How can you learn or improve your business German?
Obviously, the best way to really solidify your German skills is to live and work in Germany or Austria if you’re fortunate enough to do so.
However, there’s a lot you can do at home too.
In this guide, you’ll find a comprehensive list of resources you can use to learn business German at home or abroad, as well as some terms and phrases you can use to sound more professional at work.
Click here to jump straight to the resources.
What are the differences between conversational German and business German?
NOTE: If you’re interested in understanding the German business mindset from a cultural perspective, I highly the book Doing Business with Germans: Their Perception, Our Perception by Sylvia Schroll-Machl.
Business German, as you might expect, is all about professionalism.
Germans take their jobs very seriously and like to uphold formalities where possible.
That said, they do know how to let their hair down after work. Germans tend to be dedicated professionals who know when it’s appropriate to switch off.
Given this marked distinction between work and play, it makes sense that Germans distinguish this in their language too.
In all languages, there are words and phrases that are best left out of a professional context.
German, however, goes a little beyond that, as speakers must be aware of how to address a person using the correct formal language.
Using the wrong form of “you” in conversation can offend people and potentially harm your business if conversing with a client.
As such, it’s highly important to learn how and when to use the formal Sie in business contexts.
Using the formal Sie
Learning the different variations of how to say “you” in German for an English speaker can be difficult.
The initial culture shock you get when you call someone du instead of Sie and they seem quite upset can be alarming, to say the least.
As a general rule, use du only when talking to children or to people you know well.
For business settings, then, it’s crucial you learn and remember to use the more formal Sie when addressing strangers and colleagues for the first time.
Fortunately, conjugating verbs to fit Sie is easy, since it works just like the other sie (“they”).
The table below gives you some examples of how to use Sie in business settings, as well as the translations:
|Können Sie am (sechste/elfte/zwanzigste)?||Are you free on the (sixth/eleventh/twentieth)?|
|Soll ich Sie abholen?||Should I pick you up?|
|Schön, Sie kennenzulernen.||Nice to meet you.|
|Schön, Sie wiederzusehen.||Nice to see you again.|
|Hatten Sie einen angenehmen Flug?||Did you have a nice flight?|
|Sind Sie zum ersten Mal in Deutschland?||Is this your first time in Germany?|
|Danke, dass Sie gekommen sind.||Thank you for coming.|
Key German phrases to sound professional
Following on from how to use Sie, I’ll now take you through some key German phrases to use in professional settings.
Sounding professional in German is important, especially since first impressions matter.
In a business context, you should always be prepared to introduce yourself positively and formally when you first meet someone.
With that in mind, it’s worth learning a few phrases you can use to convey an air of professionalism in the workplace.
In the table below, you’ll find a few phrases that may come up in a professional context.
Some of them you might use yourself, while others are only for you to be aware of, as understanding is just as important as speaking.
|Freut mich, Sie kennenzulernen.||Pleased to meet you.|
|Heute ist ein schöner Tag, nicht wahr?||It’s a lovely day today, isn’t it?|
|Lasst uns zum Geschäftlichen übergehen.||Let’s get down to business.|
|Wir möchten gerne Geschäfte mit Ihnen machen.||We would like to do business with you.|
|Hallo, dürfte ich bitte mit… sprechen?||Hello, may I please speak to… ?|
|Möchten Sie eine Nachricht hinterlassen?||Would you like to leave a message?|
|Was sind Ihre beruflichen Stärken?||What are your professional strengths?|
|Ich muss mit Ihnen über… sprechen.||I need to speak with you about…|
Writing formal emails
If you’re looking to work in Germany, much of your professional interactions will take place digitally.
This means you’ll need to learn how to communicate with colleagues and clients via email and other online messaging services.
As we all know, there’s a certain etiquette you must follow when writing a business email.
Using the wrong greeting or signing off incorrectly can jeopardise your chances of a positive relationship with the recipient.
Not to mention you just sound completely unprofessional.
With this in mind, any prospective german speaker will need to learn the proper email etiquette.
Below, you’ll find a handy table full of useful phrases to use when writing emails.
|Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, …||To whom it may concern, …|
|Vielen Dank für Ihre Nachricht/E-mail||Thank you for your message/email|
|Ich wäre Ihnen sehr dankbar, wenn Sie mir einige Informationen bezüglich… zusenden könnten.||I would be very grateful if you could send me some information on…|
|Im Anhang finden Sie…||Please find attached…|
|Ich bitte Sie aufrichtig um Entschuldigung für…||Please accept my sincere apologies for…|
|Bitte entschuldigen Sie meine verspätete Antwort bezüglich Ihrer Anfrage/Nachricht.||Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to your enquiry/message.|
|Wenn Sie weitere Fragen haben, zögern Sie bitte nicht, mich zu kontaktieren.||If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.|
|Ich freue mich darauf, von Ihnen zu hören.||I look forward to hearing from you.|
|Mit freundlichen Grüßen, …||Kind regards, …|
Business German vocabulary
What other ways can you learn business German?
Aside from useful phrases, I find that it’s best to learn some relevant vocabulary with whatever topic you’re studying.
It’s always worth learning new vocab, no matter whether you’re a German beginner or a fluent expert.
Of course, the added difficulty when learning German vocab is that you have to make sure to also learn what gender each noun is.
Learning the gender is important because the different cases in German determine what adjective endings and articles precede each noun.
Without further ado, then, here are some useful phrases for use in a professional setting.
Some of them you’ll use frequently, others you won’t, but it’s still worth understanding them in case you ever hear them.
|das Bewerbungsgespräch / das Vorstellungsgespräch||Job interview|
|die Lehre / die Ausbildung||Apprenticeship|
|die Personalabteilung||Human Resources|
|die Bedingungen||Terms and conditions|
|die Arbeitserfahrung||Work experience|
Best resources to learn business German
Seasoned language learners will tell you that you can’t just rely on memorising words and phrases to become an expert.
They’re great, especially at the start, but to really improve your German skills you need to immerse yourself in the culture.
As such, you need to create a varied library of resources to help you get better at German.
I’ll now take you through some of my top recommended resources to help you learn business German.
You should definitely include these foundational essentials to start with:
- German Uncovered (brilliant literacy-based German course using short stories)
- Rocket German (excellent all-round, comprehensive course from beginner to advanced)
- Babbel German (best mobile app to learn German when you have a spare minute)
- Pimsleur German (audio only - perfect for commutes to work)
- Lingoda (for online classes/lessons tailored to your level)
Also see this detailed list of German courses.
Stromberg (TV show)
Stromberg is Germany’s answer to The Office, a hugely popular mockumentary that spawned two classic versions from the UK and America.
Watching this show can help with experiencing German business language in action.
It’s a great way to watch the use of Sie as the coworkers interact with each other, giving you more of an insight into how to speak in a professional setting.
It’s not too hard to find episodes of Stromberg online.
If you’re in Germany, they’re all available on Netflix.
If you’re not lucky enough to be in the country, you can find them on YouTube.
For fans of comedy who want to learn business German, Stromberg is definitely a must-watch.
Die Welt (newspaper)
Reading newspapers is incredibly beneficial for your German.
The newspaper Die Welt is available online for free and covers political news in Germany and beyond.
If you’re interested in current affairs, reading newspapers like Die Welt can help you learn German business vocab and see it used in context.
You’ll also keep up to date with everything that’s happening in Germany.
This could be great if you’re living in the country, as there might be incoming legal changes that affect you.
When you read Die Welt, make sure you have a translation app to hand.
Some articles can be incredibly complicated, even if you’re near-fluent, simply because of their subject and content.
Every now and then you may need to look up a word to fully understand what’s going on.
In any case, it doesn’t have to be Die Welt that you read.
Any German newspaper or magazine that covers politics, business, or finance is worth a read.
They’re great for seeing German business vocabulary in action.
Deutsche Welle (online news and media)
Deutsche Welle is an amazing place for German learners.
It offers news articles and other up-to-date resources that English speakers can use to perfect their German.
The news articles are interesting and engaging, and are also available in English in case you don’t understand something in the German versions.
Aside from news, though, Deutsche Welle also provides additional resources like blogs, podcasts, videos, and courses to help you learn German.
One such online course is called Marktplatz, which teaches you all about business German and professional language.
The whole organisation is a great resource to learn business German, as you can view vocab in context and explore how business language is used in Germany.
Dict.cc (translation app)
Dict.cc is one of the best German translation apps out there.
It has a clear layout and a huge catalogue of words, including even the most complex and specialised business words.
It will even tell you what context you should use the word in.
German, like English, can have many different words for the same thing, so it’s great to know which word suits your context best.
And as far as translation apps go, Dict.cc offers one of the biggest collections of individual words out there.
What’s more, it’s completely free!
If that doesn’t sell it, you can also download the Dict.cc app onto your phone and use it offline.
This means that if you forget a business word and need it quickly, you can simply pull out your phone and you’ll find it in just a few taps of your screen!
Cactus (online course provider)
There’s nothing better than conversing with a real human when it comes to practising a language.
Online courses where you can talk to a tutor either face-to-face or via a video call are hugely beneficial and get you talking to a German native without fear of feeling embarrassed.
Your one-to-one meetings are private and safe, allowing you to build up the confidence you need before heading out into the world of German business.
Cactus provides quality language learning courses at affordable prices.
They even offer courses exclusively in business German, so you can train your professional knowledge.
Goethe Institute (online language learning)
The Goethe Institute is Germany’s way of encouraging foreigners to learn their language.
The organisation is a pioneer in language learning and is a name you’ll hear time and again if you learn German.
True to their solid reputation, they offer free online courses for those wanting to learn German.
They provide hundreds of specific topics for you to test your vocab and pick up new words.
Of course, business German is widely covered across several topics on their website.
You’ll only need a short browse to find a course that suits you.
Why should you learn business German?
If you learn German, you’ll open yourself up to so many more opportunities.
This is because Germany is the hub of Europe, and much of the continent’s business is conducted there.
This means that learning German for a business setting is all the more relevant.
It will get you a way in with some of Europe’s top professionals and you’ll be highly desired for many companies across the world who liaise with German clients.
Learning business German not only increases your job prospects, it vastly improves your knowledge of the language.
Even if you’re just learning German for fun, getting a sense of the professional sector can dramatically boost your skills in the language.
Plus, learning business vocab really shows others you’re serious about the language.
Lots of people start a foreign language, but not many get past simply ordering a beer.
In summary, then, mastering the professional scope of German will both supplement your language skills and bolster your career opportunities.
Business German pays off
As with any language, practice is not just something you do for the sake of it.
It’s a vital part of the process if you want to improve your business German and it’s something every language learner should put time and effort into.
Whether you choose to read newspapers, take an online course, or watch business-related content, it’s important to do so regularly.
Follow the German example: create a routine and stick to it.
Know when to work and when to play; remain a staunch professional until it’s an appropriate time to switch off.
Learning business German can be difficult, but the career benefits can bring a hugely rewarding payout in the end.
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