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I am wishing to seek a job in Germany but my native language is French. I am semi-fluent in German, B1 level and I can do a conversation if the other person is comprehensive. I am not 100% fluent, and I am not capable of writing something very nice or complex such as a motivation letter. (Actually I even have trouble doing this in my native language).

In the end this become an unsolvable endless loop:

  1. To speak good German you must live in Germany(*)
  2. To live in Germany you should have a job in Germany
  3. To have a job in Germany, you need to speak good German.

So far I've been aiming to break the loop at point 1 by learning German in courses at home but I reach a point where it is hard to make further actual progress without living in a German-speaking environment (more than 2 hours per week). So the other option is to break the loop at point 3 and get a job there even with mediocre German. In order to apply for jobs there I have to write a cover letter and here are the options:

  • I could write everything in English, but this gives the impression I'd not be capable of working in German or that I'd want to be like those expatriates who come for business only and work for large multinational companies, but don't speak a word of German nor integrate into German society. I don't aim to be one of those guys - should I be hired I'd work hard towards integrating and speaking the best German possible - if possible everyday at work.

  • I could of course write the letter in German but it will be bad German, full of mistakes and it will give a very bad impression. It'd be extremely unlikely my application would be considered with such a poor letter, especially if it goes through HR guys.

  • I could get a professional translation, however since I need one letter per application this would be very expensive, not to mention each job application would be delayed by the translation.

  • Or I could just write an introduction and explain my situation in German, and write more difficult stuff in English, with regards to career and experience which is too hard for me to explain in German.

Is there any recommended option among those? My job is engineer, if this makes any difference.

(*) Or Austria or part of Switzerland - in all cases the endless loop is the same.

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    Congratulations! This is one of the questions this site needs more of! – guest Aug 5 at 19:34
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    @guest Wow incredible! My questions on SE networks are usually welcomed by a rain of down- and close votes, but apparently it's the standard here. – Bregalad Aug 6 at 6:38
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    Don't get a professional translation. That could leave the impression of you trying to mislead them regarding your language competency. Write it in English and include most of the first paragraph of your question (add that you are motivated to improve your German language level). They won't rely on your motivation letter to confirm your language competency, they'll do that during the interview if they think it important. – Roland Aug 6 at 6:53
  • @Bregalad: This is indeed the standard here. – guest Aug 6 at 11:23
  • Just to note something: Just because German is an official language of Switzerland doesn't mean everyone speaks it flawlessly. In the German speaking parts of Switzerland most people will communicate using the local dialect and only speak "Schriftdeutsch" or "Hochdeutsch" (literally High-German) when they have to (e.g with a french person who doesn't understand Swiss-German). So going to Switzerland to learn is kind of a bad idea as you'll mostly be hearing Swiss-German and not Hochdeutsch. Although I've never met a person who could speak Swiss-German but not Hochdeutsch – MindSwipe Aug 6 at 13:36
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personal opinion: write it yourself, and maybe have someone who speaks German look over it.

I am German and work in Germany. When I read a letter from non German speakers, I just cared for motivation and experience. If you want to work in a German language only company, your letter should convey that you will be able to do that, but nobody expects flawless German from you. If it's an English speaking company (yes, those exist in Germany) and you are 100% sure your English is better than your German, write in English and just add your German to the CV.

Note: Some German companies make allowances for non German people to start out with a more basic level and learn German during the 1st year or so. This is mostly applies for fields where experienced, capable people are highly sought after, like IT. Engineering is a wide field, depending upon your specialty, that could apply to you.

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    Do you have research to back this up? Almost everywhere on the internet you read "it's of upmost importance to make absolutely no spelling mistake".is that wrong? – guest Aug 5 at 22:06
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    So I support the answer's spirit in that regard: Be as good as you can be, but make sure it's still you who does it. – Frank Hopkins Aug 5 at 22:49
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    @FrankHopkins: What you say is how it should be - but is it really like that in reality? – guest Aug 5 at 22:53
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    Rather than writing a verbose motivation letter full of mistakes I would try to simplify it to be something simple but fairly correct and representative of your capabilities. I think sometimes we attempt to express ourselves in a foreign language in the same way we do with our mother tongue... and that's not the best way to go at the beginning. – eballes Aug 6 at 7:40
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    @guest I have only my experience. In jobs where you get hundreds applications, people tend to be super strict, as they have to somehow manage the flood of applications. But if applications are few and companies are desparate for good people, requirements like flawless German go right out of the window. And as engineer, I suppose the OP has some sought after skills. I work in IT, I know several department heads who ignore mistakes (up to a point) even from German applicants, because experienced programmers with a fitting technology stack are just so rare. – Benjamin Aug 6 at 15:10
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Benjamin's answer is great. Try it yourself first with extreme care, then ask for the help of a native and correct your mistakes.

I would definiely write my presentation letter in German rather than English or French! When a English letter/CV reaches us (I work for a Spanish company), we often take the impression that it was a generic one send to dozens of companies, rather than a well-written, specifically-for-us presentation. This may not apply to every sector and country, though. For instance, in IT jobs, I've seen English being used more widely

Professional help would be expensive if you had to do it for every single job application. But rather than hiring someone to write the letter for you, you could hire someone to work through a few examples and teach you how to do it yourself (this would also be a great exercise for improving your German!) If you still don't have the cash, you may want to help yourself from Internet resources, although is would obviously not be optimal.

