I was hired as a software engineer last summer at a small sized company (around 50 employees), the company is based in Germany as I am. I had a second interview with the lead of developers across all projects (let's call him John), and the CEO/co-founder. The interview went well. At some point in the interview process, where I spoke about my motivation behind the job change etc, I mentioned that I do not speak German yet, as I am still at a beginner level. They replied that I should not worry about that, that this matter "is on them" as they will provide the necessary accommodation for me.

I am three months through the job now, started working within a small team (led by Paul) and there are no major issues for now. We hold two daily meetings, one with all developers and one with the developers of our project. The first one has always been conducted in German, but on my first day, John suggested having an English-meeting daily one day and a German-meeting daily the following day, and so on. At first it was a bit weird because the purpose of daily meetings is to let people know about each others' work/progress/contributions.. but then I made peace with it since our project-specific daily is always in English (unless one other developer has specific questions to the team lead, then they switch to German). This week, we had an annual meeting where news was shared about the company's vision/goals for the year. The meeting had all employees, and it was in German. The following day on our daily meeting, the team leader (John) does not attend, and our project lead (Paul) starts the meeting with a lengthy speech, then a colleague asks to switch to English "so that I would understand what's being said". Then before he'd explain he said "Oh yes, we should work on your German..". It appears that there is a major hierarchy change in the company, which was spoken about in the annual meeting, Paul will become our team lead and John will have other responsibilities. Then he switched to German again, and for the remaining time I did not understand a thing. Then our project-specific daily started, led by Paul again, and I realized that prior to that, Paul called a non-German freelancer (who doesn't attend the first daily) and told him about the change. I feel like Paul knew that some people do not have that piece of information, but only cared to share it with one person and not the other(myself).

I am feeling/being excluded by the day due to language barrier. What I do not like is that the people who interviewed me were not honest about this, they hid the fact that most communication will be in German. I also do not like Paul's attitude about me not speaking German, making it sound in front of everybody as a lack from my side rather than an issue that the interviewers lied about having a solution for. I plan to have a performance feedback call with both Paul and John, I want to address this matter because it affects me everyday and it makes me feel like an outsider, although I attend meetings, I feel like I know very little about my workplace.

I need suggestions on how to phrase this in the meeting I plan to have. My purpose of the meeting is to communicate this issue to my managers and let them know that this issue has consequences on my involvement in the workplace (as stated above) and hopefully push them further to provide accommodation as they promised in the beginning. At the end of the meeting I ll get to know if they were aware all along and just not doing anything as long as my code is being pushed, probably they don't care about my long-term stay at the company, or if they are aware but not really realizing the side effects of this. Note: I do take German classes, but my beginner level is far away from understanding/speaking the language for business purposes.


  • 7
    @tuttiFrutti Maybe the annual meetings are actually not that important for your day to day role. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 13:21
  • 14
    If you feel they were dishonest, then quit. When I read this, I see you joined a German based company, located in Germany, where you are, and your complaint is that they're speaking German. Sorry, but this one is on you. And they didn't "hide the fact that most communication will be in German." They're a German company. They're in Germany. It was obvious. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 15:26
  • 4
    @JoelEtherton my post was to get advise on how to communicate this to my managers in order to find solutions that work for both parties. Your comment is not helpful as I am not discussing if I should learn German or not :) I am discussing an issue where the company promised something they did not achieve. This is similar to them hiring me to code C++ only to find that they are actually using Javascript, and you argue that it's fine just because Javascript is widely used in the domain/country. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 15:31
  • 4
    My comment answers what you just said. Everything about this is on you. You need to talk to your manager. You need to establish a timeline and benchmarks for YOUR improvement. There is no "how to communicate this". You say to your manager, "I need a few minutes to talk with you." You describe the problem as a matter of fact, tell them your action plan, and then ask what assistance they can provide. As for the C++/JavaScript thing, I've been there. You learn fast or you move on. You weren't lied to or duped. You made assumptions. Those assumptions were wrong. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 16:55
  • 7
    This is why you shouldn't relocate your entire life, including your job, to a country where you don't speak the language at least at a functional level. I'm with @JoelEtherton , this is on you.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 17:34

4 Answers 4


I read this part:

They replied that I should not worry about that, that this matter "is on them" as they will provide the necessary accommodation for me.

And parsed it as: We know it doesn't work as is, but we will change things so it does work. In other words: Unfounded optimism.

You are a software developer, and software developers are high in demand. If a small company has trouble finding enough people (as most companies do), they become more accomodating and looser in who they hire. So why not hire somebody who doesn't speak German and force everybody else to speak English? Yeah, you will find out soon that you overestimated the English fluency of your workforce.

People not involved in the hiring are now prone to blame you for not speaking German, when it's on the company, not you.

