8 Communication Tips For Non-German Speakers Living in Germany

Aussie ex-pat Kathryn Gorman, a Communication Expert, Educator and Author, has been living in Berlin for over two years. We asked her for some tips to help you when you move to Germany.



You have arrived… in Germany, and Du sprichst kein Deutsch (You don’t speak German). What do you do? Larger cities tend to have more residents who speak English. In the smaller cities and towns, it can be harder to find English speakers. Here are eight practical tips to help you navigate your way around your new home… even if you don’t speak German.



Ask for help

‘Entschuldigung, sprechen Sie Englisch? (‘Excuse me please, do you speak English?’) I’ve stopped many people in the street, or in a shop or train station and asked this question. Most Berliners are very happy to help, even if they only speak German.

Many Germans do speak at least some English though, and it is the most common language used in business throughout the EU. Most professionals understand and speak English well, yet when asked, commonly reply ‘A little’– even when their English is at a high level. However, not all Germans speak English so you may need help in communicating with them.

Use technology–even if you’re scared of it!

Make your transition easy by installing a translation app on your Handy (cell phone). When I’m away from my laptop, I use  Google Translate. Open the app, click on the microphone button, and ask a question.



Once you’ve finished speaking, click the microphone button again. It will show you your question and the German translation. Click on the microphone button to hear the German pronunciation. Say it or play it to the lovely native German speaker helping you.




Experiencing a brief freak-out?

Have you received a lengthy Brief (letter) about your Krankenversicherung (health insurance)? Opened your post to discover your brand new Girocard/EC-Karte and don’t know what to do next? Overwhelmed by the mail from your child’s Kita (day care) or Schule (school)? Perhaps you scan the page, understanding only your name and personal details? I remember how overwhelmed I was when I first arrived in Berlin. I’d check my mail, feeling incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t read it. Kein Stress! (Don’t stress!)

Handy technology

Instead of throwing the letter on your desk in frustration (like I did), grab your Handy (cell phone). Open your translation app and click on the camera option. Hold it over the letter then press the camera button for instant translation!

It may not give you the perfect grammar which German native speakers are renowned for. But it will communicate the general idea of the message. I suggest downloading an app which has written, spoken and camera options. You can also screenshot the image and save to your photos for later reference.

The camera option in Google Translate is also perfect for online PDF documents such as those on Government sites, which may not allow for translation. It’s particularly useful when filling in medical forms at the Arzt (doctor) or Krankenhaus (hospital). And it’s handy (pun) when you’re out and about, to understand signs and advertisements. It’s also useful in the post office, shops, museums, galleries, and restaurants.

When searching online, click on the ‘Aa’ beside the website name in your browser. This gives you an option to translate into English. You can also set your laptop to automatically translate websites into English.

When writing important emails or messages, I highly recommend DeepL. This translation program is comprehensive and known to be extremely accurate with technical information. Perfect for documents, proposals, and manuscripts. Basic short translations are free, or you can purchase DeepL Pro with flexible options to suit your specific needs. I use it when conversing with my German publisher, who also finds it extremely helpful.

Don’t order the Liver (unless you like it)

You arrive at a restaurant near home or work, hungry and ready to eat. You open the Speisekarte (menu)… only to discover it is  written in German! Alles gut! (All good.) If this is the case, simply hold your translation app over the menu to read it. Otherwise you may find yourself ordering an unwanted surprise.

Some menus, especially in tourist areas or a city centre, are written in German with English underneath. Many restaurants have an English version of their menu which you can request: Haben Sie eine Karte auf Englisch? Or ask the Kellner/Kellnerin (waiter/waitress) if they speak English. At the very least, polish up on your German number pronunciation (or use a translation app), as many dishes on the Speisekarte are numbered.

There are some German specialties which you may wish to sample…or avoid. Leberwurst (liver sausage) is not to my taste, but Germans adore it. Personally, I adore the Swabian specialty Spätzle, an egg noodle served with meat or cheese. And I’m still on the hunt for the best spätzle in Berlin! The famous Berliner Currywurst is another specialty, as is Schnitzel, a breaded meat often served with Pommes (French fries). Order something familiar or be adventurous and try something new. Ask the waiter for suggestions. There is amazing food in Germany; give it a go and your taste buds will thank you.



