Can PhD students study in universities in Germany, in engineering courses, without knowing the German language? Can they research and live without any problems?

Does applying to these universities require knowledge of the German language?

  • 2
    I thought this is a legitimate question. Why downvotes?
    – Nobody
    Oct 18, 2015 at 5:17
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    Specifically I'd like to know more about engineering courses.
    – Rwy5
    Oct 18, 2015 at 5:55
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    I'd say that the answer is yes in general, but at some point you are going to need some help with bureaucracy and papework. Sooner or later, you are bound to find something which is in German only: some set of university regulations, or a rental contract, or a registration form at your local municipality. You can ask a colleague or a friend to help you. Oct 18, 2015 at 8:37
  • @FedericoPoloni: I'd say that at least in some fields, the answer is "not necessarily", because PhD candidates in Germany in some fields are often university employees who are supposed to teach and research. While the external issues you list might appear, being unable to speak German and thus being unable to support teaching in classes that for one reason or another is held in German, or to attend meetings with German-speaking consortiums of projects that fund your position could be much less avoidable obstacles. Oct 18, 2015 at 19:30

1 Answer 1


I know programs in other fields where the official graduate school language is English (e.g., my undergraduate alma mater - over 20 years back even), but am not personally familiar with engineering in Germany. You need to check the online program description for the universities you're interested in. They certainly exist - here is one example. The entire page is in English. It's an interview with international students about their experiences in the program, so it might be helpful, or at least interesting as well.

I had an Israeli professor who didn't speak German. He was tenured, taught in English even at the undergraduate level, and still managed to be probably the most popular teacher. While Germans generally speak some English, you just face a somewhat restricted social life, and should learn German while in the program to enjoy your time in a PhD more.

  • +1 for informative answer. However, I heard that living in Germany as an international student who could not speak in German may be impossible. While, I heard that this is not the case in Swiss, Netherlands, and Sweden.
    – Eilia
    Feb 28, 2019 at 13:20
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    @Eilia: I'm not sure where you heard that, and why someone considers it impossible? I've left Germany 24 years ago (to live in the U.S.), so things could certainly have changed; but even back then English was commonly spoken. In fact, as most Germans speak some English, they tend to like to practice it with you - which might be an issue if you try to learn German. Especially in the big cities, and with a new generation no longer learning Latin in school but English, I don't expect much of a language barrier. Good grad schools teach in English for the most part anyway. Mar 1, 2019 at 21:02
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    @Eilia: Sticking to language, it's hard to compete with Sweden. Swedes have some of the highest non-native speaker English competency in the world. Dutch are also good English speakers; not so sure about Swiss having an edge over Germans (they are kinda (at over 50%) a German dialect user after all). If you have other concerns - xenophobia or something like that -, that exists everywhere to some extent, but I don't see Germany stick out. That all said, if you live in another country, you should always learn that language to better socialize. Good luck! Mar 1, 2019 at 21:05
  • Thanks for the informative comments. Learning a new language to live in a different country is a must; however, I have concerned of the early steps! Now, I'm more confident :)
    – Eilia
    Mar 2, 2019 at 15:09

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