The German language is the primary language in Germany. With over 90 million native German speakers spread over Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg, it is the one of the world’s most common languages. Visitors may encounter some language difficulties when traveling through smaller cities and towns in Germany (especially in East Germany). Berlin is a bit unusual in this regard. Because of its large number of expats, tourists and young people, most residents may speak at least a little bit of English.
While German is the common language spoken throughout the city, you may encounter only English speaking staff in restaurants, hotels and other tourist related locations.
The Soviet Influence
When the Berlin wall was erected in the early 1960s, it changed many things for the citizens of Berlin, including language learning. Because of heavy Russian influence, people in East Berlin were taught Russian in school. A popular example is Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. She speaks fluent Russian but is not as comfortable in English because she wasn’t exposed to it growing up in East Berlin.
This is a common theme for older residents in Berlin. If you need to ask for directions or help while in the city, approaching a younger person (under 40) is a good idea as there is a higher probability that they speak English.
Learn common German phrases
If you don’t speak the language of Germany, don’t worry. The city is very easy to navigate for visitors. We recommend learning a few key phrases which can help on your daily adventures.
- Do you speak English? Sprechen Sie English?
- Thank you – Danke
- Thank you very much – Danke schön
- Goodbye – Tchüss
- Hello – Hallo
- Good Morning – Guten morgen
- Good Day – Guten tag
- No – Nein
- Yes – Ja
- One Beer Please – Ein Bier Bitte
We recommend checking out these phrases in this well explained Basic German Youtube video.
Making an effort to speak the local language is also appreciated when speaking with locals. Once they see you don’t speak German, they will probably switch to English. If you find yourself needing help in the city — simply ask “Do you speak English?” or if you’re feeling adventurous “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”.
Speaking German to Germans
If you already have a bit of German language knowledge it will help you on your travels and make your experience more enjoyable. If you’ve never spoken German outside of a classroom setting, it may be difficult for native speakers to understand you and they may immediately switch to English. They do this because Berliners are generally very helpful and they understand how tricky the German language can be. The German language comes in many regional dialects and it may surprise you to learn that German spoken in one region may be difficult to understand in another, even for native speakers!