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View Full Version : Why Do Germans (Berlin and Otherwise) Refuse to Speak English?



Unregistered
Thursday, December 22nd, 2016, 10:27 AM
Why are Germans so reluctant about speaking English? I was under the impression that they taught English as a second language in Germany, nevertheless it was hard to find a German in Berlin that would speak it. Is it because Germans are patriotic about their language? Maybe it's a German thing, like the French refuse to speak any other language. That's understandable, but surely you guys don't expect every tourist or investor to speak fluent German? Hasn't anybody thought it could be bad for business etc.?

Thusnelda
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016, 11:26 PM
Sprichst du Deutsch, bist a Mensch. Sprichst du es nicht, bist a Aff. ;)

Unregistered
Friday, December 30th, 2016, 05:19 AM
In Berlin? You weren't talking to Germans... you were talking to the cultural enrichments from
the Arabic regions!

Namreg
Tuesday, January 24th, 2017, 03:55 PM
I had American expats complain to me that so many Germans insisted on speaking English to them instead of giving them more opportunity to train their German.

Mrs vonTrep
Wednesday, January 25th, 2017, 06:29 PM
If you move to Germany you should learn the German language, there's no doubt about that. But it's hard to get by in Germany as a tourist, they don't speak English and many don't even seem to understand English. And even tourist attractions only have information in German, so it's hard to enjoy it fully. I guess you have to read up on whatever it is you want to go see before you go there so you know the history behind it, or other info that could be interesting. Even the people working at the tourist attractions didn't want to speak English to us. :(

Modie
Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 12:01 PM
This is interesting, though never having been to Germany, I have been to Kenya. Most people there can speak 3 languages with English being one of them. Most of the educated people (those who actually have schooling) have no problem speaking English to tourists. I think maybe the case of the Germans is the same as that here in the U.S. We don't put much emphasis in learning other languages since we are in our own country. I mean really, I can't remember the last time I heard anyone working an American tourist attraction speaking German to a German tourist:)

Onkel Ollrich
Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 02:37 PM
Berlin isn't Germany. It is a dysfunctional 3rd world ****-hole.
In Germany almost everyone can speak and understand at least a bit english. And, if you're kind, they'll speak english with you.

Juthunge
Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 09:41 PM
If you move to Germany you should learn the German language, there's no doubt about that. But it's hard to get by in Germany as a tourist, they don't speak English and many don't even seem to understand English. And even tourist attractions only have information in German, so it's hard to enjoy it fully. I guess you have to read up on whatever it is you want to go see before you go there so you know the history behind it, or other info that could be interesting. Even the people working at the tourist attractions didn't want to speak English to us. :(

I'm always wondering to what kind of people someone complaining about that has actually talked to. It's true that people older than about 40 generally speak rather bad English. Simply because it wasn't as important and taught as much back when they were in school. Still, most will at least friendly tell you that they don't speak English very well but try to help you out anyway.

But anyone younger than that should speak and understand English reasonably well and most certainly make an effort to help if you ask them directly.
Then again one could have accidentally asked one of the 20-30% of foreigners in any given place in Germany, many of whom wouldn't have been educated in a German school at all or really don't want to help you out.

Any major and many smaller tourist attractions I've seen in Germany on the other hand is a least bilingual German and English and most are even trilingual, with the addition of French or even more.
It's of course not inconceivable that some local, very small museum in a village will be German only but Germany is also not exactly a country relying on the tourism economy so I think it's understandable.

The same goes for the tourism staff of these attractions who, at the very least, will speak English well. Otherwise they totally failed at their job of course but in that case they'd likely get fired pretty fast.

Unregistered
Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 10:17 PM
Yes, I was talking to Germans in Berlin. I've also visited Vienna, another popular tourist attraction and the Austrian reluctance to speak English was just as high, eventhough these are tourist cities. I understand why someone in a small village wouldn't speak English. But why someone in a tourist city wouldn't is beyond me. I felt that it could be a matter of attitude and ignorance about the surrounding world, kind of like Americans who can't and don't want to speak another language. Thusnelda is basically saying if you don't speak German you are an "ape". And I don't mean average people but people who are in the service and authority branch. A person I was traveling with had an accident and had to be taken to hospital. He was trying to get someone who spoke English but they couldn't find anyone who could communicate properly. After this person got out of hospital, he was sent a bill of a few hundred Euros at his hotel address. Apparently health care in Austria is not free, including emergency health care, and they didn't ask or check for my friend's travel insurance. They kept asking him for a "card", I suppose they wanted him to pay right away. It took my friend several months to untangle himself from the bureaucratic mess and they kept sending him invoices at the hotel, even after he left Austria. My friend got into this mess because nobody was competent enough to communicate it to him in English.

I understand why Germans and Austrians wouldn't like immigrants who can't speak their language, but you can't expect tourists to speak and understand your language perfectly? They don't even speak textbook German in Austria, but some form of dialect.

I have nothing against Germans or Austrians, by the way. I try to learn a few expressions of the language of each country I'm about to visit. But I have to subscribe to the same experience Mrs vonTrep described. :(

Sl
Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 10:33 PM
I'm pretty sure as a tourist you had to interact with taxi drivers, right? These don't only not speak English, they also rarely speak the language of the country they're living in. In Germany and Austria, many of them are probably Turkish, Albanian, Azerbaijani or some dark ethnicity from the Caucasus.

Juthunge
Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 11:33 PM
Yes, I was talking to Germans in Berlin. I've also visited Vienna, another popular tourist attraction and the Austrian reluctance to speak English was just as high, eventhough these are tourist cities. I understand why someone in a small village wouldn't speak English. But why someone in a tourist city wouldn't is beyond me. I felt that it could be a matter of attitude and ignorance about the surrounding world, kind of like Americans who can't and don't want to speak another language. Thusnelda is basically saying if you don't speak German you are an "ape". And I don't mean average people but people who are in the service and authority branch. A person I was traveling with had an accident and had to be taken to hospital. He was trying to get someone who spoke English but they couldn't find anyone who could communicate properly. After this person got out of hospital, he was sent a bill of a few hundred Euros at his hotel address. Apparently health care in Austria is not free, including emergency health care, and they didn't ask or check for my friend's travel insurance. They kept asking him for a "card", I suppose they wanted him to pay right away. It took my friend several months to untangle himself from the bureaucratic mess and they kept sending him invoices at the hotel, even after he left Austria. My friend got into this mess because nobody was competent enough to communicate it to him in English.

I understand why Germans and Austrians wouldn't like immigrants who can't speak their language, but you can't expect tourists to speak and understand your language perfectly? They don't even speak textbook German in Austria, but some form of dialect.

I have nothing against Germans or Austrians, by the way. I try to learn a few expressions of the language of each country I'm about to visit. But I have to subscribe to the same experience Mrs vonTrep described. :(

I’m pretty sure Thusnelda was just joking. ;)

Sad to hear that you’ve had such unpleasant experiences with Germans and Austrians though. But I’m certain it’s mostly just unfortunate coincidences and not really down to a matter of attitude because Germans(including Austrians) are actually exaggeratedly “cosmopolitan” nowadays. In some respects unfortunately even too much so.

They probably did in fact ask your friend for his travel insurance though when they were asking for his “card”, since both in Germany and Austria you’re legally obliged to have a health insurance – and a corresponding insurance card.
They’ll of course treat you first nevertheless and charge you or rather your insurance for the costs later.
Of course it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ask a foreigner for his insurance card. But they probably simply didn’t know the term “insurance” since you’ve said they had no one competent enough in English. Better luck for your next visit!

Nachtengel
Sunday, January 29th, 2017, 07:58 AM
Most Germans learned English but if we don't use it on a daily basis, we start forgetting it. That or you might have just met the wrong people. Maybe immigrants who don't speak any language or people who are too lazy to try understanding you or they underestimate their English.

On the other hand, we have many German members and even German staff who all speak good English, some who are even proficient at it. Participation on forums like these helps. You could compare it with living in the US, I guess. If you don't need to speak another language and you don't practice it, time takes its toll. On the other hand, how many Americans speak fluent German, or another Germanic language?

Huginn ok Muninn
Monday, January 30th, 2017, 06:26 AM
There is another thing... If I were German and were expected by Americans to speak English all the time, it might annoy me to the point where it would remind me of being conquered and occupied by English speakers (many of whom were negro G.I.s who took our women.) I would frankly tend to hate Americans and Brits if I were German. And I would politely refuse to speak their language to them.

But that's just me.

Ward
Tuesday, January 31st, 2017, 07:47 AM
Unlike perhaps, say, Norway or the Netherlands, one shouldn't travel to Germany under the assumption that he won't have any trouble finding English speakers, especially if he strays from the tourist spots into more blue-collar areas. When I stayed in the decidedly non-tourist city of Bochum, for instance, I found English speakers to be few and far between. Given that English is the language of globalization, this is probably a good thing as far as German ethnic preservation goes. Besides, there are roughly 100 million German speakers in the world (according to Wikipedia), so a German can still live a full life without having to learn another language.

Thusnelda
Wednesday, February 1st, 2017, 09:07 PM
Im pretty sure Thusnelda was just joking. ;)

Are you sure?...;)

Well, I think we Germans understand English pretty good. But the difference between writing and speaking is large. I can write quite proper English but I totally fail when speaking English. For example, that "th" (spoken "thee aitsch") is impossible to me, I cant do it. So Im quite shy about speaking in English language.

Many tourist hotspots are multilingual, though. Its not true to say that Germans are relucant to speak English language.

Go to France! then you see what real reluctance is. :P Because French people are quite arrogant about their language and look down on English- or German speakers.

Unregistered
Thursday, February 2nd, 2017, 11:44 AM
Thanks for the input and explanations.

I am not American, by the way. I should have specified that from the start. I am Scandinavian, so English is as foreign a language to me as to a German. ;)

I have visited France as well, and I was expecting some language arrogance, but surprisingly compared to Germany, those people working with tourists were more open towards communicating in English. What I've observed in the French is that they "frenchify" a lot of English words, and have a heavy French accent in their pronunciation. But that doesn't bother me, as long as we can understand each other, who cares. A common thing in both France and Germany was dubbing of films and TV shows.

I can understand why people are proud of their language and culture, I am proud of my own language and culture, but I also love to travel, have fun and learn about other cultures. English is as far as I know still the international language or lingua franca. I don't see how speaking a foreign language endangers your own language anyway. Even if you spoke English daily or moved to an Anglophone country, native language is not something you just forget. It's like riding a bicycle or driving a car, even stronger than that. In fact speaking more than two foreign languages can be training for the brain.