5 Ways to Improve Your German While Working Abroad

by Stephanie Echeveste

No more of this easy-peasy, half-arsed attempts at mastering German; your beer and schnitzel orders aren’t impressing anyone. It’s time you pull up your lederhosen and take your language learning seriously, especially if you are one of the lucky few who are working in Germany after graduation or you have scored a proper job in Germany.

If you have the time and energy to sign up for an intensive German language program on top of your international career, more power to you! But for the rest of us who don’t have that kind of time on our hands, we’ve got to come up with an alternative. We don’t want to squander the opportunity to improve our German leaps and bounds, right?!

Neuschwanstein Castle in southwest Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle in southwest Bavaria, Germany

Whether you are working in Germany itself or in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, or one of the many other countries where German is a national language, there are specific habits you can develop to increase the potential for fluency. Try these five daily activities to keep your German speaking, listening and comprehension skills strong while working abroad.

1. Buy a German magazine to read during your lunch break.

Subscribing to a German magazine, like Der Spiegel, is a great way to keep up on not only what’s hot in German pop culture, but also to increase your vocabulary. Not only will you start to subtly pick up on certain grammar structures and understated nuances in appropriate written versus spoken German, it will likewise introduce you to common slang terms (so all of your new freunds will think you’re leiwand).

Reading contemporary magazines will teach you how to speak German in a cool, casual manner, like a native. If you live and work in an urban area, you might be able to find German titles on a newsstand and for others working in smaller towns, the local supermarket is sure to have some reading material options.

If you’re not into the magazine thing, consider starting each day reading an article from blogs. This is just another great way to keep up on conversational German and the day-to-day phrases that are most commonly used instead of the formal usage and vocabulary words found in many textbooks.

In short…read in German habitually.

Bundestag, Berlin

Bundestag, Berlin

2. Listen to German radio while you work.

It’s incredible how much you can absorb by simply listening to the radio while doing other tasks. Try Tune In for several German language radio choices and find a station that suits your tastes. At first, you may enjoy the tunes without understanding the words, but before long you’ll have the lyrics down (and probably stuck in your head, too!).

Listening to music in a foreign language will help with your pronunciation and increase your likelihood of retaining speech patterns and syncopation. What’s more? It ensures you will be exposed extensively to the language daily (and not revolve solely around polite exchanges with your döner kebab guy or office small talk).

In short…listen to German daily.

3. Find a co-worker to practice German with outside of the office.

No amounts of listening, reading, and writing will prepare you for conversations with actual German-speakers. The key is to practice, and practice often. Finding a language buddy or a speech partner to regularly converse with will help you build the confidence and rapport necessary to develop other meaningful relationships with your co-workers, supervisors, flatmates, etc.

Jobs in Germany for foreigners may be hard to come by, but Deutschsprachiger are not! Your first point of contact will likely be a colleague who you have a natural connection with. If you work at a small company, you might have to reach out a little further to find a conversation partner. Ask around the office for suggested contacts or place an ad online describing what you are looking for, such as a weekly or monthly meetup.

In short…speak in German often.

Reichstag Dome, Berlin

Reichstag Dome, Berlin

4. Wind down after happy hour with a German short film.

Skip the weird YouTube videos and choose a real German film to get away from the stresses of work instead. After a long go at the daily grind, it can be nice to idly watch a German film. Not only will you be practicing your language skills, but you will also be learning more about their film culture, too (and trust us, it can get kinda weird too).

If you’re more of the sneak-a-video-in-at-work type, reward yourself after finishing a difficult task with five minutes or less of video, from Spiderman in Cairo to film clips. There is a ton of German films out there to suit your current mood or interest (as long as you promise not to fall deep into ein rabbit hole).

In short…watch German TV shows or movies regularly.

5. Keep a brief, daily log of your travels in German.

We’re not asking you to pour your heart out à la your private teen diary, but an often understated method for gaining fluency in the target language is to practice writing in it. Write (or type) short vignettes from your day to day life while working in Germany. You can jot down a play by play of your daily rigors, focus on specific interactions with locals, or reflect on what you’re learning as a whole.

The journal itself will serve over time as a pretty sweet progress report, and will make an amazing souvenir once you return home from your job in Germany.

In short…write in German frequently.

Hamburg Port, Germany

Hamburg Port

You’re as Good as Gold!

Say Auf Wiedersehen to your life as a monolingual! Speaking more than one language makes you smarter. It broadens your offerings as a professional. It unleashes new avenues of information, new cultures to delight in, and new ways to think about the world.

If you truly want to get better at German, you have to commit! With conscious effort and dedication, you can stay on top of your German skills and have something extra to contribute to your personal and professional life. Dedicate time each day to one or all of the aforementioned activities, and see how far your German skills can take you.

Make the most of your time working abroad by walking away not only with a baller paycheck and awesome memories, but also with Deutsche under your belt.