Which language is the most widely spoken native language in the European Union? Which language ranks as the 11th most spoken language in the world? Which language is considered official in more countries than you think? Give up yet? It’s German! Reigning official in Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy (in South Tyrol, a northern province of Italy), and recognized as a secondary language in Denmark, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, studying German can take you more places than initially meets the eye.
While there are many dialects, the main two are standard German and Swiss German, and the two can sometimes be intelligible to the other. However, the ‘building block’ like language makes it easy to learn once you’ve mastered the structure. Ready to start? Read on for our how-to guide and explore hundreds of German language programs below:
As always with an academic program, choose one that is based on your goals. For your German language learning self, you have more programs to peruse and ponder over and you don’t necessarily have to travel to only Germany.
If you’re looking for a solid first exposure to the speaking environment, then a language study & cultural immersion combination program is going to be the best since the culture and language are heavily intertwined. Mastering idioms and slang are best done with immersion (can you imagine trying to learn spill the beans or shoot the breeze from a textbook?).
If you’ve already got a good base and want to put your skills to the test, then a language study & internship option can help you perfect your grammar, learn social norms, and master business etiquette. A side benefit of doing an internship is you’ll be exposed to conversational German with your colleagues.
However, be mindful of the various dialects! Make sure your program indicates if you’ll be studying Swiss German or standard German. Below are some recommendations about popular types of language programs to choose from when deciding where to master German:
- University Courses: are the most common forms of language study. German speakers are known as planners, so be prepared for rigorous classes! The university courses are going to be the most structured since credit equivalencies are of the highest priority. Working with your home university or a partner provider will ensure your classes will count for credit towards graduation. Most universities also have culture, literature, and history classes to explain the why behind the language.
- Homestay Programs: are an excellent addition with university courses because it gives you direct practice with what you learn in class. Your host family gives you an opportunity to practice what you learn and gives you a context to retain vocabulary, verbs, and structure. If the family has small children, those can be some of the best teachers because they’re still learning, too!
- Language Study & Culture Immersion: Language study combination programs are best for all level learners. When paired with culture immersion, it’s best suited for beginning learners.
- Language Study & Internship Combination Programs: Advanced Deutsch speakers can put their skills to the test while mastering grammar in a language study + internship program. Both are typically organized by a provider and can be catered to your specific and personal goals.
Why Learn German Abroad?
German is a high demand language, with boasting leaders in energy efficiency, a strong international economic presence, and after English, German is the second most used language on the internet and the third most taught around the world. Germany has one of the largest economies in the world (ranked fourth), and is the largest in Europe.
Not only that -- but it may be easier than you think. English shares many cognates with German, and now German borrows from English, with verbs such as Instagrammen and Googeln. While any foreign language skills give you an advantage in the increasingly connected world we live in, German provides an average $128,000 of bonus cash throughout one’s lifetime. That’d make it easy to traverse the 17+ countries that speak it while making friends with the top international tourist spenders… the Germans!
Say Hello Like the Locals: Hallo! Otherwise, when seeing someone you know, greet them with a Guten Tag! Wie geht’s? which translates to Good day/Hello! How are you? Use Guten Morgen for good morning, Guten Abend for good evening, and Gute Nacht for good night.
Fancy a Joke?
"The train announcer at the main station was imprisoned!"
"He announced 'Please step back/resign!' as Erich Honecker's train was arriving!"; in German zurücktreten, bitte! can mean both please step back! and please resign!
Guilty as charged: Lederhosen, those famous German overalls, are not pronounced “leader hosen”. Many non-German speakers pronounce it as such, but beware! You’re saying song pants instead of leather pants. Instead, pronounce it “led-er hosen” and fits of giggles while traveling in Germany will be avoided.
Wow others with an Idiom!
Er/Sie nimmt kein Blatt vor den Mund. Literally translates to (s)he takes no paper in front of the mouth, but means that (s)he doesn’t beat around the bush and gets straight to the point.
Did you know...? that German was the official language in the African nation Namibia between 1984 and 1990?
With seven countries claiming German as their official mother tongue, the German speaking world is your oyster. Below are three potential options for big city lovers that want to make sure they have plenty of cultural activities at their disposal outside of the classroom.
