Learning German for Academic Purposes: Three Strategies for International Students and Researchers

  • 2022-03-15
  • Guest contribution by alumna Jessica Schüller
Young student in library

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Learning German takes on many forms: personal, professional, passive, active, informal, formal. It can be overwhelming to have to sort through all of the resources out there for learning academic German and to know where to start.

For those of you who are considering studying or researching in Germany (or perhaps you are already here), these are three strategies that I recommend for learning academic German. Think about the strategies as a process in terms of

  1. pre-study/research period,
  2. during your study/research time,
  3. and then pre-employment (right before you begin to look for work). Let's dive in.

Getting Started: German for Academic Purposes

German for academic purposes encompasses studying, researching, and publishing in German. Despite the global dominance of English, especially in higher education and business, German is a popular language in academia, and . I will be the first to admit that studying and writing in German at the academic level is hard. I struggle with academic writing in German, whereas it is not a big issue for me in English. Even if English is not your first language, it is likely that you have learned English prior to learning German, and therefore, you may also feel more comfortable writing in English. If you work in academia, you may be told (or required!) to publish in English. But if you are interested in studying and/or researching in Germany or working with German colleagues from your home country, here is the way I consider this situation. While it is imperative to publish in English in many fields, if you want to be involved in the academic (and non-academic!) conversations in the German-speaking world, German for academic purposes is a must. The German for Studies () is a super helpful series of books covering reading, writing, and presenting in German. It is geared toward international students in Germany, but you can also use it if those are the skills you are interested in honing as a researcher.

If you are a student, don’t forget to check out what your university’s language department offers. Some universities provide special training courses such as this one on . Perhaps you may even consider doing a .

German in the Everyday Academic Environment: Using Text Blocks

If you have been learning German for a while, you have likely learned that the language is easier to learn with “text blocks” (Textbaussteine). The thing is, a lot of languages have very creative – and grammatically varied – means of expression. It is not the case that German does not, but there are certain phrases and ways of expressing yourself that are (or at least, can be) standardized in German without seeming cliche or repetitive. When you are learning German, reviewing these text blocks helps you internalize the language rhythm and structure. And on a practical level, sometimes you just need to know how to formally articulate a concern you have without having to worry too much about grammar. One tool I recommend for this is , an online resource designed to help students navigate open office hours with professors, write emails, plan oral presentations, and prepare for discussion groups in university seminars.

Before You Start Your Job Search: Refresh and Review

When it comes to writing, including job application writing, sometimes you know exactly what you want to say in your mother tongue, but you are unsure how to articulate it in German. For applications and interview training, it can be helpful to review sentence structures, vocabulary, and grammar that are useful in job applications. The “” program from the , which is offered free of charge, is a great means to review all of these areas in preparation for writing your cover letter, resume, and/or preparing for an interview. It does not go too deep, but it provides exactly what you need to refresh your knowledge about the language used for these activities. Even advanced learners can benefit from reviewing more basic concepts; we all have a tendency to forget if we have not been using the language for a while!

If you are seeking study, research, or work opportunities in Germany, I have always recommended . However, what is talked about less is learning German for academic purposes, which be needed well before you look for work in Germany. When you focus on German for professional purposes – including academic German – and learn vocabulary relevant to your field, your motivation will increase and it will be easier to absorb what you are learning.

By marking "guest article", we indicate that the author is not a member of our editorial team. Guest articles are usually written by alumni and alumnae from our community and may contain personal opinions. These do not always have to correspond with the opinion of the editorial team.

More guest articles by Jessica Schüller