If you’re thinking about working in Germany but wondering if you can get by in English, this blog post is for you!
Trust me, I’ve been there, and it can be a bit of a culture shock. The language barrier is real, and it’s definitely one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when moving to Germany. But fear not, my friend! In this post, I’m going to give you the lowdown on the pros and cons of working in English in Germany.
I’ve been living and working in Germany for a few years now, and let me tell you, it’s been a rollercoaster of language struggles and wins.
But eventually, I landed a job where I could speak and work in my own native language. So, is it worth it to work in English in Germany? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out.
So, grab a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing), sit back, and let’s dive into it!
Can you work in Germany if you only speak English?
Let’s start off by answering the obvious question: can you work if you ✨only✨ speak English in Germany? Look, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s not a walk in the park either.
If you’re lucky enough to either be relocated on assignment or relocated as a remote employee, then you’re probably going to get away with conducting most of your life in English.
Germany is (very) slowly growing its digital services and making visa requirements less stringent, so life as a non-German speaker working in English in Germany is starting to become easier.
However, I would say that if you’re not living in a big city like Berlin or Hamburg, you’ll definitely need a basic level of German to get by in your day-to-day- life. So, while it’s possible to work in Germany with just English, it’s important to keep in mind that knowing some German will undoubtedly make your life a lot easier.
Pros of working in English in Germany.
Okay, positive things first!
Let’s say you find a job in Germany that allows you to work in English. You might be wondering if it’s worth pursuing this opportunity. Not to state the obvious, but there are a TONNE of advantages to working in English in Germany, especially if you’re a native English speaker or fluent enough that you don’t have to think too hard about it.
I asked my Instagram pals for their opinions on this topic and I’ve compiled the answers, plus my own thoughts, into these categories:
A lot of international companies have offices in Germany. Some even have their European or Global headquarters located in Germany. This gives English speakers a great chance to work for well-established, global brands. Plus, it’s likely that the general company language will be English.
Additionally, being an English speaker for a German company can be (emphasis on the word “can”) beneficial to both you and your employer. Generally speaking, English is the language of business and many other industries. As a native-level speaker, you have the opportunity to expand your client base outside of Germany and work with people on an international level.
2. Language Mastery
Working in English in a country where English is not the spoken language gives you, the native speaker, a unique opportunity to educate others, influence the narrative and promote the usage of select words.
A lot of people will look to you as the wizard of the English language. You get to decide how things sound and read, therefore being the master of how your organisation is perceived by the rest of the world.
I’d also argue working in English in Germany improves your English language skills. People will constantly ask what words mean, or what different words in English are. And boy can that catch you off guard sometimes! It’s best you download a dictionary app if you haven’t already.
3. Reduced cognitive load
If you manage to find a job working in English in Germany, then your brain will thank you! As if working wasn’t stressful enough, doing it in an entirely new language (a complicated language at that!) adds a whole other level of hard work to your day.
My first job in Germany meant speaking to my colleagues in German every day. Plus, I had started a semi-intensive German course the very same day I started my job. So I was learning a new job role in a new country in a new language, and then heading straight from work to the city to learn that language for 2 hours every night. That meant 12 straight hours a day in German. 🤯
But when you get to work in English, it takes away that level so you’re just a normal level of stressed. 🙃
It allows you to focus more on your actual workload and less on translating every word and sentence. Being able to use English in your daily work life can also allow you to multitask more effectively. If you’re able to understand a conversation without having to translate everything in your head, you can use that extra mental energy to take notes, ask questions, give input, and more.
4. It’s so much easier!
Saved the obvious answer until last. If you’re a native, or near-native, English speaker and you manage to bag an English-speaking job in Germany, then you’re sailing.
Depending on your field, you might find that you’re even able to do the same work that you did in your home country, whilst also getting an immersive cultural experience in a new country.
You’ll get a huge sense of freedom and independence because you won’t be relying on others to translate or interpret for you all the time. You might even find you’re able to work way more efficiently.
