If you’re serious about improving your spoken German, you need to use it consistently. A great way to do that is to make German friends (or meet native German speakers from elsewhere). But how do you find them? In this post, you’ll find some great practical ideas of how you can meet more native German speakers and make the most of the contacts that come your way, maximising the chances that solid friendships will form. Here are some great tips both for when you live in a German-speaking country and when you don’t.
Meeting German native speakers at work
If you’re work in a German-speaking environment, you already have at least one conversation topic in common: the job.
You won’t lack practice if you were hired on the basis that you’d be using your already not-too-bad German in the workplace.
But maybe you can push your linguitsic (and social) boundaries and get chatting more about other things you may have in common with one or other of your colleagues?
Sure, in German-speaking culture, it’s normal to maintain relatively clear boundaries between professional life and what you’re up to out of the office.
Still, workmates often take breaks together during the working day for coffee or snacks or meet up for drinks in the evening.
Don’t just hang out with the other “ex-pat” members of staff.
Make the effort to mix with native German-speakers, even if you are less confident in informal banter in the language than you are discussing the details of your job.
If you don’t work in a German-speaking environment maybe you still have a German-speaking colleague or two?
Now, don’t assume they are up for offering you free language practice.
They may not want to be seen as “the German” or to find themselves helping you with your language during their precious breaks.
Still, it’s worth asking directly if they’d be open to sharing their language. Maybe you could agree to meet up in the canteen over coffee once a week (with you buying the coffees and making yourself interesting enough for them to want to spend some time with you).
Join a club that’s run in German
It’s always good advice to start pursuing your hobbies and interests through the German language as soon as you can. If you’re in Germany, Austria or Switzerland for an extended period, you’re likely to have lots of opportunities to do this with the natives.
To find out about relevant clubs in your area, you can do a search of “Verein” + activity + city. Keep your eye out for fliers around town too or pop in and ask at the local public library.
Get into the local football club and attend matches. If you’re athletic you can join a local gym or sports team. For those who love the great outdoors, walking and nature appreciation clubs would be just the thing.
Take a class (in a subject other than the German language)
Are you interested in developing an existing skill or learning something from scratch? New friendships could be a great additional spin-off.
Seach online for evening classes or weekend events.
When I lived in Heidelberg, I attended painting classes and also classes in Hungarian.
In both cases, the organiser was the local adult education college (Volkshochschule) and German was the language of instruction.
Take a German language class
If you’ve moved to Germany, Austria or Switzerland to live, you might think that joining a German language class would be a sure-fire way of getting stuck with a group of other learners. Yet many of your classmates will be just as keen as you to discover your new country and to get to know the locals. The key is to make sure you’re with people who really want to do that and that you don’t slip into English as a common language.
When I first arrived in Heidelberg to live and work, I quickly fell in with a couple of other foreigners: a Finn and a Pole. My life was the richer for them, all through our common language: German. Plus, I got to know some of their German friends.
During my three years in Heidelberg, one of the jobs I did was teaching English. While I made sure that English was the language in class, an unexpected spin-off was lots of opportunity to use German too: with the language school’s administration, setting terms and making arrangements with private students who were not yet fluent in English, socialising in the pub with my group of students at the end of term.
Follow your interests online, in German
If you’re not in a German-speaking environment and you’re wondering how to make German friends on line, how about using the internet to take your existing hobbies further in German?
Whether you’re a sports fan, into a particular film director or pop group, an art lover or gardener there are plenty of dedicated groups on Facebook and Instagram and older-style on-line discussion forums.
If you’re a beginner or lower intermediate, you can start in a more “passive” role by following along the pot.
Then, when you feel ready, start sharing and commentating yourself. It’s something you’ll want to do anyway, given that this is all about one of your pet topics.
Before long, a shared enthusiasm may have led to a virtual friendship with a German native speaker. That may later become a real-world ones too, all thanks to the power of a shared passion.
Volunteer, in German
If you’re living in a German-speaking environment, can you get involved as a volunteer through through German? Helping out with a local charity would probably turn out to be a very rewarding in its own right but a useful side-effect could be meaningful connections with German-speakers.
Unsure what you could be doing? Search on-line for example through a website such as Freiwilligenarbeit.de, vostel.de or (aimed at younger people aiming to spend a year volunteering in Germany) Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr.
Book a holiday through a German travel agent or website
If you’re into group activity holidays or simple package tours, why not book in German, through a German travel company?
Regardless of the activity or destination, the default language in the activity group or of most of the other tourists, is likely to be German.
A shared holiday can be a great way to make German friend. You’ll just be expected to use the language, come what may shared holiday can be a great way to make German friends.
Become a regular at a German-speaking café or bar
If you’re living in Germany or Austria for a longer period find cafés or bars that you like. Start hanging out there and the owner or regular staff will recognise you as a regular (Stammgast) and want to make you feel at home. For them, it’s good business! Before long, you may find yourself striking up conversations with other regulars, too.
If you live outside the German lands, you may still be able to find establishments run or frequented by German speakers. In my part of London, for example, there’s a German pub. There’s a German bistro at the London Goethe Institut and there are German churches in the city.
Talk to strangers when you’re out and about
When you’re in a predominantly German-speaking environment, be the first to speak.
That’ll be no problem if you’re naturally gregarious. If you’re shy, spontaneous exchanges may not come so naturally but practise pushing yourself a bit!
When it seems appropriate, ask staff or other customers for help in the grocery store or say hello to people at the bus stop or in the train buffet car, for example.
You might be surprised at the kinds of random conversations that get sparked when you “go first” in this way.
At the very least, you’ll increase your German-speaking confidence in social situations. The more confident you become in the language, the easier it will be to get to know people in German.
Stay with a German-speaking host
A great way to get using your German is to stay for a night or two with a German-speaking host. You can do this for free (or almost for free) through a site such as Couchsurfing one of the alternatives like BeWelcome that have sprung up (and had a boost since Couchsurfing started charging a small fee). I’ve never tried this in German but I’ve had good experiences with Basque in the country and a couple of good experiences (and one not-so-good one) in Brazil.
You can book a paid room with a German-speaking host on AirBnB. I’ve done this in Berlin and my host was quite chatty.
These are not only options when want to make a short visit to Germany, Austria, Switzerland. If you already live there, how about a long weekend exploring another region and using the lingo?
Frequent organised meet-ups
Websites like Meetup offer opportunities to meet open-minded people in a group setting.
Sometimes these have a “language exchange” element but, often, they are just opportunities for internationally-minded locals to meet newcomers and passing visitors to their locality. You might find something similar on popular social media site like Facebook.
A plus about these events is that you can turn up even if you’re just on a short visit, for example if you’re holiday and don’t know anybody. I haven’t tried this in Germany but I gave it a go when on holiday in Brazil, Portugal and Iceland.
Meet-ups are also useful if you live in an English-speaking country and and want to find German speakers in your locality.
Using dating apps for a romantic encounter in German
The usual range of dating apps could become a potential cross-linguistic resource with, erm, “benefits”.
Make sure that your profile and any pre-meet-up messaging is all in German, to pre-set linguistic expectations.
After a spot of in-app warm-up chat, you’re ready to meet up one-to-one in person?
Don’t forget to take the usual, sensible safety precautions as recommended by your app of choice. If you’re seeing someone in person for the first time, be sure to meet somewhere public. Let a friend know where you are and when.
How to increase your chances of a German friendship
We’ve seen some of the places where you can meet German speakers. Your “milieu” matters. So does taking the initiative, making a friendly first-move. What about some general tips, in whatever context you meet?
Don’t force it!
Remember, building a friendship in German won’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort. Follow up after the first meeting with a text or mail. Keep in touch every now and again with longer-term friend.
At the beginning of a potential friendship, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t want to come across as “intense” and do remember that you can’t really control how people perceive you. All you can do is treat others as you’d like to be treated and to ask, if you’re unsure about something.
Be aware of cultural differences between English and German-speakers
Ok, so let’s over-generalise:
- The speed with which friendships tend to form may differ between a German-speaking culture and your own. For example, the US has long been a highly mobile and urban society where you need to make friends quickly and maybe also move on faster. Things may go slower in a German-speaking country.
- German-speaking cultures tends have more layers of formality than “Anglo-Saxon” ones. For example the use of the formal “Sie” instead of “Du” or a clearer delineation between work and leisure time, public and private life. Austria tends to be more formal than Germany.
- You may find differences in rhetorical style:
- Germans tend to be more direct than Anglo-Saxons (especially than Brits). If you get used to this (and don’t take offence) it means you’re more likely to know where you stand!
- Brits tend towards self-deprecation, like anecdotes and use humour to diffuse tension. All of these can misfire in a German-language setting. Perhaps US culture falls somewhere in between?
- Be all means learn vulgarities, curse words and swear words but be very cautious about using them as you’ll probably get it wrong.
Remember reciprocity if you want to make friends in German
Everybody loves a good listener. Is that you? Are you really interested in the other person and what they’ve go to say?
Remember that the best relationships involve give and take (and this may include using English some of the time). You have to have something to offer.
If a friendship develops, are you ready to put in some effort to nurture it over the longer term?
True, as circumstances change, people change and can drift apart and it’s important to accept that.
Circumstantial friends may endure less well than where there’s a shared interest. Plus, what that shared interest is might change over time, if you keep in touch. For example, if you and your friends go on to have families of your own, the kids my be a whole new bonding point.
Get your German “friendship ready”
A foundation of common interests, awareness of cultural differences, a genuine desire to connect, good general inter-personal skills. These all make more difference when you want to make German friends than sheer linguistic ability.
That said, don’t forget to work on your German conversation skills as well!
The better you are at German, the easier it’ll be for natives to converse with you and the less likely you’ll be to have misunderstandings.
Here are some things you should be doing as an upper beginner or lower intermediate German learner:
- learn to use “filler” words like “meine ich” or “halt” and question tags such as “Oder?”, “Nicht wahr” to help you sound more fluent and oil the conversation.
- use questions intelligently as you converse, both to check you’ve understood and if you want to take the spotlight off yourself onto your conversations partner.
- hone your ability to understand the spoken German coming at you by getting lots of listening practice. That should include tons of more “passive” listening to the audio in your German course and to level-appropriate podcasts. But you can also use “active” techniques such as “listen and transcribe” (what I call “laser listening”).
- keep building up your vocabulary and grammar skills.
In my popular German course the Weekly German Workouts, active I focus on active listening practice to everyday, colloquial German spoken by natives.
I teach you grammar as patterns that you can use on the fly (rather than abstract grammar rules and useless tables).
You get lots of vocabulary in pre-packed phrases (rather than just lists of single words that are hard to remember out of context and often still harder to use correctly.
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From fleeting, one-off conversations through to lifelong friendships, making German friends and meeting more German speakers, through German, will really enrich your life. Actively seek out your opportunities and enjoy them to the full.