It’s good for your health

Maybe like me, you’ve moved to Germany knowing only a handful of people or…no-one? Or perhaps your partner has a new job here and your children are out at Kita or school all day? Maybe you’ve left special friends back home and you miss them, and your time-zones don’t align? And you wander the streets of your new city, or sit in a cafe sipping your Doppelter Espresso, feeling alone and lonely?

I’ve been there and I want to tell you one important thing: It doesn’t make you a ‘loser’ if you don’t yet have friends in your new home. What it makes you is an adventurer, a traveller, and someone who has an amazing opportunity to meet new people from all around the world. You will meet people and you will make new friends. However, you may need to be pro-active about it.

When you move to a foreign country, it’s important for your mental health to speak your mother-tongue. You may dive into learning German, but remember it takes a lot of energy, focus and brain power. Moving is a huge adjustment on many levels and you may need times where you can relax and speak freely to someone, without having to dig into your brain for the German word. So, make a friend who speaks your language. If they also speak German, that’s great. They can help you learn. But communicate clearly if you need space to express your experiences in the language which is most familiar to you.

Why females need to speak their mother tongue

Moving to a new country is a stressful experience. It’s normal when you move to a new location to feel stressed and anxious and unsure of yourself. Suddenly, because of the language barrier, simple everyday tasks such as supermarket shopping or going through your mail can become overwhelming. And they can take much longer to complete. When females are stressed, one of the fastest ways we de-stress is through talking to a caring friend. Science has shown how ‘Feel good’ conversations can release higher levels of dopamine, endorphins and other biochemicals which give us a sense of wellbeing.  So make a friend and give yourself a boost. Then you’ll have more energy for navigating the new culture and language you’re living in.

Will you be my friend?

It’s okay to tell people you want to make new friends. Children do it all the time in the playground. (Do you wanna play with me?) It’s totally fine to ask people if they would like to hang out with you. And it’s also completely fine if they say no. Move on. They are not your person.

I met my first Berlin friend Christiane in line at a music concert. We got chatting and she then invited me to more concerts, which is a love we share. Join a class. Go to a MeetUp. Use a dating app. Do the things you love to do, where people who also love those things hang out. You can meet people anywhere, at any time; amazing, fun people who could become lifelong friends. So go ahead, and ask some cool native German speaker: Will you be my friend?

Practice speaking German with your new friend

Do you want to improve your German language skills? Ask your friend to only speak German with you for a short time in each meeting, then check your understanding. Having a realistic goal to learn one new word each day makes learning German easy and fun.

If you want to become fluent in German, immersion is always key. Talk to your neighbours, local café owner or colleagues. Become a volunteer or offer to share your unique skill set.

Hang out with a child

If you have children attending Kita or Schule, consider inviting their new friends over for a playdate. Listening to your children playing with their German speaking friends brings the German language into your home. If you don’t have children, seek out a native German speaker who has small children.

Hanging out with kids is a sure-fire way to hear repetitive, simple language. Children don’t care if you don’t speak their language–they talk to you anyway! My friend’s six-year-old daughter Lucie knows I don’t speak much German, but she chatters away to me anyway, in a most animated fashion. Her mum then translates what I don’t understand. I always come away with a full heart and an improved vocabulary.

You will learn more from someone who only speaks German because it forces you to engage. Approach this with an open heart and an open mind. If you are both willing and open to communicate, it’s amazing how far you can get.



Meet a German speaker

Talk to your neighbours, local café owner or colleagues. Become a volunteer or offer to share your unique skill set. Join a new group or attend a German speaking Pilates or yoga class. Seek out a group with a skill you already have such as sailing or football or knitting. Sharing a common goal will connect you to others, even if you don’t speak their language. And it will immerse you in the German language.

When I’m hanging out with my German speaking friends, I’ve observed they switch to German when I leave the conversation, then back to English when I’m present. Sometimes I ask them to continue speaking German so I can check my understanding. Most people are very happy to do this. I’m particularly motivated when someone tells a joke as I hate to miss out on the fun!

I also have a few fellow Word Nerd Friends who are German native speakers. We often pull out our Handy when one of us can’t find the exact word and then engage in a fascinating linguistic conversation about the etymology (origin) of words. Finding common phrases in both our languages helps. This mightn’t be your thing, but if it is, it’s a great way to improve your language skills.

Immersion is key

You will learn more from someone who only speaks German because it forces you to engage. Seek out a neighbour or acquaintance who only speaks German. Ask them to help you practise your new language, perhaps catching up for coffee an hour a week. My friend Emilia suggested this as one of her first German friends did not speak English. She told me her friend very patiently listened as she stumbled her way through conversations. But she tells me this improved her German dramatically in a very short time. Most Germans love their language and are delighted to help you.

Stay open and engage

Many Germans enjoy practising their English. If you ask someone you stop on the street for help with directions, and they are fluent, be prepared for a little chat. They may ask where you’re from and why you moved to Germany. They become particularly excited if they have travelled to your homeland and may want to tell you about their travels. This gives you an opportunity to practise your German as you ask them about their travelling adventures, where they grew up and why they live in your city now.

The Germans frequently use the word ‘bitte’ (please).  I suggest adding it to your sentences as it is polite, and Germans appreciate etiquette. Politeness is always effective in helping you communicate better to have your needs met, as is a smile (now that masks are mostly off, and we can see people’s faces again).

Younger people are often fluent in English as they learn it in school. Their face lights up when I tell them their English is excellent. If in doubt, seek out a millennial!



Join a class

German Language classes are popular all over Germany. They are also an opportunity to meet other people like you who are new to the German language and culture. This could be a person who helps you improve your German, as well as becomes a new friend. Invite them for coffee after class and practice ordering in German.

Consider a meetup

Meetup groups are another option. Whether it’s an English-speaking yoga class, a German-speaking running group, or even a wine club, you can connect with like-minded souls. Join a professional group to meet others in your industry. There are various meetup groups throughout your city which you can find by searching online.

Use an app to meet someone

If you’re single, you may like to consider online/app dating. I did this shortly after I’d moved to Berlin. I resisted at first, as I was recently out of a long-term relationship and had always met my partners organically. However I did meet some interesting people, many who are fluent in English. Most apps have a section where users can insert the languages in which they are fluent. This makes it easy to find someone who speaks your language. And, speaking from experience, it makes dating a whole lot easier!

Are you in a relationship but just want to meet new people? Some dating apps like Bumble also provide a ‘seeking friendship’ option. This makes it easy to make friends who speak your mother tongue and are also bilingual or multi-lingual.



Use instant translation

Isn’t it amazing in our technology driven modern times how we can click a button and translate a page of symbols into a language we understand? Make the most of this to help you learn, understand, and communicate in German.

Most apps have a translation option. For example, in Outlook, right click on the email body and select ‘translate’. In Safari and Chrome, click on the ‘Aa’ symbol in the browser window and select ‘translate’. Or choose the ‘translate this page’ option before visiting a site. You can also set your laptop to ‘Always translate to English’.

Some social media sites like Instagram have a translation option under the text.

With PDF’s, save to a word doc version then translate as suggested above. Or use the camera tool in a translation app such as Google Translate. Then screenshot the translated version and save it to your photos. Print it out if needed.

Use your downtime

When watching Netflix or Amazon Prime, consider switching the audio to German with English (or your mother tongue) subtitles. Or watch your favourite re-runs in German. Even fifteen minutes a day immerses you in the language and you’ll be surprised how quickly you learn. This is because when we watch a screen, we are automatically in Alpha State – the peak brain state for learning. If you become brain tired, then switch the audio back to your mother tongue to chill and enjoy the program.

As an ex-teacher, I wasn’t always a fan of too much screen time, such as TV, video games, X-Box or PlayStation. However I’ve lost track of the number of young adults I’ve met in Germany with excellent English who tell me they learned a lot of English from games and TV. Why? Because we learn best when we’re having fun. So you might like to consider downloading simple children’s apps in German or watching some familiar television programs, even those from your childhood.

When I first arrived in Berlin, we were in COVID lockdown, so I watched Sesamstraße (Sesame Street). I loved this show as a kid and it’s how I learned my English letters and numbers before starting school. Watching it in a foreign language makes it familiar and fun, and your inner child, who helps you learn, will engage to help you learn German.

Current affairs

If you want to keep up with current affairs, DW (Deutsche Welle) is a German broadcaster with a service available in 32 languages. They often feature news clips and information videos with English subtitles. This site was invaluable to me during the COVID pandemic and the national elections. You can subscribe to their weekly newsletter for a round-up of news and current affairs. It also features fun language learning articles. In a recent post I learned, ‘Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm’ (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). I then used it with a German speaking friend–correctly and in context; yay!–and was delighted to see her face light up in surprise.



Do some formal study

As you’ve settled in Germany have you had this common experience? You hear a teeny tiny child conversing in German at a level which is way higher than yours? Or perhaps your children have started at Kita or Schule and are learning German at a rapid pace? Does this make you feel stupid or incompetent? Or that you’re missing out on all the fun? Does this motivate you to improve your German?

