The best advice I can give if you want to live in a foreign country is: learn the language. This applies to Germany, since most Germans can only speak a small bit of English. However, this does not apply to Berlin. From my experience, 90% of people here speak English, although they say they can only speak a little bit, they drop 10-letter words with ease. So in regards to just “living” in Berlin, English is enough. Just make sure you say “Bitte” (please) and “Dankeschön” (thank you). My husband can really only order food and beer, but he survives just fine here. But if you actually want to get a job, to make friends, and feel like you’re part of the community, then you’ll need to learn German.
There are many German schools in Berlin. I’ve been to 4 now, which all have their Pros and Cons, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences, which will hopefully help expats transition into their new Berlin lives better.
- This chain of German language school are in place all over Germany, as well as throughout the world, and is extremely well respected. I chose to attended Goethe for my first month in Germany under the recommendation from my mother-in-law, who swears that Goethe is the best. Although their teaching was very thorough and I did learn a lot, I would disagree with this statement. The class sizes were maximum 16 people, which my class was. This size doesn’t sound too big at first, but imagine how dull it gets when you have to do around the room checking everyones pronunciation, ex. hearing 16 people (including myself) completely botch words like “ich” “möchte” over and over again…. very dull. Also, the price is outrageous, I took a 4-week intensive course (I think it was 4 hours of in-class learning time per day) which cost 1000€. That was an extremely heavy price tag. Goethe claims that the reason that their courses are so expensive is because of their Cultural Program which offers day trips like going to museums, the Reichstag, or Sanssouci. However, this was a waste of money, since I never got to go on any trips as they filled up so fast. All in all, if your employer is offering to pay for you to go to The Goethe Institute then say “Yes!”, but if you’re going to pay out of your own pocket, I would suggest other places.
- To learn more, check out: www.goethe.de
GLS Sprachen Zentrum Berlin:
- This is the second school I tried, mainly due to the fact that it was located about 50 steps from my old house. Unknown to me until I started, GLS’s niche market is high school kids or those just finished high school. Almost all of the students in my class were under 18 and were living on campus (there were 2 or 3 houses with dorms behind the school). I was a bit of an anomaly, at the ripe age of 26 I felt physically quite old, but then again, I have the maturity level of a teenager, so we actually all got along quite fine. The nice thing about this school was the class sizes, which were usually around 6 people, depending on who showed up. Learning German at GLS was also different from Goethe because the classes were taught by 2 separate teachers (one from 9-10:30, and the other from 11-12:30), which in principle is really great. Getting exposure to many different dialects, speech patterns, and vocabulary is very important! However, this is only helpful if both teachers are actually good. Unfortunately for me my morning teacher was a horrible, and only in the last 2 weeks did we get a new teacher. For 2 months worth of morning classes I paid around 800€ I think, so it was cheaper than the Goethe Institute, but still too expensive to continue going there.
- For more information, check out: www.gls-sprachenzentrum.de
- I think overall this was actually my favourite school. Price-wise, it fits my budget of “as-cheap-as-possible” costing the low price of 205€ per month. I also really liked the class size, with maximum 10 students, all siting around a large table together. I know it sounds a bit silly, but I really felt more involved and was less likely to fall asleep with this classroom layout. There are 2 Deutsch Akademie locations in Berlin, one at Alexanderplatz, and the other at Wittenbergplatz. I tried both, and I highly suggest the location at Alexanderplatz. The school is smaller, cleaner, and has air-conditioning, plus the secretarial staff are really friendly. However, nothing is perfect, so the downsides of this school are as follows: there is no school on Fridays, and you generally move up the levels together as an entire class. This last point may sound like an odd thing to complain about, but hear me out. It gets really repetitive, when you are always in the same class with the same people and the same teacher. Without diversity, I felt I didn’t learn as much. This was the reason that I left this school; I desperately needed a change. Now that I haven’t been there for 5 months, I actually miss it a bit, and am considering returning to re-do a few courses since I’ve forgotten so much in my last few months of laziness.
- Check out www.deutschakademie.de to learn more.
- This school is really popular with new immigrants Berlin and I had been recommended to go there by multiple people. So after I became bored of Deutsch Akademie I decided to take a B2 Exam Prep-Course, with the goal of just improving my grammar which I thought was pretty weak. Hartnackschule is very systematic with their teaching, with lots of repetitive exercise and homework. While this is essential for learning and developing good habits, it is also incredible dull. Not only that, but the quality of the resources provided was pretty bad too, with piles of poorly photocopied worksheets (some barely legible), this was not my favourite. Also, the class sizes were gigantic, our class had 28 people in it, so forget about practicing your oral German. For the price of 234€ per month (including Fridays) it is actually a pretty good deal, however, paying for this is a huge hassle as the reception area is always jam packed, so prepare to take a number and wait for up to an hour…. not fun at all. Overall, I will not be going back here.
- If you feel inclined to learn more, check out www.hartnackschule-berlin.de
So those are my personal experiences with German schools, I hope you find these helpful. I quickly want to touch on one more option that I unfortunately did not pursue, but I probably think is the best option for new expats: the Integration Courses. I found out about these courses after I had already invested 4 months into learning German, so they weren’t really applicable to me anymore, but if I could go back in time, I would definitely sign up for these courses. From my understanding, they focus on learning the German language, as well as history, culture, and practical things such as filling out forms, etc. I was also under the impression that once you complete the integration and language courses you can apply to receive half your money back, but I didn’t see this on the website, so I would inquire first before signing up. For more information check out The Federal Office of Migration and Refugees.