German cities with the most English speakers

35 posts in this topic

Hello All,

 

My wife and I currently live in Zürich. I am American and she is German. She is completely fluent in both languages, I am only at an intermediate level in German. We are planning to move back to Germany (she is from the area near Mainz, and we have lived in the Munich area before). For me, a total of about 2 years in German speaking countries.

 

One of our main criteria is to be in an area where a fair amount of people speak English - in business and in daily life as well. That is one of the aspects that I enjoy about living in Zürich, and one that I found challenging in Munich. In both places we live/d about 20 minutes from the City Center - here about half of our neighbors speak English well enough to have a conversation with, in Munich there were few to none. I speak German well enough for day-to-day conversations and am confident that it will continue to improve with time and practice, but until then - I need to be able to have higher level conversations with people both personally and professionally. Another example is that all of the professional associations/networking (HR - Talent Management) groups in which I participated in Munich were all in German, here I can find them all in either language. In German, I get about 50% of the conversations, but never enough to contribute in a meaningful way - which is frustrating.

 

I tend to be analytical by nature and have searched for some statistical data on the question at hand, but came up empty. And wanted to know if anyone out there knew of some government statistics or studies, as opposed to purely anecdotal information. I'm assuming that bigger cities like Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich have relatively high English speaking populations - though I haven't experienced much of that. I would love to know if there are other smaller cities that also have more international and English speaking communities, e.g., Düsseldorf, Nürnberg, Wiesbaden, Köln, etc. Also, I don't just mean native speakers because I like the diversity of different cultures...here people of all nationalities speak English to near fluent levels regardless of their place of birth.

 

Please let me know if you have any helpful information to share. Thank you!

 

Kind regards,

 

Jerry

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Skill levels in English for non-native speakers is a notoriously subjective topic; however, you've missed the forest for the trees here, i.e., you need to step up your game to be able to network. This also seems to be a strange criteria for determining where you're going to live- aren't there more important criteria?

 

Of course in and near the big cities you're more likely to find fluent English speakers because you're more likely to find foreigners and people working for multinationals and/or in industries where knowledge of English is crucial. Yet, surprise, surprise, most of these Germans still prefer to socialize and carry out daily tasks in Germans- after all it's their native language and they're in their home country.

 

There will always be some Germans willing to have professional conversations so they can practice their English and/or show off their English skills, but, IMHO, you're more likely to run into people wondering why your German isn't better, especially if you need something from them rather than the opposite.

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One other thing, Jerry, a lot of the people who only speak German with me also speak English well, but I don't know this unless I hear them speaking with someone who doesn't speak German. Just because an acquaintance doesn't speak English with you initially doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't comfortable doing it.

 

If networking/career is the primary criteria for you, English language proficiency shouldn't be the tail wagging the dog. If you're in the international banking industry, being in Berlin isn't as good as being in Frankfurt, regardless of who speaks English to the level you are seeking.

 

BTW, dustmen = garbage men in colloquial American English.

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You were provided assistance. Just because it was not what you wanted to hear doesn't it mean it wasn't helpful. You were also given the most likely reason why you haven't found the data sets you are looking for- a lot of data on foreign language skills is based on self-reporting, which I doubt is robust enough for you. Have you Googled using keywords in German? Have you tried looking for data on the non-German population on various German cities? I also wouldn't write off anecdotal data, especially when you also use it for Zürich!

 

I can only wonder what engelchen will say to the OP if she sees this thread.... B)

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Thank you for your input, Conquistador. Actually, most people can tell after a few cordial exchanges the level of my German, and once they see that I am making an effort and struggling - those who can usually offer to switch to English.

 

And we are relatively flexible on location as long as the quality of living is relatively good, the people friendly and we can work. That said, the language is the one factor that I have noticed that has made a significant and noticeable difference in my quality of life between here and Munich.

 

I am also relatively industry independent as my functional expertise is fairly universal.

 

And as mentioned, my German has improved and will continue to improve - I speak German when I can so that I can practice and learn, and as a sign of respect that I live in a German speaking country. I don't want the people to change for me, but I want to find a place where I can live where there are more people like me. In Zurich, I have friends and acquaintances from over 20 different nations, including Switzerland, who are relatively fluent in English...it's just much more international here.

 

Why move back to Germany? In general, Americans (and most anyone) are more welcome here than Germans (something we learned after we arrived here), and it would be more comfortable for my wife to live in Germany.

 

Kind regards,

 

Jerry

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If I were you, based on what you posted, I'd opt for the Frankfurt metro area. Anecdotally, it's very international, and has a large foreign-born population (as does Munich).

