German kids learn their mother tongue the same way you learned yours.
They probably make as many mistakes as you while they’re at it.
But they miraculously manage to become proficient, and so can you.
Language immersion programs are the closest you can get to native language acquisition.
But what if you’re a beginner? Isn’t a German immersion experience too difficult for you?
After all, you would have to confront the fear of being in an unfamiliar place, the fear of making mistakes and, selbstverständlich (of course), the notorious Difficulty of German Grammar on top of everything.
But I believe the opposite is true: Immersion early on can make learning easier.
When I started learning German, I was coming from the pleasant experience of achieving proficiency in both English and French in only a few years: I felt invincible. I imagined it would be the same with German.
But French and English are everywhere. As a young student in Uruguay, I was exposed to them often, whereas German only existed inside the Goethe Institut classroom.
Because I was used to getting things right in my foreign language learning, my greatest mistake as a beginner with German was, interestingly, succumbing to the fear of making mistakes.
Lack of exposure to the language can paralyze you as you’re trying to take your first steps.
Immersion, on the other hand, not only trains the ear, but it also forces you to start speaking German.
It doesn’t matter if you’re getting the Artikel or the preposition right: If you can’t manage to say, “ein Stück Apfelkuchen, bitte,” (a piece of apple pie, please)—or something close to it—your sweet tooth will remain unsatisfied.
Children learn their native language, no matter how “hard” it may be, because they have no choice if they want to get anything done.
Language immersion puts you in the same situation, and it will help you reach the next level, regardless of age or where you are in your German learning journey.
The Pros of Learning German Through Immersion Programs
While some may argue that it’s better to take some lessons before taking a language immersion trip, such a trip can certainly benefit many beginners as well as most intermediate and advanced German learners.
Here are a few advantages to full immersion:
- Rich cultural context: Western civilization owes some of its greatest advancements to German-speaking philosophers (like Heidegger and Nietzsche), filmmakers (like Haneke and Wenders) and writers (like Goethe and Kafka). For anyone interested in German culture, German immersion can be a source of endless gratification. Immersion programs often offer theater and movie outings, museum visits, social gatherings with German speakers and opportunities to “experience life like a local,” which can be both fun and tremendously enriching.
- Faster learning: Language acquisition works faster when exposure to it continues outside the classroom.
- Affordability: Immersion programs and travel costs may seem expensive, but they can actually make language learning more affordable in the long run (when compared to years of language courses).
- The ability to practice what you learn as soon as you learn it: Sometimes, we learn grammar and vocabulary in the classroom, and unless we put it to practice often, we quickly lose it. With immersion programs, there are endless possibilities for immediate oral practice.
- Stimulating cognitive skills: The cognitive and linguistic advantages of learning a foreign language are well-documented. The effects of learning through immersion are particularly positive. For example, according to research from York University, children in language immersion programs perform better in tests of morphological awareness, syntactic awareness and verbal fluency.
To get all of the above benefits from anywhere, you can also check out FluentU, an online immersion program that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Without further ado, the best German immersion programs in the world!
Where Travel and Language Learning Meet: The 13 Best German Immersion Programs in the World
Language Immersion Programs in Germany
Germany is the top choice for German immersion programs, and as such, it offers a wide variety of options.
Berlin is home to the majority of language schools in the country, but great programs are also available in many other interesting cities, such as Heidelberg and Munich.
Berlin naturally seems like the most exciting place. Cultural life, museums, nightlife, dancing on a terrace by the Spree until the wee hours or seeing incredible art shows—the city has enough to offer for an entire lifetime and more! The only downside is that English is Berlin’s unofficial language, and if you aren’t careful, you may miss out on part of your immersion, as you will likely find lots of people you can speak English with rather than German.
Munich offers a lively city experience with lots of German tradition and interesting landmarks as well as a lower foreigner-per-square-meter density than Berlin.
Heidelberg is a smaller city, famous for its heritage sites and beautiful surrounding nature, and you’ll have to use your Deutsch everywhere.
Here are some immersion programs you can check out in each of these three wonderful cities.
This Eurocentres language school offers German immersion with a variety of courses and cultural programs, as well as a choice between accommodation at private apartments and host family stays.
Leisure activities include Wannsee visits, a German movie club, indoor climbing, brewery visits and barbecue parties.
