At ETH Zurich only undergraduate courses are held in German (graduate courses are in English). There both postdoctoral positions and assistant professorships require a certain teaching load. The job descriptions are fairly detailed, but the following point doesn't seem to be addressed:

Does the postdoctoral positions (or assistant professorship positions) at ETH require knowledge of German to teach classes or carry out any other duty? Does English suffice?

The question can be generalized in the following way:

Do European universities with English courses normally require professors to know the native language of the country?

(Clearly, I realize that a basic knowledge of the local language may be useful for daily life.)

  • 1
    I have a personal friend who got a postdoc at ETH without any knowledge of German, so I don't think that not knowing German should put you off from applying.
    – Flounderer
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 20:59
  • @Flounderer Thanks a lot for the remark. Do you know (or could you ask) more details about your friend's situation (e.g. is he required to learn the basics of German within a certain deadline?) and if your statement applies to professorships too?
    – user42770
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 22:59
  • my friend was Indian. I think he went there for one or two years and was not required to learn German. He now appears to be in the US. For a professorship, I think you would be required to learn German as per the answer below.
    – Flounderer
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 3:34
  • I can tell from my experience as a former Master student of ETH that a lot of the postdocs and PhD students there don't speak German at all.
    – user34936
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 7:02

2 Answers 2


For postdocs @ ETH:

If this is not said specifically in the job text, you can safely assume that no knowledge of German will be required, although it may or may not count as a plus depending on the PI. There will almost certainly be no statement in your contract that you will need to learn German within a time frame, as postdocs are not "career" positions in the first place (and neither are they particularly teaching oriented, which is the only place where ETH potentially cares about you speaking German).

For professors @ ETH:

Unlike most other European universities, ETH is actually fairly international. I would be surprised if all of the faculty from around the world teaching there speaks German, although many that I know do (as you say, learning the local language is generally helpful if you stay in a foreign country for a longer period of time). German language skills will almost certainly not be required at time of appointment, but it may become part of your contract that you are obliged to be able to teach in German within a given number of years. This requirement may be negotiable, with the main concern from ETH's side being that this would limit what courses you will be able to teach. However, honestly, I would not worry about this too much at this stage.

For other European universities:

As usual, customs vary a lot across other European universities. For instance, I have seen announcements for German universities where PhD students were required to be able to speak German. That being said, the rules from above are good guesses in the absence of contradicting further information - don't worry about it for postdocs (unless the announcement specifically says that you need to speak the local language), and don't worry too much for faculty positions, but be prepared that you may be obliged to learn the local language.


The general rule is that you need to be willing to learn the language within a certain period of time, such as 2 years. (Short-term) postdoctoral positions with teaching responsibilities may be exceptions, depending on local custom (e.g. if undergraduates can be assumed to understand English).

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