Germany: Studying Language Abroad



If you’re studying abroad, you’re most likely going to be studying the language of your chosen country unless you have a special program or are fluent. Since week 2 here in Tübingen has been a little slow, meaning I’ve been in classes every day and not traveling very much, I thought I could write about my experience with studying language here and how it’s different than in the U.S.

First, European institutions mainly use the CEFR Levels to determine proficiency skills in a language, rather than by course levels or by saying “conversational” or “fluent.” In universities language courses have course titles with numbers, but these will be based on the CEFR Levels. Since I study in a language institute, my classes are numbered A1-C2, which are the CEFR Levels.

Here are the proficiency levels and basically what they mean for students. cefrThis is a lot to read, but it was really useful understanding this before coming to Germany and being assigned a letter/number combo.

One thing I’ve noticed is that almost everyone I have met knows a second or even third language, but usually it’s not English. Obviously, European nations are much closer in proximity, so knowing another language may be imperative for daily life. However, this makes for a huge difference in the classroom. While my teacher speaks French fluently, she often cannot understand English words and phrases, so goodbye to the whole “wait, what does ___ mean” and expecting your question to be understood or to be given a response in English. I have students from all over the world in my class, and they may understand simple words and phrases but could not explain the grammatical structures that my class focuses on. Right away, learning German here has been much more demanding but extremely rewarding simply due to this complete immersion. Therefore, if you’re planning on studying language abroad, be prepared to possibly struggle with not hearing English for a while (except when talking to your family or friends). I’m always surprised when I hear English on the bus or in town, which has been maybe once or twice.

Next, don’t be fooled by tourist traps, where many, many people speak English. This is due to the amount of tourists in the area. Here in Tübingen this isn’t so likely. Maybe your server knows English, but they will most likely not understand if you ask a lot of questions. Then it’s awkward. It’s best to assume that no one knows English, and then you get practice with your language, too. Plus, I’ve found it’s less awkward to try and speak in the needed language than to begin speaking in English. At the very least, you will be corrected or the server or employee will just begin speaking in English.

Example: Germany has wreaked havoc on my skin due to the water and the heat. I went to The Body Shop to find something that would help, and since the labels were all in German, I’d knew that I would need someone to explain what everything was. The employee knew exactly 0 English. I walked in and simply said “Ich habe eine Probleme mit….” and pointed to my chin and acne. Through very rudimentary German, we were able to understand each other, and I left with some new products and renewed confidence in myself. Even though you may make mistakes while speaking, it’s more important to at least try (this also makes you seem less “American”).

Further, the locals here do not speak English. My host family knows simple phrases because the father works as an ingenieur, but even then, this really doesn’t help. Throughout the past 2 weeks, we have gone from very simple to conversations to talking about the differences between American and German school systems, the economy, and the environment. Just these simple mealtime interactions have made all the difference in my German skills, and now I’m moving from my A2 class to B1 (again, more confidence). If you have the opportunity to stay with a host family while abroad, I highly recommend it. It may be awkward at first and the shower may be complicated or you may not know how to use the washing machine, but it has been one of my favorite aspects of the program. It has taken a lot of effort on my part, but I’ve really enjoyed learning about this culture from them and learning from conversations that are not out of a textbook.

In all language learning in a foreign country can be daunting, but so far, I have found the experience so, so rewarding and highly recommend it. Even if you have never spoken the language before, there is a place for you (summer courses are great), and it’s a fun way to earn your language credits.

Now, briefly, I did go to another castle. Hohenzollern castle is historically the seat of the Prince and Princess of Prussia. It’s on a hilltop, and we saw some of the most amazing views ever. Wherever I go, it seems that Germany has something new to offer, and there’s always something new for me to learn!

This upcoming week will be with more travelling, and I’ll be talking about the food! Until then, tschüß!

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