If you move to Berlin, you should learn German. In this guide, I show you different ways of learning German in Berlin: language schools, German apps, language tandems and more. I also show you how to get free German classes.

Do I need to speak German in Berlin?

No, but it's a good idea. You can live in Berlin without speaking German. Many Germans speak English. Most immigrants speak English. There are many English-speaking jobs in Berlin. There are English-speaking doctors, lawyers, accountants and banks. Many people live in Berlin for years, and never learn German.

But if you don't speak German, life is more stressful:

  • You don't always get help in English. Some employees only speak German, even at the immigration office.
  • You can't ask questions, negotiate, or solve problems without help. You need German-speaking friends to make phone calls and write emails for you.
  • You receive important letters that you don't understand. You need someone to translate them for you.
  • It's harder to make friends and join communities. You live in the expat bubble.
  • It's harder to find an apartment.
  • It's harder to find a job. Many jobs require German. There are fewer jobs in your language.

If you speak German, life is easier:

  • You can solve your own problems. You don't need help to make phone calls or send emails.
  • You can participate in your community. People are happier to talk to you. It's easier to meet people and make friends.
  • You understand what is happening around you. You can read signs, letters and news articles.

If you just moved to Germany, German classes can help you make friends and learn about German culture.

To study in Berlin

Some German universities have programmes in English, but most are only in German. If you want to study in German, you must speak German at a B1 to C1 level. You might need an official language certificate1, 2 to enrol in university.

Useful link: Search for university programmes in English - DAAD

To get your permanent residence

If you apply for a permanent residence, you must speak German at a B1 level1.

To get the German citizenship

If you speak German, you can get the German citizenship 2 years earlier1.

How long does it take to learn German?

There are 6 levels of German1, 2. The levels are often divided in two. For example, B1.1, and B1.2. To know your level, take a placement test. Most language schools can do placement tests on the phone.

  • A1 - Beginner
    You know basic words and expressions. You know very simple sentences for specific situations. You can answer simple questions about yourself, or order at the restaurant.
  • A2 - Basic
    You understand a few sentences and expressions about family, shopping, work and giving directions. You have simple, direct conversations about certain topics.
  • B1 - Intermediate
    You can understand what people say when they talk in a simple language about certain topics. You can do things like open a bank account without help.
  • B2 - Upper intermediate
    You can understand complex texts, and complex discussions about topics you understand. You can express yourself, and have a conversation with native German speakers.
  • C1 - Fluent
    You can express yourself easily. You don't need to think about what you will say. You can write texts about complex topics. Many native German speakers are at this level1.
  • C2 - Master
    You speak and write better than many native speakers. You can read and write academic texts.

Related link: Description of each language level

To complete one level, you need to take 50 to 100 teaching units (Unterrichtseinheit)1. Each teaching unit is 45 minutes1. When you complete a level, you get a certificate.

If you take an intensive course, you can finish each level in 4 to 8 weeks1, 2, 3. You can speak German in only a few months.

If you only take a lesson or two per week, you will need more time. You can speak German in 2 or 3 years. It also depends on how much you practice. If you only speak English with your friends and colleagues, it will take longer.

If you don't take classes and you don't practice, you will never really learn German.

German classes in Berlin

If you want to take classes in person, you can go to a language school, or get German lessons through your employer.

At work

Many employers will pay for German classes. Some will even have German classes at the office. You can learn German with your colleagues, and it's free. The groups are usually very small: 2 to 6 people.

You can also take an educational leave (Bildungsurlaub). You can take up to 5 paid days to get training. You have to pay for the class, but your employer keeps paying your salary.

Public language schools

Private language schools

Private language schools have smaller group sizes: 7 to 15 people. They sometimes offer special services like accommodation, or relocation help. Some schools also have business German classes, and private (one teacher, one student) lessons.

Most private schools also offer online classes.

  • Anda Sprachschule
    Intensive classes in Wedding. Private lessons are available.
  • Deutsche Akademie für Sprachen
    Regular and intensive classes in Prenzlauer Berg. Private lessons are available.
  • DeutSCHule
    Intensive classes in Neukölln.
  • Expath
    Regular and intensive German classes in Prenzlauer Berg and Neukölln. Private lessons are available. They also offer relocation services. Use the code "AAB2021" for a 10€ discount.
  • GLS Language School
    Regular and intensive German classes in Prenzlauer Berg. Private lessons are available. They also offer accommodation1, and summer camps for kids and teens.
  • Kapitel Zwei
    Regular and intensive German classes in Mitte, near Alexanderplatz. Private lessons and exam preparation courses are available. They also offer accommodation1.
  • Speakeasy
    Regular, intensive and super intensive courses in Friedrichshain. Private lessons are available. They can also help with your language visa application. They sometimes organise workshops and events.
  • sprachenatelier
    Regular and intensive courses in Friedrichshain. Private lessons are available. They offer summer courses and language learning trips to Berlin.
  • Sprachsalon Berlin
    Regular and intensive courses in Kreuzberg. Groups of 6 to 12 people. Private lessons are available. They also host events.
  • Sprachinstitut Berlin
    Regular and intensive German classes in Mitte. Groups 4 to 8 people. Private lessons are available. They offer pronunciation training and other special classes.

Private teachers

If you want small groups, or one-to-one lessons, get a private teacher. This is a more expensive option, but it lets you learn much faster. You can ask more questions, and skip the things you already understand.

Most language schools offer private lessons.

  • Chatterbug - 17€ per lesson
    This is my favourite way to learn German. You get one-to-one online video lessons with German teachers. There are lessons every hour, so you can make your own schedule. If you don't like your teacher, you can always pick a different one. It's also very cheap.
  • Italki
    Similar to Chatterbug. You get one-to-one online video lessons with German teachers. Each teacher charges a different price.
  • Lingoda - 32€ per lesson
    Lingoda lets you have video classes with a teacher. You can have 1-to-1 classes, or join a group of 3-5 people. Lingoda is not as good as Chatterbug: the platform is worse, you can't keep the same teachers, it's harder to cancel classes, and it's twice as expensive. You receive a certificate when you complete a level.

German classes online

Most of the language schools in Berlin offer online classes.

There are also many language learning apps for German:

  • Babbel - 7 to 13€ per month
    Regular language lesson without a teacher. You learn German vocabulary and grammar, one module at the time. I used Babbel a lot when I moved to Germany. I like that it teaches you the grammar, and lets you choose what to study. I found it too boring.
  • Chatterbug - 17€ per lesson
    Private video lessons with a private teacher. You can book lessons every hour, so you can make your own schedule. Your teacher helps you complete exercises, and asks you questions. You can skip exercises you understand, or slow down to ask questions. If you don't like your teacher, you can find a new one. It's a great way to practice German conversations. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn German.
  • Duolingo - free
    This is a famous language learning app. It's more interesting than Babbel, but the mobile app does not explain the grammar really well. I find Duolingo too limited. I recommend Babbel or Chatterbug instead.
  • Expath
    The teachers at Expath have recorded videos of their German lessons. You can stream them online. Use the code "AAB2021" for a 10€ discount.
  • Italki
    Private video lessons with language teachers. Each teacher charges a different price. You can talk with your teacher on the Italki website, Zoom, Facetime, Skype or another tool1.
  • Lingoda - 32€ per lesson
    Lingoda lets you have video classes with a teacher. You can have 1-to-1 classes, or join a group of 3-5 people. Lingoda is not as good as Chatterbug: the platform is worse, you can't keep the same teachers, it's harder to cancel classes, and it's twice as expensive. You receive a certificate when you complete a level.
  • Memrise - 5€ per month
    Regular language lesson without a teacher.

Language tandems

In a language tandem, you teach someone your language, and they teach you their language. It lets you learn and practice a language while making friends.

Workshops and events

Speakeasy and Sprachsalon Berlin sometimes organise workshops and events. It's a good way to learn the language and make new friends. There are more language learning events on Meetup.com.

