Among English speaking people, saying that German, also known as Deutsch, is a difficult language to learn is a rather common sentiment. The words are not only difficult to pronounce, there are compound words, and there are three grammatical genders, to name a few of what gives the German language the reputation that it has.
German is a first language that is widely spoken in the European Union and is one of the major languages in the world. It belongs to the West Germanic language that is related to Dutch and English. Most of the words in German came from Greek and Latin words.
Like most languages, German uses the Latin alphabet, although aside from the standard 26 letters, it also has the letter for the sharp s, “ß” and three vowels with umlaut or diaeresis (two dots on top of the letter), namely ä, ö and ü and their upper case versions. In German. The Eszett or the scharfes s (ß) is replaced by SS when the word is written in capital letters, while in Switzerland two esses (ss) is used instead of the Eszett. Austria uses SZ instead of the Eszett.
A look into its past
The first coherent written form of the German language is found in the 9th century works called the Merseburg Incantations, Muspilli and Hildebrandslied (Song of Hildebrand). The modern standard form of the language was greatly shaped by important 18th century writers. In 1901, the orthographic and grammatical rules set down in the Duden Handbook of 1880 were declared to be the standard. Revisions were only made in 1996 and were officially instituted in Germany and other German-speaking nations two years later.
Standard German was initially only for the written language. It differs in vocabulary in grammar and orthography as well as in pronunciation regionally and between countries speaking the same language. In the case of Switzerland’s German-speaking localities, standard German is only for the written form while the Swiss Standard German is for verbal communication in the same way the Austrian Standard German is used in Austria.
Aside from standard German, there are dialects that have substantial distinction from Deutsch and these are spoken in specific regions of Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and France. For example, the official language of Luxembourg is a German dialect called Lëtzeburgesch and is spoken by around 400, 000 people.
Liechtenstein’s official language is Standard German, which is also shares official language status in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. It is also a regional language (official) in South Tyrol in Italy, in Sopron, Hungary, in many cities in Romania and in Krahule, Slovakia. Italian and German are the official language of command of the Swiss Guards of the Vatican. It is also a regional language in some regions in Russia, Poland, Namibia, Italy and Denmark.
More than 121 million people around the world speak Deutsch today, including people who speak it as their second language. The language is spoken in Germany, with 82 million speakers, and it is lingua franca in many other European countries including Austria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Namibia, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United States of America. Native German speakers number from 99,000 to 110,000 people around the world.
Likewise, it is one of the three working languages of the European Union and one of the 23 official languages of the EU. It is second to English as the most widely spoken language in Europe.
Deutsch could be the key to success
Despite the possible difficulties that lie ahead of the learner, learning to speak Deutsch is eventually beneficial. This could open up a number of work and study opportunities. Deutschland happens to be the headquarters of a number of international companies that could offer you a lucrative career move. Having the language skills opens up a lot of doors and being competent in the German language is a plus. Being well versed in oral and written communication in the language is one of the best means of impressing employers.
Not really that difficult to learn
What English speakers are not aware of is that there are many similarities between English and German. Once people have gone beyond the assumed complexities of the German language, they often find out that it is very logically structured and could be easy to learn, depending on how it is taught. If the learner has a penchant for learning languages and if the learner would put in the necessary hours, then it should not be difficult to learn at all. As an old German saying goes, “Übung macht den Meister!” It means “practice makes one the master.” Be prepare to go past the hurdles and it will be plain sailing afterwards. Just do not let yourself be intimidated.
Interesting peculiarities of the language
Here’s one tip for someone who wants inside information on the German language even before getting started in formal language class. German nouns are capitalized. But since not every German noun is inherently a noun because infinitives and adjectives can become nouns as well, it might be a bit too premature to show off when it comes to capitalizing nouns.
German grammatical gender
German is one of the Indo-European languages that have grammatical gender. The English spoken today has no grammatical gender, but old English had. For English speakers who want to learn Romance languages, the gender issue is at first confusing and a tad complex. Especially since the proper article needs to be placed before each noun – “der” for masculine nouns and “die” before nouns that are designated feminine. The article “das” is tied to neuter nouns. And that’s not all there is to it since adverbs and adjectives need to be changed accordingly as well.
Masculine, Feminine, Neuter
But since German has a reputation to keep up, it’s not that easy to determine masculine, feminine, and neuter. It is quite clear that “der Mann” (man) is masculine and “die Frau” (woman) is feminine. But English speakers would probably not understand readily why the designation neuter is assigned to “das Mädchen (girl). There is no system (or sense, according to non-Deutsch fans) in the gender assignation. German language learners need to memorize the gender assignment or get lost all the way through.
Some German loanwords to English
You might be surprised to learn that some of the words that you currently use were borrowed from the German language. Some of these include:
abseil, angst, automat, ansatz, blitz, bratwurst, delicatessen, doppelgänger, edelweiss, fest, Gestalt, Gasundheit!, hinterland, kaput, kindergarten, kitsch, kraut, leitmotif, to plunder, poltergeist, realpolitik, reich, rucksack, sauerkraut, schadenfreude, uber, verklemmt, wanderlust, wunderkind, zeitgeist
Basic German phrases
For visitors and new students of the language, here are a few key phrases in Deutsch. Germans appreciate visitors who make the effort to learn their language, and since most people in Berlin and other locations in Germany would prefer speaking in their native tongue, it would be useful to learn the following useful words and phrases.