 

Zürich is indeed very international, that's certainly true. Munich to me seems to still have a strong regional identity despite its rather international nature. Berlin is very international, but doesn't have a strong private sector economy, so I would avoid it.

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If they can speak English or if they will actually do it are two different things.

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Ok..

As your Title is not very helpful... and your subtitle wants statistices...

 

8 out of 10 owners say their cats prefer Whiskas...

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If I were you, based on what you posted, I'd opt for the Frankfurt metro area. Anecdotally, it's very international, and has a large foreign-born population (as does Munich).

 

Not least because the place is packed with Americans - diplomats, soldiers, business people. I'm surprised that the OP had so many problems in Munich, though. If he came across there like he does in his posts here perhaps his main problems with the people in Munich weren't the natives' English skills.

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his main problems with the people in Munich weren't the natives' English skills.

In Munich people might be regarded as impolite, but you'll find the same kind of people everywhere.

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his main problems with the people in Munich weren't the natives' English skills.

In Munich people might be regarded as impolite, but you'll find the same kind of people everywhere.

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Incidentally, statistics can sometimes be misleading as well, e.g., simply being foreign-born, even being from a country where English is used, doesn't necessarily make it your preferred language. I know two Kenyans here in Munich, one of whom I speak German with because he's not comfortable in English (English was actually his third language and he's lived here for over 20 years), and although I usually speak English with the other one, she's clearly forgotten some of it and we sometimes switch to German. Both are married to Germans and generally live their lives in German, even speaking it with their kids.

 

Once you reach a certain level in German as a result of living here, you'll also find that it's simply easier to say some things in German.

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The days when Frankfurt was filled with soldiers and Americans is long past. The military all left Frankfurt in 1995, and closed Rhein Main Airbase in 2005. The Americans you find there now, are going to be working for Price Waterhouse, Nintendo, Crytek, Procter & Gamble, or some other international company.

 

On to the question by the OP, I do think Frankfurt certainly has its' share of English speaking professionals. The fact that there are at least 6 international schools here, for not only the kids of English speaking parents, but also German parents who wish for their kids to grow up bi-lingual in English & German. There is a high percentage of foreigners here, (25%) many of them professional. The banking industry, the Stock Exchange, the trade fairs, publishing, advertising, and already mentioned the international companies, mean you should be able to find the atmosphere of "intellectual conversation" you are looking for.

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My suggestion would be to look at meetup.com and see which cities have the most English language groups, then talk to some of the members at the events. This would be more real life experience and less prone to errors than some statistics shown on the internet someplace. Additionally, you could practice German with the German speaking groups and improve your language skills. However, there is a mentality difference which is hard to quantify which will present itself in an American's relationships in Germany.

 

I read a post a few years ago on Toytowngermany by a woman who moved back to America with her family even though they had all become completely fluent in German. I remember the post today because she was giving advice to someone who was asking about learning German to become more integrated in the community and her main point was that just because someone speaks German well they should not think that they will be accepted by the German community, and this applies to children as well. If I remember correctly, it was her experience with the school system and how her children were treated which motivated her to move back to the US. It was the cultural, mentality difference of Germans which motivated that family to move back to the US.

 

Someone told me at work last Friday that they would rather work for an American company than a German company because of the rigidity of the German company compared to the flexibility of the American company.

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The days when Frankfurt was filled with soldiers and Americans is long past. The military all left Frankfurt in 1995, and closed Rhein Main Airbase in 2005. The Americans you find there now, are going to be working for Price Waterhouse, Nintendo, Crytek, Procter & Gamble, or some other international company.

 

Oh, really? Tell me more about it. You seem to have missed that in Wiesbaden the US Army is expanding its operations massively after the closure of the Heidelberg bases. Any time someone moves in in my neighbourhood it's Americans with Heidelberg plates. There is also the US consulate general with more than 900 staff, one of America's largest diplomatic missions.

Therefore there is still a massive official American presence in Frankfurt.

 

I wonder about the basis for blanket statements that US companies are more "flexible". It always depends on the company and there may even be significant differences in management styles within a large company. I've come across plenty of US companies with very rigid management structures where any minor decision had to be confirmed by some executive.

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Of all the German cities, I would pick Frankfurt, too, if I was able to pick a city based on the number of its English-speaking population.

 

Not Berlin, not Munich, not Hamburg, not Köln. Definitely Frankfurt. I don't know if there are any statistics, this is just a personal impression/opinion.

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