9 Fascinating Facts About the German Language

By OptiLingo

Interesting Characteristics to Help Support German Language Learning

Finding the best foreign language learning program is important, but, before you pull out your German language book and start reviewing, you need to take some time to look over the language and appreciate its unique attributes. Every language has a rich history and story that grows over time.

While the tale of German nearly becoming the official language of the United States is an old myth, there are plenty of other amazing facts about the language. And anyone who’s looking for a quick way to learn German should review these facts to better understand the language. Whether you want to be fluent or you’re just curious, here are nine fascinating facts about the German language.

The German Language Is Worldwide

Nearly 100 million people around the world speak German. While this is not as high as languages like Spanish, English, or Chinese, it’s still one of the most popular languages.

Several nations other than Germany recognize German as their official language. These countries are Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg. And it is a minority language of several other countries, making German a great resource if you ever plan on visiting Europe.

The History of Modern German

When talking about or studying the German language, the typical version is “Standard German” for which a Standard German dictionary exists. This is the type of German taught throughout schools in Germany. However, outside of the schools, there are many other dialects of German.

This is a result of how German as we know it today began. It originated as a Germanic language that then traveled down from the Scandinavian region to what we view today as Germany. Over the course of a few hundred years, the language split into two different versions. Low German (Plattdeutch) and High German (Hochdeutsch). Eventually Low German faded out over time, leaving High German as the primary form of German currently used today.

However, even though people recognize German as a written language throughout the nation, pronunciations can vary vastly depending upon the region. Many use the Bavaria region of Germany to highlight this. Keep this in mind for when you plan on testing your fluency.

German Nouns Are Capitalized

While only proper nouns are capitalized in English, in German, all nouns are capitalized. This can be a bonus for new language learners starting out that need help recognizing the nouns.

German Has Three Genders

German nouns have three different genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. While Old English used genders with its nouns, modern English doesn’t use gender at all. And most of the Romantic languages use only two genders, masculine and feminine.

Figuring out the gender of a noun tends to trip people up when learning German. The best strategy is to memorize the gender with the noun from the beginning. As with learning any language, the more exposure you have to the words, the easier it is to remember.

German False Cognates

German is nearly 60 percent similar to English. And while this benefit can help make learning German easier, it can create some awkward social situations if you accidentally stumble into a false cognate. A false cognate is when a word exists in both languages with the same spelling but with very different things meanings. German and English have quite a few.

  • Gift doesn’t mean a present. It means poison.
  • Handy refers to a cell phone instead of something that’s pleasant to have around.
  • Mist refers to feces and not drops water floating around like an early morning fog.
  • Preservative could be mistaken for another word for “condom” in German, Präservativ because of similar pronunciations.
  • After would cause you some embarrassment as well. It means “anus” in German.

There is a more comprehensive list available if you’re curious what other false cognates exist between German and English.

Some German Words Don’t Have Direct Translations

These words will give you a headache if you try to find them in any foreign language learning books. There’s simply no translation for them. However, each word highlights a specific feeling that translates universally as a human experience.

  • Schadenfreude is the joy experienced from watching others suffer. It comes from the word “Shaden” meaning to damage and “Freude” meaning joy.
  • Kummerspeck defines the need to indulge when one experiences grief. The word “Speck” means bacon and “Kummer” referring to sorrow.
  • Innerer Schweinehund refers to an inner voice that encourages us to relax and do nothing when we have responsibilities. To be successful, you must fight your Innerer Schweinehund or “inner pig dog” to use a literal translation.

There are many more exciting words like these highlighting how unique German is.

Denglish Continues to Grow

Denglish is the term used to describe German-English hybrid words. These words are born through the interactions of English-speaking and German-speaking cultures and tend to occur more frequently in younger generations. Whether you’re talking about “die Aircondition” for air conditioning or “der McJob” for a low paying job, there is an extensive list of words created by Germans that would have native English speakers slightly perplexed.

Germany Has Some Really, Really Big Words

German uses compound words often. On the surface, they can be intimidating. In fact, this 63 letter monstrosity gets thrown around as an example quite often:

“rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz”

In fact, the word is no longer used by officials because they found it unreasonable to wield. The word means, “law for the delegation of monitoring beef labeling.”

However, there are plenty of other neat compound words regularly in use. “Das Vaderland” or the native country is a combination of Der Vader (meaning father) and Das Land (meaning land). Another one, der Handschuh, which means, the hand shoe, but refers to a glove. So while the size of the word might be intimidating, it’s easier to understand when you break the word down.

Challenging Pronunciations for Non-Native Speakers

Learning a new language is challenging from the beginning with all the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary to cover. But German pronunciation can be very difficult as well. Nothing underscores this more than a few German words that only Germans seem to be able to pronounce. If you’re up to the task, give them a try.

  • Eichhörnchen – squirrel
  • Streichholzschächtelchen – a little match box

Learn German to Uncover More Facts

If you found this list interesting, then you may be intrigued to know that this is only the beginning of the unique characteristics that define the German language. From its rich history to its odd quarks, German is a vibrant, living entity that changes over time. But the only way to fully understand it is to learn it. Give it a shot and see what neat facts you can discover on your journey to speaking German fluently.