Why learning German is a must for freelancers in Germany
Published on March 1, 2021 / Updated on January 8, 2024
Before I moved from the US to live in Germany, I thought being a native English speaker was enough to find plenty of freelancing opportunities. I mean, English is a global language after all, right?
But I quickly realised that learning the local language opens up so many doors and makes life as an expat a zillion times easier – and this is true especially in Germany.
If you plan to work as a freelancer in Germany, you definitely need to learn German. Even if you’re working online with English-speaking clients, you still need to interact with local offices to process your visa (Ausländerbehörde), register your business, and fulfil your residence obligations (Anmeldung) – and most of the people in these offices only speak German.
Also, even if you’re working remotely, you still need to interact occasionally with your neighbours, the barista at your favourite cafe, and even with the lady at the grocery store. But not fret: this is the perfect opportunity to learn German by interacting with locals. I’ve personally found that a simple “Guten Morgen, wie geht es Ihnen?” goes a long way in developing long-lasting friendships and meaningful connections within your community in Germany.
Even if you’re lucky enough to find support in English, all tax and finance documents are required by law to be written in German. As a freelancer, understanding and complying with all tax and financial obligations is important to avoid making mistakes and also to make good business decisions.
Yes, you can always ask a German friend for help in understanding these official documents, but remember that only you are liable if anything goes wrong. Learning the language also means you won’t have to constantly ask for favours and rely on your German-speaking friends when you need to settle important matters.
Many Germans don’t speak English and German clients can easily choose to work with someone who speaks their language. If you want to find more freelance work, learning German is a must.
I can confirm on a personal level that when you go over and beyond to learn German, your clients will be impressed to know that you took the extra mile for them. They’ll trust you more, because they see you as someone who is willing to constantly learn and do what it takes to get the job done.
While there are a lot of opportunities for English-speaking freelancers, being fluent in both English and German opens up so much more opportunities – like seriously it’s insane how much it improves your ability to find freelance projects.
Germany has the largest economy in Europe, and other German-speaking markets like Austria and Switzerland also have strong economies. Furthermore, compared to the mainly English-speaking global market, the German market is not yet as saturated. There are more German-speaking clients looking for support than there are German-speaking freelancers, which means being fluent in German helps you find more clients, gives your work more value, and means you can charge more for your services.
One thing I immediately discovered when I moved to Germany was how different the culture was from what I was used to in the US – especially in the corporate world.
For example, German culture prioritises extensive planning and organisation. They also follow a more rigid hierarchy and leave decision-making to superiors. Learning the language allows you to easily understand and adapt to the German business culture – and avoid committing a faux pas during work.
Like any official document, your health insurance documents will also be in German. If you want to take advantage of your health benefits and comply with all your obligations, you need to learn the language to understand it. While there are a few health insurance providers who do offer support in English (such as Ottonova for example), you have a much wider range of options for finding the right health insurance provider for you when you can speak and understand German.
You may not be thinking of becoming a German citizen yet but after several years of living and working in Germany, if this option becomes attractive, it’s so much easier to prepare for it if you already know the language.
Applying for German citizenship often requires you to pass a German language proficiency test and maybe even a citizenship test in German. If you’ve learnt and mastered the language, acing these tests will obviously be a whole lot easier. You can enjoy a more extended and permanent stay in the country by merely learning and using the language – and in a way, it’s also a sign of respect if you do decide to become a German citizen.
Think about having to talk to your neighbour one morning to ask them to look after your pet because you have to go to an out-of-town conference. Imagine lining up in the grocery store and explaining to the cashier that you want to pay for your groceries by debit card. From interacting with the foreigner’s office to opening a bank account and ordering at a restaurant, your daily interactions become so much easier when you can speak German.
If you’re constantly complaining about the lack of English-speakers in Germany’s government offices and generally finding life in Germany a hassle, just remember that most of your problems can be solved by learning German once and for all. While it certainly demands time, effort, and commitment, once you learn it, it will make your life in Germany a lot easier and immensely more rewarding.