Now, what you can do: Adress that you were told during the interview that you not speaking German is on them. State you are learning German, but since German is so hard it will take quite a while to get business fluent. Ask what they are doing in the meantime. Illustrate the points you told us here: It affects your feeling of belonging, because you miss strategic information. It lowers your work performance, because special questions are in a language you don't understand and so your knowledge grows slower than it could. etc...

As soon as you sense they understood it's a problem, stop adding more examples and focus on solving it with them.

  • 1
  • 1
    "Unfounded optimism." - I agree with this assessment, but I'd go even farther than your interpretation of "We know it doesn't work as is, but we will change things so it does work." I think it might even be more like "We know it doesn't work as is, but for the six to twelve months until the new employee has learnt German - because they will, of course, once they see that lots of internal communication on and off duty takes place in German - we will temporarily change things so the most important info gets through to them in English". Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 16:25
  • 1
    I had 3 years of German in Jr. High, another 3 in Sr. High, two college courses (all US), I did reasonably well or better in all of those except for one year. None-the-less, I can't really function in German without translations! I suspect if I had to live in Germany for a year, by the end I'd pick it up, but it can be difficult. None-the-less, German is in the 'family of languages' with English, so there are harder languages to pick up. Commented May 24, 2023 at 22:05
  • 1
    @JosephDoggie I know that, you know that, majority of Germans like to think of their language as hard. -> Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache. (Germany saying)
    – Benjamin
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 6:47
  • 1
    @JosephDoggie I think that would merit it's own question. My personal opinion: Hiring managers are people too, ane make human errors. Its up to you if a promise was a honest human error, or systematic lying to fool you. Also, the interview process is there to gauge the honesty and validity of these claims. Try to get the best picture you can, and then decide on that.
    – Benjamin
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 13:33

Millions of people go through this successfully.

I am feeling/being excluded by the day due to language barrier.

You are.

My advice is to just brush it off until you're fluent enough. I've worked in a couple of languages I wasn't fluent in. You need to be more self reliant and build your own picture of your work. We had team meetings I couldn't understand but I didn't care, I focused on my issues rather than the big picture and clarified those whenever necessary.

What I do not like is that the people who interviewed me were not honest about this, they hid the fact that most communication will be in German.

That's a given, it's Germany.

Expecting everyone to conform to you doesn't always work out well. You're expecting them to have fluent English while some may struggle with it. And you're allowing it to impact on your morale which can only lead to frustration. You need to relax, focus on your tasks and everything gets easier.

  • 5
    I don't it is surprising, that most communication is in German, but it is not a given. I interviewed with German companies where the recruiter refused to speak German to me out of principle, even though it was her native tongue. There is companies in Germany that internally mostly speak English because it gives them access to a wider talent pool.
    – Helena
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 10:57
  • 1
    @Helena fair enough, my experience has been different. We have companies here that mostly use English, but many staff members struggle with it. And as implied in my answer quite often foreigners are purposely excluded by using a different language for various reasons from laziness to malice.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 11:39

First of all, since some people are insisting otherwise: This is not your fault. When you were hired the CEO knew that you didn't speak German but was still willing to hire you, because they needed your skill. German companies in IT will sometimes have to compromise on language skills, since there is a shortage of tech people willing to work for German tech salaries.

Unfortunately just because you theoretically in the right, it doesn't necessarily help you with the situation when circumstances (or strategies) change. Maybe they decided to stop hiring non-German speakers, or maybe Paul's English just isn't as good as John's and these are decisions that are made despite of you, since the overall impact on the company is more important than the impact it has on you.

I don't think you have a good chance of fighting the change, but you can be proactive to improve your situation. Schedule a meeting with either Paul or if he is not sympathetic with your situation, talk to the people who have originally hired you. Be clear about how you are impacted, and what you suggest can be done about it. Ask for company resources to help you learn German, for most parts you don't need to be a fluent speaker, being able to understand the gist of a German announcement or conversation around you will already allow you to insert yourself back into the discussion.

In the end, unless they are going to fire you (which is going to be hard if you have a permanent contract), then it is in their interest to make you a more effective worker, though it might not be on the top of their minds, so you have to bring the solutions to them that allow you to stay afloat in the changed circumstances.


So, the tl;dr I'm taking away from this is that you relocated your life to a country where you don't speak the language at a functional level, you got a job in that country with a local company where everyone (or at least almost everyone) at that company is a local, and then *surprised pikachu face* when everyone is speaking the local language and you can't.

