44 Words to Talk About School in German + Example Sentences with Chunks

The school system in Germany is quite different from the U.S. system, and if you’re planning to attend school in Germany or simply want to discuss education-related topics in German, it’s quite important to have the relevant vocabulary need for it.

Deutsche Welle made a great video about the German school system. Time to check it out!

In this blog post, you’ll have the chance to learn about school in German: how the system works, related vocabulary and example sentences!

1. The German School System

The German school system is broadly divided into several stages. It start with pre-school, then continues with primary and secondary education.

The limit? Well, it’s up to you!

Here’s a breakdown of how it works:

Pre-SchoolKindergarten (Kita)3-6Optional pre-school education
PrimaryGrundschule6-10Compulsory primary education (4 years)
SecondaryHauptschule10-15Basic general education (usually grades 5-9)
Realschule10-16More extensive general education (usually grades 5-10)
Gymnasium10-18/19Academic track leading to Abitur (university entrance qualification) (usually grades 5-12/13)
Gesamtschule10-18/19Comprehensive school combining Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium curricula
VocationalBerufsausbildung16+Vocational training programs (apprenticeships) combining classroom instruction and on-the-job training
TertiaryUniversität, Fachhochschule18+Universities, universities of applied sciences, and other higher education institutions

As you can see, the German school system is quite structured, with different paths available to students based on their academic performance and interests. The most complex of all is probably the secondary education part.

The Gymnasium is the college preparatory track that leads to the Abitur, which is basically the university entrance qualification.

After the Grundschule, which is the compulsory primary education, students are typically sorted into different secondary school types based on their grades and also, teacher recommendations.

This system has been the subject of much debate in Germany, with some arguing that it can be too rigid and limit opportunities for certain students.

2. How to Talk About Elementary School in German

Elementary school, or Grundschule in German, is the first step in primary education.

school in german speaking country

It usually lasts four years, from ages 6 to 10. During this time, students learn the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic – and every basic thing in other subjects like science and social studies as well.

Here’s some useful vocabulary related to elementary school in German:

die Grundschuleelementary school
der Schülerstudent
der Lehrerteacher
der Unterrichtclass, lesson
die Pausebreak
der Stundenplanschedule
die Hausaufgabehomework
die Notegrade
das Klassenzimmerclassroom
der Schulhofschoolyard

Let’s see a short conversation with these words:

Anna: Guten Morgen, Frau Müller! [Good morning, Mrs. Müller!]
Frau Müller: Guten Morgen, Anna. Wie war deine Pause? [Good morning, Anna. How was your break?]
Anna: Es war schön. Ich habe mit meinen Freunden im Schulhof gespielt. [It was nice. I played with my friends in the schoolyard.]
Frau Müller: Das freut mich zu hören. Habt ihr eure Hausaufgaben für heute gemacht? [I’m glad to hear that. Did you all do your homework for today?]
Anna: Ja, Frau Müller. Ich habe meine Hausaufgaben erledigt. [Yes, Mrs. Müller. I did my homework.]
Frau Müller: Sehr gut. Dann können wir jetzt mit dem Unterricht beginnen. Holt bitte eure Bücher und Hefte heraus. [Very good. Then we can start the lesson now. Please take out your books and notebooks.]

3. Advanced School Vocabulary in German: High School & University

After elementary school, German students have several options for secondary education, including:

  • Hauptschule,
  • Realschule, and
  • Gymnasium.

The Gymnasium is the most academic track, preparing students for university studies and awarding the Abitur upon completion.

If you’re discussing high school or university-level education in German, here are some useful words and phrases:

die Oberstufeupper grades (of high school)
das Abituruniversity entrance qualification
die Universitätuniversity
die Fachhochschuleuniversity of applied sciences
der Studentstudent
der Abschlussdegree, qualification
der Studiengangcourse of study
die Vorlesunglecture
das Seminarseminar
die Prüfungexam

With this vocabulary, you can talk about the different types of secondary schools, the requirements for university admission, and the different aspects of higher education:

Sven: Hast du dich schon für einen Studiengang an der Universität entschieden? [Have you decided on a course of study at the university yet?]
Maria: Ja, ich möchte Jura studieren und anschließend das Staatsexamen ablegen. [Yes, I want to study law and then take the state examination.]
Sven: Das klingt sehr anspruchsvoll. Die Vorlesungen und Seminare werden sicher eine Herausforderung sein. [That sounds very demanding. The lectures and seminars will surely be a- challenge.]
Maria: Keine Sorge, ich bin bereit, hart dafür zu arbeiten und den Abschluss zu schaffen. [No worries, I’m ready to work hard for it and get the degree.]

4. Basic School Supplies

Aside from the studying itself, schools have a range of supplies needed to teach students effectively.

school in german blackboard

It’s good to know the German words for these items as well:

der Stiftpen
der Bleistiftpencil
das Heftnotebook
das Buchbook
der Radiergummieraser
der Spitzerpencil sharpener
der Lineaalruler
die Scherescissors
der Klebstoffglue
die Tafelblackboard

Being familiar with these basic school supplies will help you follow along conversations about classroom activities:

Anna: Ich brauche einen neuen Bleistift für die Schule. Meiner ist schon ganz kurz. [I need a new pencil for school. Mine is already very short.]
Mutter: Kein Problem. Lass uns auch noch neue Hefte und Bücher kaufen. [No problem. Let’s also buy new notebooks and books.]
Anna: Okay, und vielleicht einen Radiergummi? Meiner ist ganz abgenutzt. [Okay, and maybe an eraser? Mine is really worn out.]
Mutter: Alles klar, den packen wir auch noch in den Einkaufswagen. [All right, we’ll put that in the shopping cart too.]

5. Browse Through the German Grade System

The grading system in German schools is different from what you might be used to in other countries. Here’s how it works:

German GradeDescription
1Sehr gut (Very good)
2Gut (Good)
3Befriedigend (Satisfactory)
4Ausreichend (Sufficient)
5Mangelhaft (Poor/Fail)
6Ungenügend (Insufficient/Fail)

In this system, 1 is the highest grade, and 5 or 6 are failing grades. This grading scale applies to all levels of education, from elementary school to university.

6. Learn about school in German with Practice Worksheets!

We have special exercises for you. Fill in the blanks using the vocabulary you learned in this blog post:

This wasn’t enough? Click the button now and get access to our Full Practice Worksheet Library!

7. Learn more about school in German with example sentences and Conversation Based Chunking

Learning school-related topics in German can be made more effective through Conversation Based Chunking.

This method is all about using the natural building blocks of the language, breaking down conversations into manageable “chunks” or common phrases. Just study real-life dialogues and vocabulary related to school, classrooms, supplies, and the education system, so you can use the language more naturally.

Listening to native speakers, repeating the chunks, and gradually building up your conversational skills will help you acquire confidence and fluency in German.

With Conversation Based Chunking, you’ll be able to discuss school-related topics in German in no time.

Start your journey today!

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