Lost in Translation? These Top 5 European Destinations Speak Your Language
Lost in Translation? These Top 5 European Destinations Speak Your Language - Germany's Young People Excel at English
Germany has one of the highest English proficiency rates in Europe, especially among young people. A 2019 study by EF Education First found that over 56% of Germans speak English at a high level of proficiency. This outpaces many other European countries, including France, Spain and Italy.
There are several reasons why English skills are so strong in Germany. Firstly, English is introduced early in German schools, usually starting in 3rd or 4th grade. Students have English classes multiple times per week all through primary and secondary school. This consistent exposure leads to high fluency. As one German teacher explained, "English has been a core subject for decades here. The students learn it from a young age, so by the time they finish school most have very good English abilities."
Secondly, English proficiency is important for career success in Germany. Strong English is practically a requirement for many white-collar jobs, especially in fields like business, tech and engineering. Young Germans know they need to master English if they want access to top jobs. One university student majoring in economics commented, "In today's globalized business world, if you want a good job you have to speak fluent English. That's just a fact of life here in Germany."
Additionally, daily exposure to English helps reinforce the language. English words and phrases are common in German advertising and media. Hollywood movies and TV shows are popular and usually shown in English with German subtitles rather than dubbed. And most young Germans use English-language websites and apps daily. As one exchange student from the US observed, "My German friends use Instagram, TikTok and YouTube just like I do back home. They're on English-language social media every day, so it's no wonder their conversational skills are so good."
Finally, many young Germans are eager to actually use English regularly through travel abroad. Backpacking trips, study abroad semesters and internships in English-speaking countries have become a rite of passage. As one college junior put it, "I'm planning to spend next summer interning in London. I want to gain work experience of course, but also become fully fluent in English. Most of my friends have already done something similar in the US, Canada or Australia."
What else is in this post?
- Lost in Translation? These Top 5 European Destinations Speak Your Language - Germany's Young People Excel at English
- Lost in Translation? These Top 5 European Destinations Speak Your Language - Poles Put an Interesting Spin on English
Lost in Translation? These Top 5 European Destinations Speak Your Language - Poles Put an Interesting Spin on English
While Poland's overall English proficiency lags behind Western Europe, Poles who do speak English put a unique spin on the language. This Polish-accented English not only reflects the nation's complex history and linguistic quirks, but also acts as a bridge helping connect Poland to the wider world.
Centuries under foreign rule, partitions, and oppression impacted the Polish language itself and how English later spread. Linguist Elżbieta Mańczak-Wohlfeld notes, "The Polish language incorporates elements from its occupied past, including Russian, German, French, and other influences." The phonetic structure of Polish is different from English, which affects Polish accents. For example, the Polish roll their R's. Poles also differentiate between hard and soft consonants in a way English does not.
When Poland finally regained independence after World War I, English was promoted as the language of opportunity and modernity. The communist era from 1945-1989 saw Russian prioritized, but after the fall of the Iron Curtain, English again took on an important role. It symbolized freedom and connection to the West.
As one Polish teacher explained, "English was this magical language that opened new doors. It gave us access to rock music, movies, products and ideas from America and Britain." But learning materials and language exposure were still limited in communist Poland. Pronunciation focused on grammar not conversational fluency. This limitation created a distinctly Polish-tinged English accent.
Since joining the EU in 2004, English proficiency in Poland has grown, especially among students hoping to study and work abroad. English words and phrases now pepper Polish speech. As Warsaw student Kamila notes, "We use a mix of Polish and English all the time. I throw English words into conversations without even thinking about it."
But the unique Polish accent remains. Poles struggle with some sounds like "th" and tend to stress syllables differently than native English speakers. There are some positive associations with the Polish English accent. As Krakow teacher Mirek observes, "It sounds sophisticated, like you spent time abroad. Using English words makes you seem worldly and educated."
However, many Poles feel self-conscious about their accents when traveling. As student Pawel admits, "I practiced English for years but was afraid to actually speak it out loud. I knew I had a strong Polish accent and didn't want to be judged."
Language learner Julia disagrees, saying: "Our Polish spin on English words is charming. It shows that we come from a different culture but are doing our best to communicate. I used to feel embarrassed about my accent but now see it as a chance to share Poland's story."