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Basic German: Describe Your Work

When you talk about yourself to a new acquaintance, you often answer many of the same key questions: What kind of job do you do? Where do you work? Are you self-employed? Are you a student? Where do you live? Because you’ll encounter these topics often, you need to be prepared. The following sections provide you with the information you need.

Say you start chatting with a guy you meet at a friend’s party. He may ask you what you do for a living. For example, he may ask any of the following:

Bei welcher Firma arbeiten Sie? (bay vêlH-er fir-mâ âr-bay-ten zee?) (What company are you working for?)
Was machen Sie beruflich? (vâs mâH-en zee be-roohf-liH?) (What kind of work do you do?)
Sind Sie berufstätig? (zint zee be-roohfs-tê-tiH?) (Are you employed?)

A few simple words and expressions help you describe your job and company. In most cases, you can describe what kind of work you do by connecting Ich bin . . . (iH bin . . .) (I am . . .) with the name of your occupation, without using any article. Most names for jobs exist in a female and male form. The male form frequently ends with -er; the female form usually ends with -in. Here are some examples:

Ich bin Handelsvertreter (m)/Handelsvertreterin (f). (iH bin hân-dels-fêr-trey-ter/hân-dels-fêr-trey-ter-in.) (I am a sales representative.)
Ich bin Student (m)/Studentin (f). (iH bin shtoo-dênt/shtoo-dên-tin.) (I am a student.)

If you’re a student, you may want to say what you’re studying. You do this with the phrase Ich studiere . . . (iH shtoo-dee-re . . .) (I am studying . . .). At the end of the sentence, you add the name of your field (without any article). Some fields you may use include the following:

  • Architektur (âr-Hi-têk-toohr) (architecture)

  • Betriebswirtschaft (be-treeps-virt-shâft) (business administration)

  • Softwaretechnik (soft-wair-têH-nik) (software engineering)

  • Kunst (koonst) (art)

  • Literaturwissenschaft (li-te-rah-toohr-vis-en-shâft) (literature)

  • Biochemie (bee-oh-Hey-mee) (biochemistry)

You also can describe what you do with the phrase Ich bin . . . (iH bin . . .) (I am . . .). You end the phrase with an appropriate adjective. For example, you may say any of the following:

Ich bin berufstätig/nicht berufstätig. (iH bin be-roohfs-tê-tiH/niHt be-roohfs-tê-tiH.) (I am employed/not employed.)
Ich bin pensioniert. (iH bin pân-zee-o-neert.) (I am retired.)
Ich bin oft geschäftlich unterwegs. (iH bin oft ge-shêft-liH oon-ter-veyks.) (I often travel on business.)
Ich bin selbständig. (iH bin zelpst-shtênd-iH.) (I am self-employed.)

Your company name, place of work, or line of work may be almost as important as the actual work you do. The phrase Ich arbeite bei . . ./in . . . (iH âr-bay-te bay . . ./in . . .) (I work at . . ./in . . .) tells someone, in a nutshell, where you earn your money. Consider these examples:

Ich arbeite bei der Firma. . . . (iH âr-bay-te bay dêr fir-mâ. . . .) (I work at the company. . . .) After the word Firma, you simply insert the name of the company you work for.
Ich arbeite in einem Krankenhaus. (iH âr-bay-te in ayn-em krânk-en-hous.) (I work in a hospital.)
Ich arbeite in der Gentechnik/in der Umweltforschung. (iH âr-bay-te in dêr geyn-teH-nik/in dêr oom-velt-fohrsh-oong. ) (I work in genetic engineering/in environmental research.)
Ich arbeite in einem Architekturbüro/in einem Forschungslabor. (iH âr-bay-te in ayn-em âr-Hi-têk-toohr-bue-roh/in ayn-em forsh-oongs-lah-bor.) (I work at an architecture office/in a research lab.)
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