Alles gut! (All good). That teeny tiny child has been immersed in their mother tongue for much longer than you. And your children are hearing German all day long. You learned one language. You can learn another!

In German, there are several levels of competence you move through from A1 (lower beginner) to C2 (advanced/fluent). Consider enrolling in a German language course. There will be many around your city. If you are time-challenged, you can also learn German online or download a language learning app.

I’ve used several apps to help me learn German. My favourite, which I use and recommend, is BUSUU. It’s fun and interactive, like playing a game. The course begins with practical basics such as greetings, simple directions and ordering in restaurants. It then progresses to language, vocabulary, and grammar, where you learn to read, write, speak, and understand a new language.

There’s an online community you can join where native speakers correct your German, and you give feedback to those learning your mother tongue. You can set a goal for your learning and the time you wish to spend each day learning. There’s even a leader board each week which I find motivating to move up levels. (#ex-athlete)

You are also offered a pre-test to determine your starting point.  Regular tests pop up so you can assess your learning according to the official German system of language fluency eg A1 B2. This is extremely useful if you want to gain official German language qualifications later on.

Listen out for lingo

Have you studied German, yet still hear words and phrases which confuse you? It could be lingo. All languages have this; it’s the shortened version of regular phrases which are specific to a certain region. Pay attention to the everyday lingo you hear around you. Learn it and use it back. It connects you faster, and helps you maintain good communication.

Berliners often greet you with ‘Hallo’. (Maybe don’t assume, as I did, that this means they speak English!) In Berlin, they often farewell you with ‘Tschüss’ (Goodbye) or sometimes the more informal Tschüssi’ (Bye-Bye). If I’ve made a good connection in a boutique or restaurant, I’ve heard this as I walk out the door. It’s also common to hear the Italian word ‘Ciao’ or ‘Ciao Ciao!’ (Taxi and Uber drivers commonly use this.) At medical places like hospitals or waiting rooms, it is traditionally polite to greet fellow patients with a formal, Guten Tag’ before you take your seat.

In Munich and other parts of Bavaria, you are greeted with ‘Grüβ Gott’ (Good day) and farewelled with ‘Servus’.

In Northern parts of Germany such as Hamburg, you are greeted with ‘Moin’.

If you’re working for a large company, they may use English as the common language. However, it could also be helpful to learn the key German words and phrases which are specific to your industry. Ask your colleagues for help, and take notes for better comprehension and communication.

Practice the long words

When you see a very long and scary looking German word–and there are many in the German language–stay calm.

Your brain may go into overwhelm but it helps to remember that the German language is descriptive and often quite literal. Krankenversicherung (health insurance) literally means ‘sick’ (Kranken) and ‘insurance’ (versicherung)–insurance for when you are sick. This is mandatory in Germany and it’s one of the first long words I came across. It took me a while to pronounce it!

Another very long German name is Das Landesamt für Einwanderung–the immigration office where I applied for my visa. It literally means Das (The) Landesamt (State Office) für (for) Ein(a) Wanderung (Migration)–The State Office for (someone) Migrating. The word ‘wanderung’ also means a hike, a tour or even a walk, so you may hear it in other contexts. This name makes sense, right? You may not have literally walked into Germany, but you have migrated.

My suggestion when confronted with these very long German words is stay calm, breathe, and look for the smaller words and syllables within. A pronunciation trick from speech therapy is to break the word up into syllables. Then start from the last syllable, like this:








And in a flash, you’ll be pronouncing these long German words like a native speaker!



Why you may need a translator

Finally, consider hiring a professional translator, especially for occasions where it’s vital you have clear communication. This might include your visa and residency interviews, school interviews and when searching for an apartment.

In Germany, some documents do require you to provide an official written German translation. It’s also a polite courtesy to include translation if possible. When I applied for my freelance visa I had my entire visa application, portfolio and CV translated into German…which was possibly overkill, however I was successful in receiving my visa!

Written translation doesn’t have to be expensive. Run it through a translation program such as DeepL, then ask a native German speaker to check it.

When seeking a translator, it helps to have someone with excellent communication skills and a discrete and warm manner. This makes potentially scary processes like home searches or visa applications much easier. Remember when you choose a translator, they are advocating for you, so ensure you are comfortable with their communication style and their level of English, so that their communication on your behalf is clear, simple and effective.

Archer Relocation helped me move to Berlin and figure out which visa to apply for. They supported me every step of the way, including written and spoken translation at my initial residence and visa interviews. I was confident I had all the documents I needed, and the process went smoothly. They also built a beautiful rapport with the officials I met with.

How a translator makes your transition easy

Even if you’re settled in Germany and you’re doing all the right things, situations may come up where it’s best to hire an expert. Perhaps your child needs to change schools, you’re expecting a baby, or a challenging health situation emerges.

I had been living in Berlin for six months when I had a health crisis. I was diagnosed with breast cancer–a scary prospect to navigate, especially in a language I’m not yet fluent in. So, I asked the team at Archer Relocation for translation assistance.

They helped me learn the health system and translated for me through the initial diagnosis and treatment. The forms and medical reports were all in German and completely overwhelming to me, yet the calm presence of my translator soothed and supported me through a difficult time. They translated the ‘medical speak’, and clarified my questions, so I understood my diagnosis and treatment plan. Most importantly, they paved the way for me to attend appointments independently and with ease.

The reassurance that everything was in order was invaluable. I seek their help from time-to-time, especially with important translation needs. They are an amazing, warm, and friendly team, and definitely live up to their statement of being ‘your first new friend in Berlin’.

Get a recommendation

When I needed a translator for my visa renewal, I naturally sought out the services of Archer Relocation. They assist clients with all areas of their move: written and spoken translation needs, such as residence and visa interviews, home searches, educational enquiries for schools and kindergartens, and medical situations. I highly recommend their services for your ongoing requirements in your new German home.

If you’ve been happy with support services you’ve received in the past, perhaps approach that service with your new questions. It’s possible they can provide you with the support you need, or could refer you on to someone who can.

Many translators can be found online. I suggest you read reviews carefully and contact the translator directly. Discern whether you are comfortable with their professional manner and communication style.

Some good questions to ask yourself before hiring a translator are:

Are they a good communicator?

If they are unfocussed or ‘wishy washy’ in their communication with you, this could be how they will translate your important information. Find a translator who is clear, polite, and direct. That’s how they will be when they translate on your behalf.

Are they good with people?

They may be an efficient translator on a technical level, but can they communicate well and build good relationships? Many people will be making decisions about your future, such as a landlord offering you an apartment or an educator granting your child entry to their school. It makes your move easier when the person speaking for you is skilled in communication, and knows how to make everyone feel comfortable.

Are they organised?

Do they demonstrate a clear ability to navigate systems? Have they taken you through a process step-by-step? Did they offer a checklist of requirements? Most of the situations for which you may require a translator involve systems. You are hiring this person to steer you effectively through these systems with ease. Observe how they organise their meetings and communication with you. This will highlight how they will probably behave at the immigration office, or with your potential landlord. Ideally you want a translator who can locate and hand over your important documents with ease and efficiency.

Are they reliable?

Are they on time for your appointment? Do they follow through on a promise, such as emailing you information? Do they return your contact within a reasonable time? These abilities are vital in a translator. You need to know that the person you’re paying to support you, is going to show up on time at the immigration office, or the property you’d dearly love to call home.



Enjoy communicating in the German language as you get to know your new city. Germany is a great place to live, and the German people greatly appreciate when you try to speak their language and integrate. And remember to have fun! Moving to a foreign country is exciting, and you are creating special memories which last a lifetime.

Liebe Grüße,

Kathryn Gorman

Aussie ex-pat Kathryn Gorman, a Communication Expert, Educator and Author, has been living in Berlin for over two years. She helps people, especially women, supercharge their communication and communicate their unique abilities to the world.

A former educator, Kathryn has worked as a school teacher, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and hypnotherapist. As well as her degrees in education, she trained extensively in Hypnotherapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), incorporating the magical field of Quantum Linguistics into her work. Kathryn spent many years teaching and consulting, but now enjoys writing words for the soul. Kathryn writes both fiction and non-fiction, and is the author of four non-fiction books offering soul mastery and communication skills you didn’t know you needed. She’s also penned many Amazon Short Reads and two soon-to-be-published novels.

Kathryn grew up in Sydney, Australia, then lived on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, where she walked on the beach most days and sometimes saw dolphins. She currently resides in her favourite city, Berlin, Germany–where there is no beach in sight, or dolphins–but where she is continually inspired by the creativity, beauty, and avant-garde mindset of this fascinating place she now calls home.


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