However, please keep in mind…
Finding an English-speaking job in Germany can allow you to hit the ground running and take full advantage of everything Germany has to offer immediately. As we’ve discussed, it’s way easier and can provide excellent opportunities.
But you should never take it for granted.
Working in your native language in Germany is a privilege and a luxury many do not have. It isn’t easy to find a job like this and often requires you to be a highly-skilled worker. So many “normal” workers, like me, struggled significantly.
The biggest tip I can give you for finding an English job in Germany? Network. Talk to people. Make friends with people. The only reason I got both my jobs here in Germany was thanks to friends.
Cons of working in English in Germany.
And now we flip the script. Believe it or not, there are some cons to working in English in Germany. So let’s take a look at why it might not be the best choice to make.
1. Lack of opportunities.
The complete opposite to point number one above.
Most job opportunities in Germany do require some level of proficiency in the German language. Level B1 or B2 is the most requested, although many job descriptions simply state they want you to be “fluent” as if fluent is a single level of language proficiency. 💀
Even in companies where English is the primary company language or working language for your role, it’s highly likely you’ll need some German language skills for certain projects or elements of your work. Therefore, not speaking German means you might miss out on opportunities, or even find it harder to advance in certain fields.
2. Cultural differences and communications challenges.
Working in any foreign country involves adjusting to a new normal. A new culture, communication style and new ways of working. I would say this is especially true for Germany since their communication style and working methods are a lot different to anything I’ve experienced before.
In a lot of big corporations or older companies that are yet to catch up to the 21st century (and trust me, there are still a tonne of them in Germany!), there’s a much bigger emphasis on hierarchy and respect for authority. It can be a big adjustment coming from the more informal and egalitarian work cultures in English-speaking countries.
You may find yourself grappling with a formal workplace environment where addressing your boss as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” followed by their last name is the norm. It was certainly a shock for me coming from a first-name nation like the UK. I never had to refer to my boss as “Mr. or Mrs. Jones” back home, and nobody ever referred to me as “Ms. Montague.” Adjusting to this level of formality can take some getting used to and may require a shift in your communication style.
3. Limited integration opportunities.
Got plans to stay in Germany for a long period of time? Then I’m also guessing you want to integrate, at least on a surface level. Building a network of both personal and professional contacts is always a good idea, wherever you are in the world. But if you don’t speak any German, integrating and building your network could be a challenge.
If you’re living your whole life in English, work included, and you have no motivation to learn the language, then I can 100% guarantee it’s going to be an uphill battle trying to make friends, join clubs, or participate in local events.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture. Even if your working in an English-speaking environment.
4. Your German will probably suck.
Hate to break it to you, but if you’re working only in English and having minimal contact with the German language during your everyday life, then your German language level is probably going to take a tumble.
How do I know this? Because it happened to me. Prior to starting my English-language job in Germany, I worked in German about 70% of the time. And let me tell you, nothing improves your language level quicker than simply HAVING to speak it and be around it.
But when you’re working in English in Germany, you won’t get as many opportunities to speak the language on a day-to-day basis.
So, is working in English in Germany worth it?
As with all things in life, nothing is simple. There are pros and cons to everything.
Ultimately, the choice is personal to you. It also very much depends on the industry you work in, your education level (Germany loves a piece of paper “proving” you can do something, but this is a totally different topic that I’ll discuss at a different time – I HAVE THOUGHTS), and where you live in Germany.
There has been a significant rise in the number of English-speaking jobs available in Germany since 2019, so your chances of landing one are getting better. But beware – many professional Germans speak a very good, if not native, level of English as well. It’s no longer a special, sought-after skill, so you’ll be fighting it out with a lot of candidates.
My advice? Network like crazy. Build connections. Meet people. I’ve now landed two fully English-speaking roles in Germany through people I know.
But always remember that if you land that role, it’s a privilege and should not be taken for granted or expected everywhere.
Are you working in English in Germany? Drop in the comments or slide into my Instagram DMs and share your experiences!