Finally, before starting with the job search, you may want to try a two-week trip to the nearest German village!

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My answer may be somewhat anecdotal and subjective but I am a foreigner who has been living in Germany for three years, two studying and one working. One difference between us however is that English is my native language.

I have observed three things during my time in Germany:

  1. In cities, there is a large amount of English fluency, almost ubiquitously among the "highly educated/skilled". It seems for these people that it is almost certainly a requirement to have at least a decent grasp of English, if for nothing else than to act as a bridge language for people with other native languages who do not speak German.

  2. Many high-tech/high-skill jobs in Germany will actually place more importance on having good English skills over good German skills. This is at least true for IT/programming jobs. Just look at job posting websites and you will see this trend, many postings are written completely in English!

  3. Most Germans I have met have been outright surprised and impressed by my still-flawed German. Like you (I assume), I am not able to write a professionally-structured letter and I flail about sometimes when trying to use complex grammar. But so far nearly everyone I have met seems impressed that I learned German at all and regularly compliment me on it. This may however also be because it is not common for native English speakers to go out of their way to learn German, and German is not really a "global language", nor is it particularly useful outside of central Europe. I was also given two offers to work in completely German environment, even after I met with the organizations and spoke for over an hour with my flawed German

I am really not trying to make this an extended brag - my point here is that I find Germans to be very accepting of even flawed German.

Now to answer your question directly, I would suggest that you apply in the language in which the job posting was made, just emphasize your lack of fluency early on and indicate that you are fluent in English (if your post here is any indication of your general ability that I would say that this is true). It would probably help if you are willing to take German lessons too, to show some initiative and a sense of long-term commitment.

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    indicate that you are fluent in English That would be outright lying, I am fluent in neither German nor English, but I am a bit more familiar with written english than spoken - with German it's more of the opposite but I'm still not fluent when speaking. In all cases, very useful answer with your own personal experience. – Bregalad Aug 6 at 8:53
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    You can say whatever you are comfortable with in regards to your English proficiency but the level of English you are demonstrated here is in my opinion without a doubt "fluent" enough for a professional environment, at least in written form. Trust me, I work with several French people whose English is clearly substandard to you right now, even in written form, and they get by with no major issue. – wfgeo Aug 6 at 9:23
  • As a Frenchman working in Germany, my experience matches this as well. – Puzzled Aug 6 at 15:26
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To give a new perspective, you also have other options. I am also french and went to live in germany for 4 years. You don't have to start in Germany with a real work, you have other alternatives to start smoothly.

Social work

One way is to do Wwoofing or a FÖJ, this way you will live in a german environment and you will be able to speak german a little bit. Even if people take you and try to speak english to you, most of the farmers I have met were happier speaking german (or could not speak english).

Summer jobs: Language Schools

I will talk only from language schools as I don't have experience with other summer jobs and these are a great way to start. I have done a language school in Oberwesel in Germany for one month. Children were coming to learn english or german. As 30% of the children were german trying to learn english, they would speak in german to me most of the time. The others coming to learn german were also happy to speak german to me. This is a Win-Win situation as you learn at the same time as they do.

An english job but a german Roommate

Life outside of work can be more important than work. I believe the easiest is to start with a work in english. (if you haven't done the previous options before to train your german.) The most important behind, would be to find a place to stay (Wohngemeinschaft) with german roommates that are willing to speak mainly german to you. This way even if you don't work in german you will quickly get better thanks to your life outside of work.

Don't take the easy way

For me that is the main point. Whenever I was abroad, I would see french people gather to speak to each other (also true for other nationalities), or see people engaging the conversations in english to get faster. For my part, I better liked to try to speak german and to stay with people from other nationalities rather than with french people. I also went to china speaking no chinese and this was the best way to learn! Also by trying to speak chinese to people who could also speak english.

  • I have no idea what Wwoofing or FÖJ is. And I agree with "don't take the easy way" which is why I'd want to avoid an English-only company whenever possible. – Bregalad Aug 6 at 12:11
  • OK I looked it up, and FÖJ sounds like a very good idea, but requires you to be younger than 27 and it's a bit late for this year anyway. But I would have totally liked to do this 4 years ago. – Bregalad Aug 6 at 12:17
  • FÖJ stands for "Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr" it s a year doing social work for the environment, you can google it you have different alternatives and you can also do it as a foreigner. WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is for a shorter period of time (anywhere in the world). You can also start with a WWOOF while trying to apply for jobs, that s how I started working in Germany actually – Pierre44 Aug 6 at 12:20
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I just wanted to add a side aspect: motivation letters are pretty old fashioned, so you can get away without them - at least in IT Jobs. Especially things like „why I think your company is the best to work for“ can best be formulated by skipping them.

Make sure you mention on what Job you apply, if you would be willing to use similliar jobs and where your preferences are, where and when you will be available and then the typical tabular CV with experiences.

In case you need to relocate I would add why you consider Germany and that you might not require relocation compensation.

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    Are you sure you talk about Germany? I've seen a lot of motivation letters wanted?! – guest Aug 8 at 19:11
  • Well as I said it depends on the industry, in my case I do expect employees to win me over, not the other way around. If you Hand in a CV to a headhunter they certainly don’t as, you to write cover letters for all their clients. – eckes Aug 8 at 20:48

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