Improving your German for work purposes does not have to consume your time. Here are ten tips I have used to keep learning and growing my professional vocabulary, enhancing my understanding of grammar, and improving my communication skills. Man lernt ja nie aus!
First things first: narrow down your focus. It is tempting to want to improve vocabulary, grammar, speaking, or presenting skills all at once. Focusing on one skill at a time while you are working or applying to jobs gives you clarity and concentration, helping you improve at an accelerated pace.
Sometimes we get overzealous with a big goal, such as learning 100 new words a day. Then, when life gets busy, we push the “extra” things like learning vocabulary to the side. Months later, we have made no progress. This is why I like to set a small goal of 10 vocabulary words a day, for one month. The goal has an end date, and it is easy to accomplish, so it keeps me going.
I didn’t learn grammar in a classroom, so I personally always feel that I have a lot of missing areas of knowledge. As a result, I have found it helpful to go back to A-level grammar books and work my way through B and C levels as a refresher. My favorite series is the ABC Grammatik books from Schubert Verlag.
If you need something really low-key, one strategy I used on busy days was journaling in German in the mornings while enjoying a cup of coffee. This has the dual impact of improving your German, and it helps you process what is happening in your life. This is similar to keeping a work journal, where you record your milestones, mistakes, and other important tidbits. That is information you will forget, so having it recorded makes preparing for interviews later a breeze!
When you are working, you may not have the time or energy to take a course in the evenings or on the weekend, but you still may want some course-like structure. A few years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a few DIY course-like books. One of my favorites continues to be Entscheidungen, also from Schubert Verlag.
While I did not have a long commute, I would often listen to industry podcasts on my way to or from work. This helped me understand the current conversations and controversies in my field, and gave me good fodder for small talk in the office. Additionally, it grew my understanding of who’s who in the field and increased my subject-specific vocabulary.
An informational interview is common in countries like the U.S. and growing in popularity in Germany. Basically, the idea is you meet with someone to learn more about their career. It is NOT about asking someone for a job. As an example, you could intentionally meet with someone new once or twice a month for coffee. To do this, you start by researching the person and what they do, keeping in mind what your goal is for the informational interview. Then you send an email or LinkedIn message asking if they’d be willing to meet with you for a 15-20 minute conversation on zoom. In this email you can also let them know what you are interested in about them. Finally, make sure you follow up with a brief email thanking them for their time afterward. This helps you practice speaking and listening to professional conversations in German, but of course it also grows your network!
If there is not already a subject dictionary in your field, create your own! This can be especially important if terms in your field differ across countries. This can be as simple as a word document or even a journal you write in. Simply the process of writing down the words (and perhaps also an example sentence!) will help you retain the knowledge.
If you are quite advanced already, consider writing down your thoughts and ideas about specific work-related topics in an organized manner. For example, I like to think in threes. On topic X, what are three things people should know? Writing this out in German is helpful for language improvement, but you could also look into getting it published in an industry or practitioner publication. That gets your name out there as an expert on a certain subject and will likely lead to other opportunities or connections as well.
Again, the idea is to pick one, maximum two of these strategies if you are currently working full-time. It is the consistency that counts, not the quantity of strategies. Implement one for a month and see how it goes. Switch up strategies throughout the year, and you are bound to not only improve linguistically, but also enhance your understanding of the professional space in which you work.
Author: Jessica Schüller
About the Author
Jessica Schüller is a graduate student and Erasmus Mundus fellow in the Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MaRIHE) program at Tampere University in Finland and Danube University Krems in Austria. She helpsinternational students, young professionals, and expats launch and grow their careers in Germany. Prior to launching Germany Career Coach, she worked as an international career advisor at a German university, managed an internship program in Germany and taught German cultural studies to international students. You can learn more about her work and connect with her here: