Monday, March 28, 2011

The Myth Universal German Fluency in English

In Hannover, Essen, Dusseldorf & Berlin german, speaking English Fluently is A-typical amongst the cab drivers, bell hops, hotel reception, waitresses, and other service personnel I encountered 2 weeks ago.  Some speak it in a very limited sense.  Others have about a "first year's introduction" of basic vocabulary and sentence structure, but cannot form their thoughts or understand just a few expressions.  This is a contrast from what I found around Munich, Frankfurt, and Seigen, where English proficiency was "normal & expected".  And it was unlike Dresden and Freital, where the languages spoken were primarily German & Russian, with very very very little English and absolutely No French.

This unexpected lack of English fluency often made communication a challenge.  My 2 years of High School German and one year of University German meant I could speak German about as well as a 5 or 6 year old child of idiocracy, slowly, with basic Worschatz (vocabulary), and we'd manage to have short, hesitant, conversations or interactions that relied more upon gesturing and pointing and inference than on actual concise communication.   I was SO VERY happy to get to France after 5 days in Germany, for the language, food, wine, culture, and the fact that it had been 10 years since my last business visit, and 8 years since my last vacation in France. Plus the fact, I am nearly fluent in French.


  1. Nothing wrong with a few words of courtesy in a non-native language with a balance of gesturing, pointing, and smiling.

  2. Agreed, and we made it through most conversations with alot of exactly that - I was just taken aback at the contrast of EVERYONE speaking precision English in my earlier trips to Frankfurt and Munich, compared to the Hannover-to-Dusseldorf corridor's affinity for Deutsch sprechen.


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