Berlin, Germany: Ranked as one of the top student cities worldwide, Berlin is no stranger to international students from all over the world. It attracts students to its top four internationally recognized universities, such as Humboldt University and the Free University of Berlin and countless colleges and universities in between. In short, we love this spot for first time German learners because of its affordability and high volume of people learning just like you!
Vienna, Austria: Vienna is a well kept secret for German learners and arts lovers alike. Voted as another best city for students, Vienna is filled with music, literature, arts, and makes it easy to travel to class and arts events with their CityBike Wien bike sharing . Top universities include the University of Vienna, the Vienna University of Technology, and the Vienna University of Economics and Business. It’s a perfect city for the classical music fanatic with a desire to dominate the Deutsch.
Zurich, Switzerland: Studying in the most neutral country of the European Union, Zurich puts you (literally) in the middle of the German language learning world and one of the world’s top research cities. Home to the 5th best university in Europe, ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich combines your love for natural science, technology, and German all in one place. If natural science isn’t your style, then perhaps Switzerland’s largest, the University of Zurich, will best meet your academic strengths in German, medicine, or immunology. When you’re not in class, you can check out one of its 70 cultural events, the Zurich Wilderness Park, or their Chinese garden.
Choosing a German Learning Program
Lucky for you, there are now programs upon programs to choose from when studying German abroad. Your age, language level, and pocket depth don’t have to define your program as there’s bound to be one to fit your style and goals. Each one has specific guidelines, cost, available scholarships, and cultural activities to accelerate your learning.
Cultural Immersion/Extracurricular Activities
One of the best ways to master a new language is to have a language partner. Typically, a language partner is interested in learning English and you in learning German. You can grab coffee together, tour local markets, or visit some of the local sites -- all while getting an insider’s view to the culture, city, and country. No matter where you decide to study, many of the countries where they spreche se Deutsch boast popular tourist attractions and cultural sites to keep your calendar and brain occupied. Top sites cater to culture vultures, museum goers, outdoor enthusiasts, and history buffs. Germany alone has 39 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and more pending. Check it out for Switzerland, Austria, and other country sites to gain understanding to the vast history of the language!
In order to get studying German abroad, there are some minimum requirements you must meet. Some include minimal exposure to the language or none at all, while most require good academic standing, strong mental and physical health, and you typically will write a short essay about your goals for the program.
The most common programs are geared toward university aged students, but that does not mean you can’t go abroad if you’re in high school or a professional (and beyond). There are programs for high schoolers, anyone not associated with a school, and endless numbers of university programs (check with your university’s study abroad office first to see if they have existing programs!).
In regards to visas, at the time of this publication, most European Union countries do not require a visa if you plan on studying three months or less, but check with your university or provider for guidance.
Level of Difficulty
Luckily, German has innumerable English cognates to make the learning process easier. While it doesn’t make the top 10 easiest languages to learn list, German’s grammar and vocabulary are similar to English so you have a strong foundation even if you’ve never studied a foreign language before. You’ve already got some phrases/words mastered, such as the Heimlich maneuver, poodle, hamburger, wanderlust, delicatessen, zeppelin, and streusel to name a few. The more you study, the more you’ll realize how similar German is to English and vice versa!
Costs vary based on your program and country you’ll be in to study German. The euro has been stronger than the dollar in recent years, so that adds into the cost. However, you are paying for high quality as Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are internationally known for their top notch education.
Still, not to worry. Many German speaking cities (Berlin, Vienna, Zurich, Munich) have been voted some of the best student cities in the world -- meaning, they’re budget friendly. Overall, the best way to cut down costs are to look for university exchange programs so you pay nearly the same rate you would at home, scholarships to offset flights, meals, and lodging, and look into tutoring English on the side to earn extra spending money.
A common misconception with any study abroad experience is its high cost. Not true...if you do your homework! There are endless amounts of scholarships available, and some that are specific to studying German abroad:
- The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD, acronym is based on its significance in German) has scholarships for as little as three weeks up to a full year
- Deutche Kultur International lists many opportunities for studying, teaching, and doing research
- 65 Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships to feast your eyes on and see where else you can cut costs