One of the biggest concerns I had before moving to Frankfurt was whether or not it would be possible to survive here with just English. I know that many other expats have similar concerns, particularly those who are coming from an Anglo-Saxon country where German language study is hardly encouraged!
On the whole, it is totally ok living in Frankfurt without speaking German. You very quickly work out where to go to be able to get things done in English. I find that many people, especially those with higher education, will speak perfectly functional English. They normally voluntarily switch language when they hear how bad my German is! They also often play down their level of English because the standards are set fairly high here.
However, there are many times that language is also a problem and unfortunately it tends to be the important/official stuff. To help prepare you, here are the key times when language has been an issue for me:
1. Secretaries and receptionists. Going to the doctors, dentists, schools etc. is normally fine for the actual appointment as the professionals always seem to speak excellent English. The trouble tends to be booking the appointment as the receptionists struggle with high German, let alone English. Best technique is to book appointments in person with a pen and paper ready. Or get someone to phone for you!
2. Tax Office. The officials in the tax office speak English fine, but they are not (or they said they weren’t) allowed to give out official advice in English. They were however totally happy for me to write to them in English and they answered in German. Happily I solved this with a very useful English speaking tax advisor who does everything for me now 🙂
3. Work HR. Why is it that so many companies fail to employ an English speaker in their HR teams and yet want to employ international staff?! Your co-workers will get you round this minor issue.
4. The Hauswart. This is the person who sorts out all of your problems in the flat on behalf of the Landlord. This can be an issue, many don’t seem to speak English. Find a friendly neighbour who does and ask them to help. Or only rent an apartment if the Hauswart speaks English. Mine does 😉
Lastly, don’t ever worry about phoning emergency services. Speak slowly and clearly and they will understand and help. They speak English! As do many banks, the telecoms, the insurance companies etc. Basic rule though is, before you sign up, check that their helpline works in English. If it doesn’t, don’t sign!
Even the local kids speak English to me…!