In my time advising students who are interested in coming to Germany to study, I’ve spoken to (well) over one thousand students from every state and several countries. I’ve fielded all kind of questions, but the second most common question students and parents ask me (after “How much does it really cost?”) is definitely, “Can I/my son or daughter study in English?”
This question highlights the single biggest impediment preventing the English-speaking world from truly embracing Germany as a destination for both exchange and full time studies. Currently, Germany barely breaks into the top ten in the list of most popular destinations for study abroad, and only around 5,000 American students are enrolled in a full time university program in Germany. This number is increasing, but the challenge of learning the German language is an understandably difficult hurdle for many students to overcome.
You can do it, and the Germans really want you to learn their language
But the language shouldn’t be seen as a hurdle, but rather an opportunity. If you don’t speak German currently, you can enroll in an intensive German language program for the first year of your studies. These programs, which require students to spend between 20-25 hours per week in the classroom, have very good records of preparing participants to study in German.
Students who enroll in intensive programs offered by universities are also able to study at a significantly reduced rate compared to those offered by private language institutes. This is because professional German comprehension is an essential skill for anyone planning to stay in the country, something the German government definitely wants you to consider doing.
Learning German leads to career opportunities well beyond what you study
It's also important to remember the advantages of learning a foreign language as an American right now. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the translation and interpretation services industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the US economy by job growth, with nearly 50% growth expected over the next decade. The average salary for freelance translators is around $50,000 per anum, which can rise to six figures for highly qualified interpreters.
For students of German, the expansion of bilateral trade in the next few decades will offer great opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic, in German and American companies. Americans holding German diplomas occupy an especially interesting niche within this market, possessing a unique understanding of both the German and American systems that is especially interesting to American corporations seeking to expand their presence in the German market.
Prospective students and parents should also consider the relative value of the German language to many other major world languages. Because so few Americans speak German relative to the size of the German economy, graduates with professional-level language skills can command higher wages than speakers of Spanish, French, or Chinese. According to the Economist, a student who learns German can expect to see a 200% increase in their lifetime earnings, verses a 150% increase for Spanish speakers and a 110% increase for French.
The German higher education system is changing, and universities are working to offer more and more programs in English. But, at least for today, most of these programs are mainly offered at the graduate or PhD level. Although it can seem intimidating at first, for bachelor-seeking students, the lack of English taught programs is a great chance to gain a transferrable skill they can use to start a new career, that will open transatlantic doors into both American and German businesses, and which will benefit them throughout their lives.