywhere we went; the only person we met who spoke English was a young Bulgarian waitress! Otherwise, it was German or nothing. We had a burnt-out lightbulb in our hotel room, and I couldn't think of the word for "lightbulb" until later, but the staff knew what I meant by "Die Lampe ist kaputt"!

We also met a few people in West Berlin who didn't speak English; nor did the cleaning lady in the Bad Homburg hotel, or the clerk in Woolworth's. Just because a subject is required doesn't mean that everyone actually learns it.

Posted by
11798 posts

Virtually every German under 60 speaks very good English. I've never had trouble in Austria or Switzerland although I usually converse in German (once I get my language "sea legs").

Do you speak English or Teneseean? I was once in the Hamburg train station. An older couple were trying to ask a German directions in a heavy Houston dialect with no luck. I asked the German their question auf Deutsch, he replied in German and I told them the answer in English. The man said, "Look Ma, he speaks English just as good as an American."

I learned proper German and have the same problem speaking to some Bavarians. They can understand me but I have difficulty with their dialect. I find myself mentally translating their speech to German then to English.

If you have trouble, do your best to speak proper English in addition to dropping any slang or jargon.

Remember bitte and danke always go along way and greet every shop keeper with at least a Guten Tag when you enter.

Posted by
65 posts

WOW! 15 Antworten.

Vielen Dank fur die ganze Hilfe.

Rick's readers are always there for help and suggestions. As I will be travelling some very out of the way places, think I need to continue my language course.

Thanks to everyone for your help.

Danke

Posted by
1158 posts

I lived in Germany for a while and been to many cities while there and I have not met a German soul that didn't speak English.I wasn't speaking German in the beginning, so I had to use English.
It might be true that in small ciries or villages people might not speak English, but how likely is one to go there?
I would like to read that survey made by EU.

Posted by
1158 posts

Casey,

You are correct. I used to go shopping in Germany in small boutiques and everyone there spoke English.
Speaking a language fluent or good, takes more then knowing a few words. Here in the US , if ones knows 15 words in a foreign language, they believe they are fluent.
I met a girl a few yaers ago who said she was fluent in French.Since I spoke French fluent one time, I asked her a few questions, such as "what's your name" and she couldn't say it in French. Also she knew only numbers from 1 to 10, and nothing else beyound that. So, go figure!

Posted by
18228 posts

If you haven't meet a German who doesn't speak English, you haven't meet very many of them. I had dinner with my cousin, his wife, and a couple from their church a few years ago, and I none of them spoke English (or any other 2nd language). Amazing. I was the only one there who could claim to be bilingual, me, an American. Go figure. I love spending time in small towns and villages. That's the real Germany. I've stayed for instance in Fischen im Allgäu, Sigmaringen, Bad Herrenalb - all lovely towns, but don't go there if you don't speak German because English speakers are rare. Even the teenagers couldn't speak English.

My first 70 nights in Germany in the last 8 yrs I stayed in 17 family run hotels and gasthäuser. In 25%, the owners spoke fluent English. In another 25% I heard at most a sentence in English. In half they never spoke English to me, even when I struggled with German.

Posted by
18228 posts

Bea, that EU report is on their official website under "languages", "language diversity", but they recently changed the "languages" page, and the links don't work yet. I assume they'll fix that soon. If you will send me your email address offline, I'll send you a copy. It's about 145 kB, in pdf format.

Posted by
1158 posts

Lee,

You had a different experince then me. I've been to Sigmaringen as well and I didn't have any problems finding people who spoke English. We stopeed to have a coffee and something to eat in a small coffee shop on their main street and went to the Hohenzollern castle and asked all questions in English. We also asked a local a question about parking and she spoke English.Also the guy from the castle's gift shop spoke English.
I myself don't consider Sigmaringen that small of a city since it's apretty touristic area. I lived in Esslingen and I only spoke English with the locals.

Posted by
1158 posts

Lee, thanks for the report info.I will try to find it online, if not I will "abuze" your email.

Posted by
11798 posts

In truth I have met two Germans who could speak no English. The first was a Russian who was living in East Germany at the time of reconciliation. German was her second language and she hadn't learned English. The second was a man in his 50's from Spire, everyone in his group spoke English but they were pleased for him to talk to an American who could converse in German.

I would say I am conversant in German (rather than fluent). I cram with a computer program before any trip but it still takes awhile in country to get up to speed.

Posted by
12 posts

Another point, Tony, is that the German language and the German people enunciate their words so you clearly hear the beginning and the end of a word (unlike the French and Spanish language that tends to slur words together). Often, the English word is a derivative of the German word so listen closely and open your mind. You might not be able to translate every word they say but you can pick up enough to piece together the gist of the sentence. I do this with my wife and her grandmother. They think I dont know what they're saying but I do. lol!