Most Germans are pretty fluent in English. It seems to me that the number of years Germans put into studying English should be roughly comparable to the number of years learners of German would need to put into learning German to achieve comparable fluency. I’m a little over 2 years into learning German and wonder how many years I still have to go.

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    Here in Austria, English as school subject ususally starts at 3rd grade (age 8 or 9) and stays till the end of school, i.e. age 18 or 19. It's not uncommon to get some English courses in kindergarden, too. – ammoQ Apr 28 '16 at 9:04
  • Artikel zur Entwicklung des Fremdsprachenunterricht in Deutschland: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fremdsprachenunterricht#Deutschland (German only) – Iris Apr 28 '16 at 10:17
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    I’m voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about education systems, not about the German language. – chirlu Apr 28 '16 at 10:45
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    I think the approach is flawed. Children and people learning their first foreign language take much longer to learn a language; and of course it depends on the time you put into learning each week, too. – chirlu Apr 28 '16 at 10:54
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    There is no connection whatsoever. For one, many Germans are not really fluent, they merely ‘get by’. For another, school education is generally pretty non-focussed and takes longer than proper studying. For three, take university diplomas which are generally achieved in a shorter timeframe but also generally mean more fluency. For a final, there is no reciprocity to be assumed whatsoever. Also consider taking this to Language Learning. – Jan Apr 28 '16 at 11:26

Here in Austria, English as school subject ususally starts at 1st grade (age 6 or 7)* and stays till the end of school, i.e. age 18 or 19. It's not uncommon to get some English courses in kindergarden, too.

As stated in the comments to the question, the same goes for Germany.

*originally, I claimed it would be 3rd grade, but Hubert corrected me in the comments.

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  • Sorry, but this is wrong. In Austria kids start to learn a foreign language (which is in more than 95 % of all schools English) at the age of 6, which is 1st grade: bmbf.gv.at/schulen/unterricht/lp/… And only about 50% of students attend school until they are 18. The other 50% quit at the age of 15. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 28 '16 at 11:40
  • Thanks Hubert, I stand corrected. For me, probably as well as many adults, it was 3rd grade, but looks like it has changed since. – ammoQ Apr 28 '16 at 12:07

When I went to school in Thüringen in Germany in the 90s, I officially started English when I entered Gymnasium (grammar school, in my case with scientific emphasis) in grade 5 (year 5). English was mandatory up to and including 10th grade (10th year). Further languages would start around grade 7 (French, Latin, Russian).

For grade 11 and 12, one could decide to continue amongst all languages started in the previous years.

I decided to continue with English and dropped my third language (French) so that when leaving school, I officially had 8 years of learning English, and 4 years of learning French.

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    This mirrors my own school years, though in my Gymnasium you could also start with Latin <shudder>. I had English from grade 5 through 13 (it was still K-13 then), Latin <argh> from 7 to 11 and French <oh la la> from 9 - 11. Despite, like you, mathematical-scientific specialisation. Don't get me started, though surprisingly Latin has helped me through the years. – user21173 Apr 28 '16 at 11:50

Like user ammoQ I only can talk about Austria.

I was born in 1965 in Austria and started school at the age of 6, in September 1971. I did not attend any preschool or kindergarten, this was not usual in rural regions (but is usual now). Like almost all people who are at my age (round 50), I started learning english in 5th grade, when I was 10. This was standard in the 1970ies in Austria.

People who after 4 years of Volksschule attended Hauptschule (4 years) and Polytechnikum (1 year) quit school after 9 years, so they had 5 years of english. Those, who attended longer school types like AHS or BHS after Volksschule spent in total 12 (AHS) or 13 (BHS) years in school, so they had Englisch lessons for 8 or 9 years.

Now (21st century) Children start to learn English in Austria at the age of 6, in 1st class. They don't get marks in the first 2 years, but they learn the basics of English. There are even a few bilingual schools in big cities like Vienna and Graz, where all lessons (maths, biology, ...) are taught in English and German. Only kids who can proof that their skills in both languages are good enough can attend those schools. Those bilingual schools are rare and expensive (they are private schools).

Additional I can to tell, that kids at the age of 3 to 6 have to attend at least one year of Kindergarten (but almost all kids spend at least 3 years in Kindergarten), and more and more of this day care centers are teaching English to the children. Kindergärten where kids can learn Englisch are non-standard, but they are not rare. You can find lots of them.

But when comparing learning English in Germany or Austria compared to learning German in UK or US, you also must know, that English is standard language in technics, economy and science. So when you have a job in one of those fields, that you are reading, writing, listening and talking English almost every day, where ever you live on this planet. And we have bilingual radio stations in Austria (I guess in Germany too), where you can listen to news, talkshows and interviews in English.

Also you can select to watch many movies in TV in its original language, which in 95% of all movies is English. And in big cities you have english theaters and cinemas which only show movies in English language.

Most of the music you hear in Radio has lyrics in English.

So in Austria and Germany you have access to English when ever and where ever you want. This makes it easy to learn this language here.

A few years ago I spent some months in UK (London). There is no German cinema, no German soundtrack for movies in TV, and no German radio station. And there is (almost) no job where you need German language every day. So I think when you don't live in a country where people speak German, its much harder to learn this language.

And there is another fact:

What is hard to learn when learning English is how to pronounce the words (Why is "o" in the plural word "women" spoken like "i" in "bit" or "e" in "we"? And how to you pronounce this dammed "th"?) But once you've got this, its not so hard to learn English.
German has four cases and three genders, and lots of exceptions in almost all grammatical rules. And we have "ch" and "pf" and "str" which are hard to pronounce ("Pferch", "Strumpf").

So for someone, who doesn't speak any of both languages, many people think that English is easier than German.

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  • But do you learn to pronounce it with that proper Schmäh? ;) Sorry, sorry, just kidding. I'm originally Bavarian, so I'm more closely "related" to Austrians than to the bloody Prussians, so don't call me a Piefke! :D – user21173 Apr 28 '16 at 11:53
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    @Marakai: Zwei Dinge, beide wichtig: 1. Den »Schmäh« gibts nicht generell in Österreich, sondern nur in Wien (und Umgebung), und auch von den Wienern können sich außer Fremdenführern, Heurigenwirten und Fiakerkutschern nur wenige damit von ganzem Herzen identifizieren. 2. Der schnellste und sicherste Weg, sich in Österreich unbeliebt zu machen, besteht darin, Wiener Dialekt zu imitieren. Noch schneller geht das nur, wenn man sich über einen beliebigen österreichischen Dialekt lustig macht. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 28 '16 at 12:04
  • Gott, so lange bin ich jetzt schon weg, dass es nur Wiener Schmäh ist, ist mir schon lange entfallen. Zu Punkt 2: kein Widerspruch, das gilt generell für alle Dialekte. Aber Bayerisch ist ja jetzt offiziell gefährdeter Dialekt, das sprechen ja noch nicht mal die Einheimischen mehr. :( – user21173 Apr 28 '16 at 12:09

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