Most of the students who contact us at Eight Hours and Change have some kind of background in German language studies, but a large minority are drawn by the prospect of studying tuition-free in a foreign environment. These non-German speakers tend to write me about English-taught program offerings, and I always respond the same way: they exist, and are increasingly popular, but I HIGHLY recommend that you don’t consider enrolling in one.
There are many reasons why I always give students this advice, but the main one is fairly simple and straightforward: You always miss out when you don’t know the language of those around you. This might seem counter-intuitive to many us English-speakers who have wondered at our ability to communicate with people while traveling, despite knowing nothing of the local language. People around the world, especially in cities and tourist hot-spots, are increasingly familiar with not only the English language, but also with American culture and history, meaning that we tend to be accommodated wherever we go.
But this accommodation is a double-edged sword. Students who enroll in English-taught programs often find themselves caught in linguistic bubbles, restricted by their monolingualism to conversations with fellow internationals and friendly Germans (often who are keen on practicing their English), but locked out of the larger community. Students in Germany from other non-English speaking countries might have difficulty bridging the linguistic and cultural divides at first, but the lack of alternatives necessitates a short learning-curve. Americans and other Anglophones, on the other hand, can easily skip language courses and ignore homework, knowing that they’ll be able to maintain at least a lifeline to the broader culture.
This is a huge mistake, but fortunately one that German universities are keen to prevent. If you’re afraid of the cost or the slow pace of many language courses, considering enrolling in one of the heavily-subsidized intensive language-learning courses offered by most German universities. If an applicant is accepted into a university program but doesn’t meet the language requirements for the program, they can enroll in a 20-25 hour per week course designed to prepare them to study. These aren’t offered by every university in Germany, but a majority do, and at around 500 euros/semester, they are incredibly affordable and a nearly guaranteed way to successfully navigate the rocky German grammar en route to the fluency you’ll need to have a healthy social life and rewarding academic experience.
And, ultimately, this academic experience is what studying here in Germany is all about. It’s important to remember how much you limit your options by choosing to study in English. German universities offer nearly 19,000 study programs across a wide variety of subjects, but only around 1,000 of these can be studied in English. And although most of the English-taught programs are of a high quality, many are of a fairly recent vintage, meaning that they aren’t as reliable as the more established German-taught programs.
Many students come to Germany because of the high-quality education and low costs, but an important benefit of studies here is the opportunity to expand your boundaries and challenge your perceptions of the world by integrating yourself into another culture. This is the most significant advantage of completing a degree in another country instead of spending a year or semester abroad. And this is impossible to achieve without immersing yourself in the language.