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I am watching the TV series "Das Boot", playing in La Rochelle in occupied France during the second world war.

Partially, the German occupying forces are speaking English when working together with the French police, especially when no translators are at hand. Is this historically proven?

Which languages were in use during the occupation?

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    I would imagine that this depended on the language proficiencies of those wanting to communicate in any given circumstance. English became the primary foreign language in schools under the Nazis so it's plausible in some instances for the Germans at least. – Lars Bosteen Feb 12 at 10:58
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    Don't underestimate the unwillingness of an international audience to read subtitles all movie long... – DevSolar Feb 12 at 12:08
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    Welcome to HistorySE, Lukas! What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and help center. You may improve your question to comply with site guidelines with an edit and the help of How to Ask. Thanks! (I read that the German version shows French speaking to French using German as well: that series is nowhere near historically spy-cam accurate…) – LаngLаngС Feb 12 at 12:47
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    Growing up in Schiedam (near Rotterdam) in the war, my Dad became reasonably fluent in all of English, French, and German by the end of high school in addition to his native Dutch (and possibly a little Friese). Learning multiple languages is a given for any, and every, educated person in Europe, and French has been an international language since Louis XIV. I would expect most German officers and any soldiers from the Rhinelands at least to know enough French for casual conversation. However, conquerors have privileges and typically demand subservience. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 12 at 17:04
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    Hard to imagine it would be English. Most likely, it was mostly German, combined with few French words/sentences. – Moishe Kohan Feb 12 at 18:13
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Partially, the German occupying forces are speaking English when working together with the French police, especially when no translators are at hand. Is this historically proven?

No, of course not. It's a movie! Just about anyone speaks English in Hollywood movies. No matter what.

Use your common sense. Speaking multiple languages is not common for most people. Foreign languages are taught in high school and above. Not very often on primary schools. The main stream western pupil went to high school and higher after WW1 and more so after WW2. My mum went to primary school only, just before WW2. As she wasn't going to high school, she would do an extra year in primary school. That was at that time the legal requirement in The Netherlands.

The Dutch, for example, are now known to be very good second language English speakers. Before WW2, that was definitely not so. The English proficiency is fairly recent, from the 70's onwards to today. We see the same in Scandinavia, who are also very good in English as a second language.

Now, neither the French nor the Germans are known to be linguistic masters. Why would French dockworkers and German military speak to each other in a third language? It simply makes no sense.

Good communications were quite difficult. The Germans would use German, of course. Which the dockworkers would not understand. One of them perhaps a bit, who would do the translation. A German officer who would speak some French would talk with and by him to tell the others what he wanted them to do.

Which languages were in use during the occupation?

That's what they did. They used the language(s) of the occupied territory together with German. In case of doubt the German original was what legally mattered.

Here a German announcement of the execution of resistance fighters in Maastricht, The Netherlands in German and Dutch.

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  • "Hollywood movies"? – kimchi lover Mar 15 at 1:23
  • @kimchilover Now you are nitpicking. – Jos Mar 15 at 1:42
  • I don't think so. – kimchi lover Mar 15 at 2:51
  • re "Speaking multiple languages is not common for most people." - this is blatantly untrue in Europe, both now and during the Second World War. My father only completed High School (under the German occupation of the Netherlands) and arrived in Canada speaking not only Dutch but French, English and German well enough to converse casually. Speaking three languages upon graduating high school is the norm in Europe, notwithstanding how rare it is in Great Britain and North America. – Pieter Geerkens Apr 14 at 3:15
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    re "Why would French dockworkers and German military speak to each other in a third language?" - because English quite possibly is the common language for French dock workers on the Biscay Coast and German submariners. English was, the language of the two premier navies of the era after all. Sure, this might just be a Hollywood-ism - but the point of this site is to not post glib easy answers because everyone knows it has to be true because the whole world is unilingual like the U.S.A. - but instead to do ressearch and give a good, well supported answer. – Pieter Geerkens Apr 14 at 3:26

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