When I started learning German it was not because I wanted to work in Germany. Instead, I learned German primarily for conversational and practical purposes . Back then there were a lot fewer resources on the market for learning German for professional purposes. Nowadays, the government offers to prepare immigrants for working in German, there are entire series of , and you can enroll in German language courses .
When I began to intern and later work in Germany, I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of understanding which vocabulary, tone, and framing was appropriate for which professional context. I wish I’d been learning the differences between German for personal use and for professional purposes from the very beginning. To this day, I still struggle with sometimes coming across too colloquial. Part of that has become my signature style — as a U.S. Midwesterner, I was taught not to take myself, or anyone else for that matter, too seriously. And yet, I wouldn’t want to get caught using street language in a conversation with a university president.
Over the years, I’ve implemented several tools to help fill in the gaps which I will outline next.
is a language magazine centered on relevant, current topics in the German-speaking world. Each article is labeled by level (A2, B2, etc.) so you know exactly which articles you can focus on first. Certain words are underlined depending on the level of the article and are explained in simple German in a sidebar. The magazine has a middle section with grammar exercises, crosswords, vocab illustrations, short stories, and – one of my favorite parts – a section focusing on German for Work (Deutsch für den Beruf). They highlight a new topic each month, so you can both learn about what a Betriebsrat (workers' council) is, and how to talk to one. They recently published all the past .
The great thing about the German language is that many expressions are standardized. This means you can work with what are called “Textbausteine” – text templates – to learn the language quicker. For this, I found the book particularly helpful. It has 1.000 useful phrases for German at work, and because there are “only” 1.000, you can memorize or familiarize yourself with all of them within a few months.
For many fields, special dictionaries exist such as this one for . But such dictionaries are not just available for large fields. My industry – higher education – is rather niche, and yet, there is a special . I used it front to back when I first started working to get a hang of the correct terms in German. I made flashcards, and wrote out sentences for each word that a German friend would then check for accuracy. It may sound like a lot of work, but it paid off – nowadays I rarely come across a higher education term in German that is completely unfamiliar to me.
This book entitled offers phrases, templates, and vocabulary for a wide variety of office and business purposes. There are exercises to practice what you’ve learned, and the phrases are downloadable in Word format so you can use them while you are writing emails. I found it indispensable when I was just starting out with writing emails during my first internship in Germany.
It can be helpful to watch someone read over your email draft and correct mistakes as they go. Doing so allows you to see in real time what not to do next time, and in my experience, watching the proofreader in real time helps the learning stick. The same goes for speaking. If someone corrects your mistakes right away, you will notice and likely implement their suggestions right away by restating the sentence correctly. One of the best ways to get this helpful friend is to offer up your suggestions and feedback as well – through a language tandem. Try to connect with someone working in your field, so you can center conversations around topics in which both of you can use work vocabulary and exchange on trends in the field. And there’s a bonus to tandems: they help you start building your Germany network!
Now in my work with international students and young professionals from across the globe, for those just beginning to learn German, I recommend learning German for professional purposes from the day one. It’s much easier to become versed in informal conversational German later than the other way around. The selection of the resources I used to improve my professional German listed here should get you started and help you continue language learning with work purposes always at the forefront. Let me know how it goes!
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