This program is ideal if you want to enjoy Berlin and learn a bit of German while you’re at it. It’s a 9-day program. Each day is built around a thematic unit combining classes, cultural activities and planned interactions with locals.
The Freie Universität Berlin offers both summer and winter academic programs. Students can choose to take either German language courses or courses in a specific discipline.
It’s a comprehensive, full immersion program that includes many opportunities for excursions and cultural activities.
Heidelberg is a charming historical city located in the Neckar Valley. It has inspired poets and musicians alike with its beauty and rich cultural life.
F+U is one of the largest language schools in all of Europe. It offers language, translation and interpreting courses and certificates.
ISE Munich promises immersion from day one in one of Germany’s most interesting metropolises.
According to the website, you’ll learn how to order one of 300 types of bread at Viktualienmarkt, watch the woodworkers of Oberammergau practice their traditional craft and tour Munich on a bike like a proper Deutscher.
Language Immersion Programs in Switzerland and Austria
Austria and Switzerland are among the top tourist destinations in Europe.
Vienna is one of the most popular cities for immersion programs. Once home to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the city has an incredibly rich cultural history.
Zurich, in the German-speaking region of Switzerland, is another favorite. Famous for centers of finance, Zurich is also one of the loveliest cities in all of Western Europe.
I visited Zurich last year, and my impression was that it’s one of the safest, cleanest, most picturesque cities in the world. With scenic lakes and mountains, great museums and a beautiful Old Town, it’s a great place to learn German.
This versatile language school in Zurich is quite popular. It offers everything from intensive courses to private lessons, targeted conversation groups and training for language certificates.
With 40 years of experience and located in the heart of Zurich, only 15 minutes from the airport, Alpha Sprachwelt is arguably the best language school in the city. It’s also an official test center for TELC exams.
With multiple locations around Zurich, EB focuses on everyday situations and vocabulary rather than grammar.
From writing workshops to beginner’s courses, business German and conversation meetings, it offers something for everyone.
Located only a few minutes’ walk from beautiful Lake Zurich (a lovely boardwalk stroll if you ask me), LSI boasts state-of-the-art facilities.
Courses for both adults and teenagers, and tailored training for individuals and small groups, are on offer.
LSI complements language lessons with a varied menu of sightseeing and cultural activities.
Teenager Language Vacation offers supervised German programs in Vienna for learners between 12 and 17.
The courses take place at a lovely campus with lots of green spaces. Student accommodation is arranged in dorm rooms on campus.
Alternatively, host family stays and independent courses with less supervision are offered year-round for those over 16.
If you’re looking for something more exotic than Vienna, the scenic Tyrol is the perfect place to go in Austria.
IPSA offers intensive courses, small groups (up to six students per class), exams for ski instructors and courses tailored for seniors. There’s a particular emphasis on real-life, immersion activities.
This school is an official examination center for the Austrian German Diploma (OSD).
It’s ideal for one-week courses and summer programs. You can make independent travel arrangements and choose between stays at an apartment or with a host family.
It’s located in the heart of Vienna and offers a comprehensive cultural program.
If you want to learn German through immersion but would like to make it into a more integral experience, there are many work-study programs available all over the German-speaking world.
You can become an exchange student if you have at least an intermediate level, or simply work at a ski resort or restaurant with only basic German. Work-study programs can be a great way to finance your German learning.
Integraplus can find you a position—adjusted to your German level—and organize your stay, your apartment, leisure activities and your German courses. All you have to do is show up and let your new job finance your stay in Germany.
Four-week courses consist of 100 45-minute units. If you plan to study at a German university, you need a B2 German level or above.
ActiLingua offers paid work in the Austrian Alps for EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland nationals. You can work at hotels, restaurants and ski centers between 20 and 40 hours per week, with either one or two days off each week. Accommodation is usually provided by the employer.
Unpaid internships in Vienna are available for people of all nationalities in a variety of industries. Accommodation in these cases can be with a host family, at ActiLingua’s residence or at private apartments. This is ideal for young people looking to combine their first professional experiences with language immersion.
There is really a German immersion program for everyone. You can take business German in Zurich to forward your career, take a teen vacation in Vienna to enjoy the summer while you learn or simply take a week of touring and learning around Berlin. You can stay with a host family to make your immersion 24/7 or share a posh flat in an eclectic area of Munich with interesting learners from around the world.
So, what are you waiting for?
Viel Spaß beim Lernen! (Happy studying!)
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