How to pay less for German classes

Ask your employer

Your employer might offer free German classes in your office. It's very common. They might also pay for German classes. Many employers have a training budget for their employees.

Training voucher (Bildungsgutschein)

The Bundesagentur für Arbeit can pay for your language classes. If you are unemployed, or at risk of being unemployed, they can give you a training voucher (Bildungsgutschein). This voucher lets you take German classes for free. Many private schools don't accept training vouchers.

Useful links:

Training bonus (Bildungsprämie)

The German government can pay half of your German classes. They pay up to 500€ per year.

Here are the conditions1:

  • You must work at least 15 hours per week, or be on parental leave (Elternzeit), or on care-giver leave (Pflegezeit).
  • Your taxable income must be under 20,000€ per year. If you are married, your combined income must be below 40,000€ per year.

If you are eligible, you can apply at one of their counselling centres.

DAAD scholarships

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offers a scholarship (Stipendium) for taking an intensive German summer course. You can find more language scholarships in different scholarship databases.

Useful links:

Educational leave (Bildungsurlaub)

You have the right to take vacations to improve your education. This is an educational leave (Bildungsurlaub). During your Bildungsurlaub, your employer keeps paying your salary.

If you work full-time, you get 10 days of educational leave every two years1, 2. If you are under 26 years old, you get 10 days every year1, 2. You must be an employee for at least 6 months1. You must apply at least 6 weeks before your leave1. It must last at least 1 day.

Educational leave is a right. Your employer must allow it, unless it conflicts with the business operations, or if over 50% of the employees already took their Bildungsurlaub.

You must take classes in a public school, a community college (Volkshochschule), a public university (Hochschule), or a recognised private school. In Berlin, many private language schools are recognised1. You can find recognised courses here.

If your course is not recognised, you must ask for permission here. This is useful if you want to make a language trip in another country.

Useful links:

Are German classes tax-deductible?

No. You can't deduct German classes from your income tax1, 2. If you are self-employed, you can still get a VAT refund for it1.

If you learn another language (like Spanish or Italian), and it's required for your work, then you can declare it as a work expense (Werbungskosten).

Personal recommendations

Since I moved to Berlin in 2015, I have tried different ways of learning German. I was not always motivated, but I finally found good resources to help me.

German classes

I used Babbel to learn the basic. It's useful, but really boring. Duolingo was more interesting, but it did not teach me any grammar (maybe it changed).

I also took German classes at work. It's nice because your employer pays for it. Sometimes, you even get lessons during work hours. If you are paid to learn German, do it!

Later, I wanted to take classes at the Volkshochschule, but I could not understand how to do it. Their website is really confusing.

When you take German classes, the teacher makes a big difference. If you get a good teacher, you learn a lot faster. Group size is also important. In a small group, you can ask a lot of questions. Private lessons are even better, because you control the lesson.

Now, I use Chatterbug, and I love it. I can book 45 minute blocks anytime I want, with any teacher I want. It's very flexible. I can't stay focused in class, so I take 45 minute lessons in the morning. Sometimes, I do the exercises, and sometimes I just talk with my teacher. It's a great way to practice German conversation. There are also self-study exercises, but I don't use them.

Useful websites and apps

I use dict.cc to translate words. It's the best German dictionary I know. They also have an app.

I use Linguee to find examples. It shows you how words are used in a sentence, next to their translation.

I use DeepL to translate longer texts. It's much better than Google Translate.

Other tips

  • Switch your browser to German. When you search for something on Google, you get German results first. It forces you to read more German. You will also get the German version of the page.
  • I like to read news with Google News, and watch German documentaries on Arte. Karambolage is really interesting. I play documentaries in the background when I work. I also listen to the news in German with the rbb24 podcast. Deutsche Welle also has a podcast where someone reads the news slowly. It's much easier to understand.
  • There are many language learning communities. I like /r/german a lot. Their wiki has a lot of useful information.