English speakers flock to the busy tourist destination of Germany each year, because of beautiful and historic cities like Berlin and Hamburg. Of course, the famous Oktoberfest beer festival is also a big attraction for both the British and Americans. But how many speak English in Germany? Are you able to visit Germany and get by without speaking any German?
English is spoken widely in many of the popular regions of Germany, so you can definitely visit the country and not have to speak German, if you are visiting the popular areas. Over half of German people speak English at least to a basic degree. This is mainly because German is a popular tourist area, especially the cities. English is actually more readily spoken in Germany than places like France and Portugal.
Accordingly to recent estimates, about 56% of Germany speak English. This is a very good amount of people who speak English in Germany. It is more than many other European countries. Spain, Italy and France have about 30-40% of their population who can speak English.
The Germans are known for their efficiency, and this is true in their schooling system. Most schools teach English from a very early age, starting at primary school. Because of this, the majority of young ones in Germany (those under 50) are able to speak decent English. Of course, practice makes perfect… so those who speak or are around English speakers often will be better!
You can speak English in Germany in the main tourist spots
Most people who work in the main tourist attractions, or within the tourist sector will be able to speak a good amount of English. In the main cities of Germany, like Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Frankfurth, you will be able to speak English without any problems.
Of course, as with any country you visit, if you can speak a few basic phrases in German, the locals will appreciate it. In most of the tourist destinations, restaurant staff and shop owners will instantly switch to English when you visit. But they will be happy if you try and speak a few words in German first.
When you start to visit the smaller, less popular areas of Germany, you will start to come across a lot of older German people. These are less likely to speak English, because they would not have been taught it at school. When visiting these areas, you will benefit from knowing a few easy to learn phrases in German.
Speaking English in Germany depends on the location
Depending on where you are in Germany, the amount of English speakers varies. The majority of the country do know at least some English, however there is some variation in English speakers depending on the region of Germany that you are visiting. Compared to other European countries, the amount of people who speak English in Germany is very good.
You may have heard of the “east/west divide” in Germany, particularly speaking about those who can speak English in Germany. Before the fall of the Berlin wall, the East Germany side are said to speak less English. However, this isn’t quite the case.
Popular areas of the North-West territories of Germany like Bremen and Hamburg have a good amount of English speakers. However popular tourist destinations like the capital of Berlin also have a large number of English speakers.
Aside from this, the center of Germany has much less English speakers. However the number of speakers in central Germany is still a fair bit higher than in other European countries like Italy and Spain.
The southern parts of Germany have some English speakers, but not as much as the northern territories. Interestingly, it seems to be a divide in the country between North and South, rather than East and West. Overall, Germany has a much higher amount of German speakers than in other European countries.
Most large German cities speak good English
As we have with all of our articles, let’s look in a bit more detail how many speak English in Germany. We’ve listed below some of the main cities in Germany, and how many speak English in these areas.
English in Berlin
The beautiful capital of Germany has a very good number of English speakers. If you visit restaurants, hotels or shops, you will be able to speak English. Even outside of the popular tourist hotspots, many people will speak English at least to a basic degree. If they can’t, then they’ll be able to get a colleague or friend who can. English is spoken so often in Germany however, that the locals are starting to get a bit fed up of it. You can speak English in Berlin without problems.
English in Cologne
This lovely city is visited by many people from around the world. Because of this, English is spoken by many people here, both in the city centre and in tourist destinations. If you venture away from the main areas of tourism however, you will find less English speakers. Having said that, it is not too difficult to get by. Most ticket machines and direction signs are written in both German and English. Local Germans from Cologne are very friendly and happy to help. You should be ok speaking English in Cologne, but you may want to learn a few simple German phrases.
English in Düsseldorf
Many locals speak good English here. Even the local administration of the city speak English, so if you’re planning to stay for a long period of time, that’s an added bonus! Paperwork can be provided in English in some cases. It’s worth mentioning that you will settle in better if you learn some basic German, because most ticket systems and vending machines are written in German only. If you speak English in Düsseldorf, you will get by just fine though.
English in Frankfurt
The international city of Frankfurt is a central financial and business district. It also has an American military base. Because of this, you can speak English in Frankfurt without any problems. If you visit any major areas of Frankfurt, including restaurants, you will meet many English speaking locals. You will even see menus in English!
As with Cologne, ticket machines and signs are normally written in English. You will not have any issues travelling around Cologne if you can’t speak German, as English is widely spoken. As with everywhere though, you will give a better impression to the locals if you know a few basic German words.
English in Hamburg
This awesome city in Germany is the second largest, and has a very good amount of English speakers in the metropolitan area. The city also has a beautiful harbour, which also has many English speakers – particularly the young ones and professional business people. Taxi drivers, bus drivers and restaurants speak less English. The local dialect in Hamburg is a little more similar to English that ‘standard’ German. You can speak English in Hamburg, but locals would prefer you try and speak some German first.
English in Munich
There are many people who speak English in Munich. Younger ones in Munich are more likely to speak good English, because it is taught at school. This is also true of business people, who regularly communicate in English with their international colleagues. If you speak to local trades however, they may not speak English as well. Tourists have not mentioned any issues speaking English in Munich.
English in Stuttgart
Although not the largest number of English speakers in Germany, Stuttgart still has a good amount of English speakers. If you’re planning to move to Germany, Stuttgart has a lot of large international companies, who would want fluent English speakers. Household names including Bosch, Hewlett Packard and Porsche are all located in Stuttgart. If you can’t speak German, it’s possible you will still be able to get a job in one of these companies.
Speaking English in Germany if staying for a longer period of time
Germany is a fantastic country to work in, or to spend an extended holiday in. If you’re wanting to work or play in the country for a longer period of time, you should probably learn a little bit of German. It will help you to climatise to the new culture a little easier!
The national language and the German culture are items of pride for the German people, so if you’re staying long term, the locals will expect you to know the language.
The government in Germany became upset that there were too many locals restoring to speaking English in the country, rather than German. Incredibly, some locals only had a basic knowledge of their main language, German!
Although English is spoken is many businesses, you will be expected to speak German in some situations. This will also open up new opportunities to speak to locals and meet people. Luckily, German is not too difficult to learn, and there are many apps or courses available that can help. We personally love Duolingo.
If you’re staying in Germany for a long period of time, you should be able to speak German. The locals are relatively understanding with tourists, who are only visiting for a short space of time, however they will expect long-term visitors to integrate into the culture and the language.
Learning some German phrases
We’ve been searching the internet to find some basic German words and phrases that will help you get by in Germany. If you’re visiting for a short amount of time, these phrases will be incredibly valuable. The locals will appreciate you making the effort to speak their language!
If you’re planning to stay for a longer time period however, you will probably benefit more from taking German language courses, or using apps like Duolingo we mentioned above.
One of the advantages of learning German as an English speaker is that the words generally are pronounced as you would expect. Unlike languages like French, where vowels and dropped and words are combined, German is usually a little more harsh, and so is easier to read and learn.
We’ve found this useful youtube video with some common German phrases:
In summary, you will be able to speak English in Germany without any problems, if you are visiting one of the main cities, such as Berlin or Frankfurt. Restaurants, stores and major tourist attractions will speak good English, and you will also find English menus and English signs. If you visit some of the more rural areas of Germany however, you will need to know some German. Long-term visitors will also need to learn the lingo.