Why Don’t You Speak German?

Ah, the infamous question I come across in Germany. The woman at the DMV, who mumbles German. My doctor, who understands English but doesn’t speak it. The German woman down the street, the Polish neighbor who wants to talk to me, and then my husband’s family.

It’s interesting how I never asked an immigrant in the U.S. why they don’t speak English, but I’m sure there are plenty of Americans who do ask. I’ll be honest, the more people ask, the more stubborn I become in not wanting to learn. Kind of like a ‘f*** you’ attitude (I know, not my finest moment). Migrating to another country has opened my eyes to culture and language differences. It’s so easy to judge when you never have or never plan to live in another country. I hadn’t planned to either. Love brought me to Germany. In my experience, there are many factors in learning or not learning a language, which I’d like to share with you.


If someone told me 11-years ago that I would meet a man from Germany, quit my job, and get rid of my condo, I’d have said they were nuts. I thought I would never live in another country. Well, if life has taught me anything, it’s to avoid using the word never. We all make plans in our lives but it doesn’t mean those plans will play out. Life has a way of setting its own course.

Once my then German boyfriend and I decided to spend our lives together, I quit my job so I could be with him while he finished out the rest of his teaching year in Germany, and then we were going to live in the U.S. HA! Not so fast! My husband and I sent out countless resumes. Long story short, the offers in the U.S. were unappealing, so we changed our choice of country. My husband liked his job, the people he worked with, and got paid a heck of a lot more than what the U.S. offered.

I’ve been living in Germany for 5-1/2 years with basic knowledge of the language. When I first arrived, it was a culture shock. I spent the first year getting used to my environment, how our little town operates, and learning basic German. Yes, I did take a few German courses, Schritte Eins and Schritte Zwei. It was definitely a struggle since my classroom consisted of immigrants from all over: Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Russia, Poland, Italy, Romania, and so on—total immersion without any assistance.

What I Noticed Living Here:

  1. For the most part, those who ask why I don’t speak German are those who don’t speak another language fluently. Germans who are fluent in another language understand how difficult it is to learn German.
  2. There are many different cultures in the area we live in, and they tend to add their own take on the language. I do try to listen and understand what someone is saying, but many times I can’t decipher the simplest of words. I’ll even ask my husband what they said, and he doesn’t even understand them.
  3. I have learned a certain way how someone might ask me my name and then I come across someone who asks it completely different from what I learned. The dialect comes into play, combining several words, or the person simplifies it.

Reasons Why I Should Speak German

  1. I live in Germany where German is the spoken language, therefore, I should speak it.
  2. If there’s an emergency, I should know how to call and convey the emergency.
  3. If I want to work in Germany, I need to know the language.
  4. I should be able to talk to others.

Reasons Why I Don’t Speak German

  1. I don’t work in Germany, which makes learning and retaining the language difficult. I don’t have to work and that makes it easy for me not to bother learning.
  2. We speak English at home. It doesn’t matter how many times my husband and I say we’re going to speak German or start the day that way, within no time at all we’re back to English.
  3. Aside from my morning walks with Shakespeare while he’s at work, my husband and I do everything together. Our living and social life is together, so I have him with me to translate.
  4. This is no way in blaming my husband, but he doesn’t encourage me to learn it. We’re comfortable speaking English and he doesn’t mind translating for me.

Like many subjects, I believe some people are better at learning another language than others. As hard as I try, I do struggle with putting sentences together and understanding what someone says. What I hear is different from what they said. GAH! I DO know many words though. Some people assume that because I don’t speak the language, I can’t shop myself or do anything. I CAN! But don’t ask me to carry on an in depth conversation. Slow and simple is all I can do.

There are moments when I’m thinking how to respond to someone, and decide against it. German is not a forgiving language, meaning if someone isn’t familiar with foreigners, any change in the language leaves them clueless. I’ve responded several times in German (my husband was with me), and the person didn’t understand what I said, either because I placed the accent of a word in a different place, or interchanged the position of words. Sometimes my husband will tell me I responded correctly, but the people still look at me like I have two heads.

Anyways, I found a few online German programs that provide group and private classes. They’re not that expensive, so I decided to try them this year. If I’m able to achieve an A2 certificate, then I can get a permanent visa. Wish me luck!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Do you speak another language? Did you learn from family or for your own personal pursuit?

Foreign and Domestic,
Baer Necessities

6 thoughts on “Why Don’t You Speak German?

  1. I wish I was fluent in Spanish. Lived in California a long time and should have taken a course. But I was busy working and traveling for work. Now I’m retired and busier than ever with writing and mountain hiking and there are hardly any Spanish speakers up here in Montana. That means nobody to speak it with.

    Maybe you should find a German speaker who has learned English as a second language and co-teach each other. Sounds like your husband is too fluent in English for that to work- e.g., boring. Lotsa luck wit dat!

    1. My mom tried teaching us Lithuanian when we were younger, but we didn’t want to bother. I wish I did bother, maybe German would come easier.

      I hear several retirees talk about how much busier they are in retirement than before. 🙂

      Danke schoen!

  2. I think the biggest problems are practice accent. I spent a little time in Germany and ended up being left in a bar by my host with an ex officer from what I believe was the Waffen SS. I managed to keep him talking for nearly an hour; now I wouldn’t dare try any German because fifty years of no practice makes it impossible. But at the same time, my time in Europe had me in France, and while i had spent a lot of time at school learning French, it was absolutely useless. They spoke too fast and I could hardly make out what they were saying with their accent, and if I said something that I knew was right, my accent seemed to make it impossible for them. Sigh.

    1. Yeah, if you put that accent in the wrong place, it causes much confusion. Good for you in learning some German. I’m sure if you had to, you’d be able to pick it up right away. Oi! French is another tough language. Sounds like you had a lot of experience in Europe. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Even with two years of German in high school and two years in college, I was never able to speak it very well. I did get to where I could write basically and decently enough, but speaking comes so hard. On the one hand, our affective filters get in the way, especially the older we get. Learning a new language is much easier when young. Immersion is key. If we can fall back on our native language, we will. Perhaps you could find a speaking partner who wants to better their English? You could help each other, and also go out and do various things where you would have to use each language in context. When I waited tables, two line cooks passed a good portion of an entire year teaching each other Spanish and English. It was fun to watch.

    1. I agree about the age thing even though others have argued that you age has nothing to do with it. The cook teaching must have been interesting. If this online work doesn’t pan out, maybe I’ll look for a partner. I tried it once with someone from my book club who knew a lot of English, and he spent more time correcting my German than anything. LOL!

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