My German Success Story – Alexandre Coates

Read what Norfolk Scholar and University of Birmingham Physics student Alex Coates has to say about his language learning experience.


I had always wanted to speak a second language as both of my parents spoke multiple languages and it seemed to me that if I wanted to better understand the world, and other people in it, then only ever knowing English was simply not going to be enough. I was lucky enough to have good language teachers at my school and eventually decided on German. I had heard so much about German scientists and inventors that I wanted to know more.

When it came to University, I opted for Physics with International Study at the University of Birmingham. Throughout my degree course, I made sure I kept up with German classes and finally decided to spend a year abroad at the Ruprecht-Karls Universität in Heidelberg, Germany, as a student in the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

Spending a year in Germany exposed me not only to the culture, but to so much more of the language. During the year I took German classes, met German people, and took part in a German-language theatre production. In addition I met people from all over the world, with whom I am still in contact to this day.

A year abroad, in a foreign language, was often a confusing experience, but the reward was a richer understanding of a different perspective of the world. Through a lot of effort, and speaking as little English as possible, I made my way through German films, German books, and by the end some people even thought I was German! Language is all about communication and understanding, as such it is very difficult to learn languages and not meet new people. Thanks to German I know so many new people and new words that otherwise would never have come into my life.

Learning German has also affected my Physics studies in subtle ways. German-speaking countries have produced so much useful scientific work and are home to some of the best centres of scientific research in the world. Science is all about collaboration, and a lot of that happens in Germany – being able to speak German, even a little, is a massive help. This is the reason almost all of my professors speak a little bit of it. Not only that, but some work is not translated. More than once I have had to translate documents for fellow students to help them with vital work and I cannot emphasise enough what an asset being able to communicate in a foreign language has been and continues to be in the field of academic collaboration.