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TELL US: What are the secrets to a successful relationship with a German?

Many people who get together with a German find German culture is more foreign and trickier to handle than they at first thought. We'd love to hear about how readers in relationships with Germans have learned to manage the cultural divide.

Holding hands in Hamburg
A couple walks holding hands in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Obviously, the cultural differences which crop up will vary depending on whether you, the non-German partner, are from Belgium or Brazil, Holland or Haiti, Shanghai or Sweden, but we want to collect as many experiences of relationships with Germans, and as much advice for other foreigners, as possible.

If you’re in a relationship with a German and would like to share your insights for a future feature for The Local, please fill out the survey below!


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‘Speaking little German is not a barrier to integration, it’s just a technical problem’

Reader Louigi Verona has spent years learning German and can just about get by but he argues there are far more important factors for integrating into German life than speaking the language fluently.

'Speaking little German is not a barrier to integration, it's just a technical problem'

I think we first need to acknowledge what is usually kept unsaid, that all these conversations about foreigners not learning German are not about solving a real problem, but just a way to give shape to frustrations about foreigners.

In reality, there are rarely any real problems and the only problems that do exist are self-inflicted by the German government that mandates officials to only use German in any dealings with foreigners. Which is a bizarre idea and obviously hostile towards foreigners. You come to Auslanderbehörder and can’t find even a sign that would be in a lingua franca.

If we were to be extra charitable and take concerns about “integration” at face value, obviously there are multiple systemic ways to significantly improve the situation.

READ ALSO: ‘Traumatising’: Foreign residents share stories from German immigration offices

So why do all of the proposed solutions place the whole burden on the foreigner?

Not only should one learn to live in a new country, understand its customs, bureaucracy, and work hard at their new job, but they also need to get into the project of learning a completely new language, a language that is immediately required at basically native level in all the establishments that the foreigner must deal with.

For instance, some countries in the EU designate English as their second official language. Is that such an unthinkable proposition? Wouldn’t that immediately make Germany a much more prosperous country, where people would be able to integrate much faster, too?

Not to mention that defining integration as “learning German” is superficial and dramatically undermines the idea of integration that they seem to care so much about. Integration into society is a complex process where one’s system of values is at the core. As long as you value democracy, human dignity and all those other things so proudly pointed out in the Einbürgerungstest, I shouldn’t care which language you speak. Not being able to speak the language is a technical problem that has multiple solutions. Instead, it’s made into the core problem.

Many of us do learn German. We really do. The fact we can’t string together a proper sentence together doesn’t mean that we’re not spending an inordinate amount of time trying.

‘I’ve spent three years learning German… I can understand the basics’

Someone hearing me trying to talk to my neighbour in German might assume that I’ve hardly spent any time learning the language, and boy will they be wrong.
This May I have received what could’ve been one of the most important letters in my life – I got my B1 certificate.

Someone hearing me trying to talk to my neighbour in German might assume that I’ve hardly spent any time learning the language, and boy will they be wrong.

I came to Germany in 2015. After I more or less established myself at the job, I went to evening courses in one of those big language schools at Alexanderplatz. Four days a week, three hours per day, 4 months, covering A1 and around A2.1.

It was brutal. Imagine a full day of work and then having to go to school. And there’s also homework! And the language is far from easy.

So, 4 months at this school were then followed by 8 months at Volkshochschule – 3 or 4 days a week, 3 hours each time.

Textbooks were not very effective, unless you worked in a German-speaking company, which I hadn’t. Many tech people work in companies where the working language is English. Going through a grammar exercise once and never coming back to it meant that by the time the course is over – you remember almost nothing.

I then received my permanent residence and was able to give myself a bit of a break. Finally, I could have “just work” for a while.

Finally, I began my preparations for the B1 exam. This time I opted for a private teacher. I had one and a half years of lessons. This time it was much more effective. At least I felt I was getting a bit better. This time the homework was being checked properly and there was a lot of it. I had 2 lessons per week. Which doesn’t seem like much, but it basically means that every second day you have homework. And you always feel guilty if you are not studying.

After the lessons were over, I then spent 3 additional months preparing for the exam on my own.

The exam felt very difficult and as I said, I was prepared that I wouldn’t pass. It’s been 3 months now, and I am still celebrating! This B1 certificate was stamped with my blood.

So, all in all I’ve spent around 3 years of my life learning German. Right now I am capable of understanding really basic sentences, especially if they are spoken slowly. I still get easily confused by an unexpected question when ordering in a cafe. I can hold a limited conversation at a reception at a doctor’s office.

‘I will never scold a foreigner for not speaking German’

At the same time – am I a foreigner who doesn’t learn German?

I am pretty sure many people who hear me trying to speak think so. Especially when they find out I have lived here for 8 years now. But I really did learn German, spent loads of my time doing it, while being fully employed. I pay my taxes. I share democratic values of this country. I belong here. And I am calling this my home.

Learning a language is a very serious undertaking. There are a lot of hurdles, many self-inflicted, like not allowing people in an official capacity to speak English.

We’re not kids, we perform serious jobs and speak using adult vocabulary. Jumping to that level of proficiency in a couple of weeks is impossible. For me it was impossible in three years. So either an adult has to revert to kidspeak or else they try to find ways to use the language they do have the command of.

When I become a citizen of this wonderful country, I will never scold a foreigner for not speaking German. I will focus on what their values and contributions are, and the vast majority of foreigners I know are the secret sauce that will continue making Germany a prosperous, free and fantastic place to live.

Louigi Verona, Berlin

This comment was in response to a recent article on The Local titled: Is it ‘arrogant’ to live in Germany and not learn German

Do you agree with our reader? You can give you own opinion in the comments section below or if you have any tips, insights or views about an aspect of life in Germany you want to share with readers then email us at [email protected].