As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Germany, do as the Germans do. Which includes speaking German. If you can't do as the Germans do, then perhaps you shouldn't have moved to Germany. I've had a similar experience in Japan, where I moved to Japan and worked for a Japanese company, and the first team I was on spoke in Japanese when I wasn't around and (sometimes) in English when I was around (and even then sometimes Japanese). Fortunately for me I speak enough Japanese that I was more or less able to get the gist of a lot of things (not that they knew that; for various reasons I only responded to them when they spoke in English). Needless to say, that job did not go well, and I can't imagine it was not at least partially to do with my lack of speaking Japanese (around my coworkers; I do speak Japanese at a functional level but I did my best to not speak it at work, again, for various reasons).

Here's what you can do: Have a meeting with your boss and let them know that it's negatively impacting you that everyone is speaking German all the time. Try to come up with concrete examples. It's entirely likely he'll come back to you and say "we only speak German when it's not important for you to know", in which case you'll have to come back with specific counterexamples of when that didn't happen, or you'll have to take that and live with it. Then you can see what happens, if the situation changes. Probably it won't; remember, their native language is German, yours is English. Asking them to speak English all the time is actually a chore, it's not like everyone just automatically speaks English all the time everywhere in the world (which is an opinion frighteningly large numbers of Anglophones believe) and they're just speaking German to screw with you. Furthermore, your boss, as a German himself, likely shares this bias against your position and is likely to be sympathetic to your other teammates (and not to you) when and if this problem continues occurring in the future.

The next step after this would be to find another job, and/or to quit the workforce entirely (and find some way to financially support yourself without working) while you continue to improve your German skills to the point at which you can rejoin the workforce in Germany. You may be able to find another job at a different company that is more amicable to not using German, however, this being Germany, I find it unlikely; my company in Japan gave me the same promise of using English primarily, except when they didn't, and I expect Germany is no different.

Of course, the third option, which is what I ended up doing myself in my experience in Japan, was to simply leave Germany entirely and move back to your home country where (I presume) they speak English. Finding a job where English is spoken in a primarily English-speaking country is going to be far easier than finding a primarily English-speaking job in a German-speaking country, simply by the numbers. If this is possible for you, it might be the route to take.

Lesson to be learned: If you want to move to another country for a long period of time, you need to learn the language to an appropriate level before you move there, not after you arrive while also trying to navigate a workplace environment in a language you don't understand. The fact that you didn't do your due diligence ahead of time is the root of your problem, and that's on you.

Aside: The reason why, when I worked in Japan, that I chose to speak exclusively English at work, is because my Japanese, while proficient at a conversational level (I can make small talk with just about anyone on just about any topic), is not perfect. As a result, I was afraid that, if I was to be given instruction in Japanese, my Japanese coworkers would use words and terms I didn't understand in Japanese, and either I would have to ask them to translate to English anyway (which would just be easier if they explained in English from the start), or, worse, I might think they said one thing and they actually said another and I ended up making mistakes in my work due to miscommunication. The official workplace policy at this company was that everyone should speak English (this was top-down decided by the CEO and was not a wishy-washy "company culture" issue), so I had that to fall back on if I ran into trouble, which is why I felt I had enough leverage to insist on this. And despite all of that, it didn't work.

  • 6
    The OP was open aboutt he situation and got assurances so this is NOT on him, English is an international language especially in the business world. Some people's English might not be very strong (or they might perceive that about themselves) so I always encouraged the team to be ok with switching to native to thrash something out and letting one of the stronger English speakers relay the results to me. OP needs to come to an arrangerment so he os not out of the loop, even if it means extra meetings etc.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 13:36
  • 2
    "English is an international language in the business world" does not equate to "everyone who is employed in the world speaks functional English with the same level of fluency and confidence as their native language", which is the assumption required to expect OP's coworkers to not speak German and instead speak English. There is no indication that OP works in a field in which English is expected to be spoken, or even necessary to be spoken, so assuming that OP's coworkers are comfortable speaking English is Anglocentric of you.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 3:47
  • 2
    Furthermore, while OP may have gotten the requisite assurances, the fact is that those assurances have varying levels of granularity. Speaking from experience, I worked at a company in Japan in which the CEO stated that anyone who did not speak English with a particular level of confidence would be terminated from the company or undergo rehabilitation. Despite this, (most of the people on) my team in that company did not speak English at a level functional enough to work with me, even though there existed a direct mandate from C-suite. I doubt OP's situation comes even close to this.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 3:51
  • 1
    lol - I wasn't the one who gave the OP the assurances!!
    – deep64blue
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 9:20
  • 1
    @Ertai87 Personally, even though I don't particularly like how you handled your Japanese job, I can understand it as there was a top down CEO order. But I can also understand that insisting on English and not compromising would also be an issue that would effect the office wa(harmony). I moved to Japan and started a programming job with the full intent on doing everything in Japanese (despite only barely passing n2), with no English guarantee's, so my situation is different. So/But I need to ask for curiosity, with as much and little detail as you can, what didn't work out? Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 9:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .