Learn German in Berlin

Ian Farrell explores the best resources for learning German in Berlin…


There are lots of reasons to come to Berlin and, with the city’s cosmopolitan nature, learning German may not be top of the list for every English speaker. Everybody here understands English anyway, right?

But learning the local language is essential for anyone who really wants to immerse themselves in the city and the Berlin way of life.

Without it, you can never understand the sharp Berliner Schnauze humour, enjoy a Brecht play in its true home at the Berliner Ensemble or join in with the chants at an Eisbären hockey game And who knows what cultural and career opportunities you might be missing out on?

Learning German opens the gateway to the next level of Being a Berliner – and it doesn’t have to be as difficult or expensive as you might think.

Apps & online resources

Duolingo_logoAs with any other subject in the modern world, the Internet offers a wealth of information for anyone looking to pick up a language quickly and easily. Those choosing this route should make Open Culture their first port of call. An excellent directory of free German-learning resources, this site offers a variety of links with audio and video material to download or stream, from phrase-by-phrase podcasts and radio material to quite advanced grammar lessons.

Perhaps the best of the bunch is Lernen wir Deutsch, a series of amusing but informative videos following the adventures of Herr Nelson in his kitchen and around town. Just watch out for the comedy American accent! For a more streetwise approach, try Pukka German, a mercilessly colloquial series of video tutorials from which even the most advanced speaker can still learn.

The last few years have also seen a glut of more innovative apps popping up online for those looking to improve their language skills. Perhaps the best-known of these is Duolingo, a practical and productive experience that allows you to learn a language by translating the web. Actively responding to new language input helps many people remember it better than more passive approaches, and the sentences are graded to ensure that even complete beginners can make a contribution.

Anki takes a slightly more traditional approach and gives it a modern tweak, allowing you to create packs of virtual flashcards for learning vocab on a time limit – perfect for when you only have a few minutes to spare. Those looking for a less automated experience may be interested in italki, a directory that helps people set up Skype conversations and lessons with native speakers from around the world.



Those who require more human interaction in order to pick up a language will be pleased to discover that Berlin offers a wide range of tandem partner options. Working on the basis of a mutual language exchange, these pair up two people looking to learn each other’s mother tongues and give them the opportunity to practice their conversation skills in a relaxed environment.

This is a great way to learn more natural and colloquial German, instead of dreading going to your heavily structured course after work. Tandem pairs usually meet up in coffee shops, but don’t be afraid to change the scenery once you’ve got to know each other a little – going to the Tierpark or an exhibition together is the perfect way to pick up new vocabulary and make sure the conversation doesn’t go stale. The more regularly you meet up with native speakers, the more improvement you’ll notice!

Many people these days look for tandem partners online. In addition to italki and the usual suspects like Craigslist and meetup.com, you might also want to try the Sprach- und Kulturbörse Berlin for partnerships based exclusively in the capital (and usually with students).

Lessons & Courses


Appealing though all these new-fangled options are, for some people the structure of an old fashioned course is the only way to make sure they learn.

The Volkshochschule offers very affordable rates (starting at €59, with extra discount for students and pensioners) and a full range of proficiency levels, but progress in class can be infuriating slow for those who want to pick up the language and get on with their lives as quickly as possible.

At the other end of the scale, the Goethe Institut provides highly polished, well structured courses with native speakers and is a better option for more driven language learners – as long as you’re not short on pocket money. It also has branches in many of the world’s other major cities, so you can start before you move here and carry on at the same level when you arrive.

However, it’s fair to say that most people will be looking for a middle ground somewhere between these options. There are many private language schools in Berlin, and the Sprachsalon never fails to get rave reviews. Small classes run by engaging teachers ensure that everyone gets ample interaction time, and the homely atmosphere is far preferable to the clinical feel of many more traditional schools. Classes are available as intensive, semi-intensive or evening courses, or even on a one-to-one basis, and kept in German except when explaining more complex concepts. Prices are reasonable, and every effort is made to ensure that what you learn will actually be useful to you in real life.

Some language schools also offer a range of extra services to help newcomers settle in Berlin, such as help with visas, health insurance, accommodation and even where to find a doctor. One such institute is Kapitel Zwei, a small school with a personal touch nestled right in the heart of things at Alexanderplatz. In addition to the standard range of courses for all levels, teachers Daniela and Susanne also offer help finding a tandem partner and even a creative writing class for those with a little more confidence in their language skills.

Turning to the bargain end of the private language school sector, the Deutschule offers fun and interesting lessons for those on a budget, and there is the all-in-one resource for English speaking ex-pats Expath.de which offers a variety of different language courses and workshops. If you are strained for time and money there is also an excellent free online tutorial for learning German at German for English Speakers.


Germanise your life

Deutsche_Welle_logo_1992Many people see learning a language as something new to squeeze into their already busy lives – an approach that often leads to them not dedicating enough time to it, and thus failing to make any real progress. The best way to avoid this trap is to stop seeing your new language as separate from everything else you do, and instead integrate it into your day-to-day activities. The less conscious your language learning is, the less it will seem like a burden, making you more naturally receptive to it.

A great example of this is radio – how often do you have it on while you shower, make food or tidy your flat? Well, instead of FluxFM, how about listening to some light German conversation? Crank up the Deutsche Welle or Deutschlandfunk (or even Flux FM for indie music fans) while you do your chores, and kill two birds with one stone.

You can do the same with books, magazines, films…anything really. So you like to read a book or watch a movie in an evening? Make it a German one. Even if you’ve just started working on your language, you’ll be amazed at how much you pick up.

Try not to rely too heavily on subtitles or dictionaries, and don’t get hung up on every word you don’t understand. Use the context to fill in the gaps, and soon you’ll find you’re barely looking anything up anymore.

Once you’re a bit more confident, switch the subtitles to German until you’re ready to turn them off completely. Websites like Zattoo also stream live German TV.

No-one ever learned a language by staying inside on their own, either. You’re in a new city, so get out there, make friends. Eavesdrop on conversations on the U-Bahn to see what you can pick up, and refuse to speak English to people unless absolutely necessary. This may seem difficult at first, but with a little patience from both sides, it can really pay off. Also, avoid hanging around in international crowds too often. We all like to have a sense of home, but it’s easy to fall into the bad habit of speaking English all the time.

Most of all, it’s important to remember that none of the above tips is enough on its own. Learning a language takes effort, but that’s also what makes it so rewarding. Practice outside of your courses, keep a vocab list, buy a good dictionary and grammar book (chances are you’ll need to deal with it eventually), and immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. Put in enough work, and you’ll be a fully-fledged Berliner in no time!

(Berliners, of course, are quite forgiving of mistakes since they tend to make a fair amount themselves…)

Next in Resources & PracticalitiesHow to help refugees in Berlin »


  1. bill says:

    I took a course at Speakeasy Sprachzeug and it was just awful. Did not learn a thing. Was nothing creative about the way they taught. Just really disorganized. The teacher took off in the middle of the course.

  2. Paul Sullivan says:

    Ouch! Thanks for letting us know…

  3. Julie says:

    A very good article, full of good suggestions: thank you. However, want to point out that one CAN enjoy Brecht’s plays at the Berliner Ensemble without knowing German. Just read the plays in your own language before you go.

    I’ve done this on all of my visits to Berlin, and have now seen nearly all of Brecht’s work in the repertoire. Of course it isn’t the same as understanding every word, but the acting and staging are always marvellous, and the sense one gets of a genuine company is thrilling. It’s always a great experience of great theatre, and it would be a pity to let one’s lack of German stand in the way of it.

  4. john says:

    i agree with bill
    speakeasy sprachzeug is useless
    save your money

  5. Paul Sullivan says:

    Great tip, thanks Julie!

  6. Nice information. Thanks!!

  7. Daniela says:

    Hey Paul, You could also come to check ‘Kapitel Zwei Berlin’ at Alexanderplatz 🙂

  8. Damon and Jo says:

    Danke! We’re looking for a language school right now! This post was perfect. Sometimes DuoLingo gets a bit repetitive and we’d like to get back to making a fool of ourselves in class! Hehe!


    Damon and Jo

  9. CG says:

    Couldn’t agree more about Speakeasy – complete waste of time and money.

  10. Jeff Kilroy says:

    Duolingo has helped me the most when learning German, I haven’t tried Speakeasy yet. Will probably avoid now (the comments are pretty damning).

  11. Bastien says:

    After shaming myself for not learning german for a while, i decided to go to a language school in Berlin, the Deutschule. I mean, how long can you go for pretending you want o make a life here without learning the language. Anyway, maybe you guys are interested by the experience i made there too ?


  12. Cinzia says:

    Speakeasy is actually amazing, I don’t understand the comment from CG above (she/he probably replied to the old comment from 2013, who knows).

    I am there since almost 4 months and I am already able to speak German at work. I am not a person to sit long in a classroom (get bored easily), therefore the method at speakeasy is exactly my thing: We speak, we play, we watch videos, a few grammar exercises in-between, and if I want to learn some specific vocab: I just tell the teacher and my topic gets integrated in one of the next lessons.

    Everybody has their own learning style I guess, but this is what I would recommend to people looking for a course:

    If you want a personalized German course that is fun and teaches you the language with a strong focus on talking skills, then Speakeasy Sprachzeug is exactly the correct choice.

    If you are looking for cheap, cheap, cheap then there are a lot of budget options out there (Deutschakademie, Kapitel Zwei etc.) But don’t expect to stay long in any of those schools. They just teach a grammar book page by page and if you get a good teacher is a coin toss (I know lots of people who left because of bad teachers). Probably better off at Volkshochschule I guess?

    Just my 2 cents,

  13. Ludo says:

    Done a few months at Kapitel Zwei now. I’ll leave a review here as this page helped me find the school in the first place.

    Firstly all the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful really can’t fault them here.

    As for the teaching method, I wouldn’t say it’s bad just extremely repetitive and boring. There’s no deviation what so ever from the book. We do a reading exercise from the book, we do a hearing exercise from the book, we do a writing exercise you’ve guessed it from the book…

    There’s no fun or games to help us learn, no listening to a song, very little active discussion (I thought that maybe this was due to level when starting but just about to finish B1.2 now and there’s still next to none discussion).

    Grammar topics aren’t covered twice, it’s highly likely you’ll learn something new one day then the next it won’t be revisited and you’ll be learning something else new.

    I feel like I’ve learnt to knit a blanket but no attention has been paid to the holes that have appeared in the process and no patching up of those holes is done.

  14. Patricia says:

    After I see what’s written here, I feel compelled to chime in too. I’ve been in Berlin a few years and have taken classes at different schools and it seems like an utter crap shoot – bad teachers a dime a dozen or schools just looking to make a quick buck and they couldn’t really care less whether you actually learn something or sign up with them again.

    I haven’t taken a class there so I can’t speak to it personally, but I’ve heard the same thing about Kapitel Zwei that’s written above – stiff, strictly by the book. For me personally, this sort of method is like a death knell for my learning motivation. This is all I’ve encountered at the Volkshochschule, for example – teachers who don’t have a creative bone in their body, sleepwalking through each class. Why would I pay money for simply by the book learning? I could buy the book and teach it to myself then. 😛

    I had a great experience at speakeasy as well. Friendly atmosphere where I felt comfortable, creative and fun teaching method which really helped me make some progress finally (agree with the comment above – interactive exercises, vids, etc.). I’m kind of at a level where I don’t need to take more classes for my work or anything, but if I did, I’d be back at speakeasy in a heartbeat. It seems like a school with some passion, and both my teachers were rad. Anyway, groovy school, that’s my 2 cents as well.

  15. JD says:

    Thanks for the advice guys, I was looking at Speakeasy but it looks like I dodged a bullet. I ended up going with a place called Sprachenatelier in Friedrichshain (https://www.sprachenatelier-berlin.de/de)- I was really impressed and really happy! Thanks guys 😉

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