I have to visit Munich, Germany for a couple of weeks this month for business purpose. I am absolutely ignorant about German language. Although I won't be interacting with the locals much, I'll have to use the public transport. How problematic can it get? In India, most of the sign boards are written in English as well. How is it in Germany? Is there any way I can learn few German sentences and words to get around the city?


4 Answers 4


Not very severe. In Munich as with most of Germany, automated transport ticket machines can be changed easily to a number of different languages. Physical German signs are mostly in German but their alphabet is very similar to English so can be easily memorised when you need to know certain place names. However, Munich is a very walkable city which I would recommend doing if you are very central.

I would recommend getting a phrase book so you can grasp the very basic of the German language (Hello, Thank You, Good-bye). Although the majority of touristy places speak very good English it is courteous in Europe to at least try with the local lingo. They would appreciate it greatly. The German language is very phonetic with the emphasis usually applying to the first syllable in a word.

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    Between the area of the train station and towards the river. Is this not the centre of Munich? When I visited 4 years ago my memory of this was a very pedestrianised area and very pleasant to walk. I don't recall taking the U-Bahn or S-Bahn unless I was going to or from the airport.
    – medina
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 8:44
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    "it is courteous in Europe to at least try with the local lingo" only applies to countries which are butthurt over no longer being the dominant language (France, Germany, Italy). Don't generalize to the rest of us. ;)
    – pipe
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 9:44
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    Actually most Germans will just switch to English as soon as they realize you don't speak German (well). It's very hard for foreigners to train their German on us. It's always a good idea to download the Google Translate dictionary for Germany, and you can locally save the city's map in Google Map so you don't need an internet connection unless you want public transport (which works in Google Maps in Munich, including busses).
    – simbabque
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 10:31
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    It's no problem getting around if you speak English that Germans who most likely learned British English at school can understand. If you are from Birmingham / Scotland / India then try to use your best English if you want to be understood.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 21:41
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    @simbabque: It’s relative. As a Brit living in Sweden, when I visited Bonn this spring, I got more German practice that week than I get Swedish practice here in an average month…
    – PLL
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 10:05

You'll be fine. Especially young people or people in tourism-related jobs speak good English. Public transport is well-organized and easy to navigate.

It might help you to plan your trips and tickets ahead of time (i.e. where you are changing subway lines and what ticket you need - they have a rather complicated zones system so you might just want to get a weekly/monthly ticket for the central area once you're in town). Announcements on some subway lines are bilingual in German/English but in general you can just read the station names off the wall in stations and compare to a line map to see when you have to get off the subway. Also when arriving at the airport there is English-speaking staff where you buy the tickets that is able to assist you and so will be your hotel/employer/friendly strangers.


You asked for German sentences. In case you are not confident in your German pronunciation I would rather go for few but well practised phrases than many sentences:

Your most important sentence next to "Hallo" and "danke" should be "Sprechen Sie Englisch?"

As others already have said, a lot of people speak good English in Germany - especially in large cities like Munich. As a native I really prefer someone speaking understandable English over someone trying to speak German, because of courtesy, but me not understanding a thing.

If you still need more (i.e. asking directions), prepare a notebook where you write down the sentences and show them to the people. You would be surprised how far you come with just making signs with hands and feet.

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    +1 for the 3rd paragraph. Go with well-pronounced, slowly spoken English over any attempts at really bad German. If the addressed person cannot understand / answer you, they'll round up someone who can in no time.
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 10:25

My experience in Munich included many conversations like this:

Me: "Ja, ein großes weißwurst und ein schwarzes Bier, bitte."

Wurstmeister: "Would you like mustard and relish on your sausage?"

My German friends (all of whom speak better English than some of my Canadian friends) are of the opinion that if the person has tried to learn even a little bit of the local language and custom they are happy to switch to English. If the tourist has the attitude of "everyone MUST speak English" then they kann diesen Touristen nicht heute verstehen.

So, get a german phrasebook at the airport bookstore, or a basic german lesson from iTunes. Couple of dozen phrases and numbers under 100 should be more than enough, and it's something to do on the plane.

Gute Reise!

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    Not every German thinks like that - I don't know anyone who does.
    – Rhayene
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 10:00
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    I (german in Munich) am sometimes annoyed if someone asks for directions and immediately uses english. Learning at least some words is an important sign of respect imho.
    – FooBar
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 10:53
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    @FooBar Well, immediately would indeed be a bit impolite. But an introductory "Excuse me, do you speak English?" would certainly be enough to break the ice. Commented May 7, 2016 at 11:58
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    Be prepared that the habit to immediately switch to English when talking to foreigners may even fail to be helpful, as in this anecdote: I overheard a tourist in a tram asking someone where to get off to catch his train. The German happily answered "I think it is in four or five stops. Just look out of the window and you will see a big sign [with emphasis and gestures:] Cen-tral sta-tion". -- Of course this fellow overdid his helpful translation, for the sign actually reads Hauptbahnhof, not Central Station. Commented May 7, 2016 at 12:04
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    It's a funny thing. I usually like to ask people if they speak English first rather than jabbering away at them in a foreign language and presuming that they do. It just seems polite. In major cities in Germany, this usually got me responses like "of course" or "sometimes" (he spoke fluent English; he just happens to speak in that language some of the time). The English Proficiency Index gives a very rough rule of thumb of how prevalent English is in a country and can be a useful indicator, though tourist-facing workers are usually more likely to speak it. Commented May 8, 2016 at 17:28

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