Is German More Challenging Than Other Languages?
Learning German can seem intimidating. The rumors of complex grammatical structures, super long words, and a million different articles don’t help either. So, if you’re considering learning German, it’s fair to ask how hard or easy it is to learn it? Let’s take a look at these rumors, and if they’re as scary as they sound. Turns out, learning German may be easier than you think.
Every language is unique. And these unique features can make them easier or more difficult than others. Let’s examine all the aspects that make German hard to learn for English speakers, how to overcome these difficulties, and why it’s actually an easy language to learn. Below are 5 reasons why German is considered hard, and 5 reasons why it’s actually much easier than other languages.
Is German Close to English?
The difficulty of the language depends on how close it is to the learner’s native language. If your native language is English, you’re in luck. German is closely related to English. Both German and English are part of the West Germanic language family. So, this is actually one of the biggest reasons why German is easy to learn for English speakers.
How Long Does It Take to Learn German?
The easier it is to learn a language, the faster you’ll reach fluency. So, if we look at how long it takes to learn a language, we can estimate how easily it’s done. While we can’t actually give you an exact answer, we can show you some estimates of this. Keep in mind, that you can always make your studies faster and easier with the right motivation, strategy, and language learning method. So take the following numbers with a grain of salt.
The US Foreign Service Institute cam up with a ranking for languages in terms of difficulty and estimated how long it takes to learn them based on that. German is a Category II language (out of five categories), the only one in this category. They say that you need 30 weeks or 750 hours of study to master German. So, compared to other languages, German is not at all difficult. And you can learn it fast and easily with the right methods.
5 Reasons Why German is Hard to Learn
There are definitely aspects of German that are more difficult to master. But, the fact that there are only 5 is actually very good. This means that if you tackle these 5 obstacles, you can easily reach German fluency. So, we also show you how you can turn these difficulties around and still have a pleasant learning experience.
1. You Need to Learn Long German Words
When you come face-to-face with a word like “viertausendeinhundertsiebenunddreißig” (4137), it’s a terrifying sight. It’s the linguistic equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. That’s because German uses “compound words”. It adds different words together to express a new idea, and this often leads to grotesquely long words. No hyphens or spaces.
Let’s take the German word for fridge as an example: “der Kühlschrank”. “kühl” means cool, “schrank” is closet. A refrigerator is a cool closet. So, you put the two together to describe a new idea.
How to Learn Long German Words Easily
The key is to build up your vocabulary. Once you’re familiar with a large number of words, these compound words and their meanings will be much easier to tackle. But, be careful. Learning a language is not about how many words you know. It’s about knowing the right words. German locals only use a fraction of their vocabulary for most conversations. So, you don’t need to cram unnecessary German words.
2. Learning German Genders Can Be Frustrating
English speakers have the luxury of not having genders. But, German does. German has three genders, which makes it even more difficult to master. It’s probably the reason why the Foreign Service Institute deemed it harder than French, which only has two genders.
German has masculine (der), feminine (die), and neutral (das) gender. While some genders are self-explanatory (der Mann – the man), others are less logical (das Mädchen). And these articles in front of Genders change depending on the cases. So, the grammar of German genders doesn’t do you any favors either.
How to Make German Genders More Manageable
You can always associate the genders and articles to the words. And training your brain to remember them isn’t a bad route either. But, if you’re a bit lazy like me, you can use this one trick that no language learning website will ever tell you: Germans don’t actually care. Most Germans don’t mind if you mix up “der” with “die”. Sometimes even locals get confused between the genders. So, when you’re speaking, don’t fuss about which article you need to use. (Disclaimer: don’t try this if you’re learning German for school or an exam. Chances are, your examiner will very much mind if you use the wrong article)
3. German Sentence Structure Is Different, But Not Hard
German sentence structure is much more liberal than English. English is a clear SVO (subject-verb-object) language. Meanwhile, German is often SVO, but sometimes it becomes SOV. Especially if there’s a conjunction. Let’s take a look at some examples to make that clear:
- Mary eats an apple. – Mary isst einen Apfel.
“Mary” is the subject, “eats” is the verb, and “an apple” is the object. In German, the same parts of the sentence follow each other. That’s because it’s a simple sentence. But, let’s look at a more complicated sentence, with a conjunction:
- I can’t go to the cinema, if I have no money. – Ich kann nicht ins Kino gehen, wenn ich kein Geld habe.
“I” (ich) is the subject, “can” (kann) or “have” (habe) are the verbs, “cinema” (Kino) and “money” (Geld) are the objects, and “if” (wenn) is the conjunction. As you can see, the object comes before the verb in both of these sentences. That’s because German sentence structure is much more flexible. But, if you did it the other way around, it would sound kind of strange.
How Do We Tackle the Sentence Structures in German
This is a part of German grammar that you have to get used to. When you analyze a sentence, it’s easy to think that it’s complicated. But this is just how everyday German people speak. The only rule you need to remember in terms of sentence structure is CSOV (conjunction-subject-object-verb). If there’s a conjunction, the sentence structure definitely changes. You’ll soon get the rhythm and logic of this language naturally.
4. Formal vs Informal You in German
German uses two forms of the word “you.” When addressing coworkers, professionals, and strangers, it’s proper to use the formal, “Sie.” It is also used by younger people to address older individuals. “Du” is more informal and used to address friends and peers in most situations.
Recently, however, the influence of an increasing spread of casual business culture has started creating a shift away from the formal “sie” opting for “du” instead. If you’re ever in doubt, stick with “sie.”
5. False Cognates Can Be Confusing to Learn
A false cognate is a word with the same or similar spelling in the target language as your native language. An example of this would be “gift” in German. Many English speakers would think that giving someone a “gift” in German would be a pleasant thing, but they would be wrong. “Gift” means poison in German.
There are several more examples like these. And because German and English are quite similar, it can be equally frustrating to think you know a word only to find out that you’re wrong. However, they are often shockingly different than what you’d think they would be, so you’ll be quick to learn from mistakes.
Why German is Easy to Learn
There are a lot of reasons why German is easy to learn. These are the top most common reasons why German fluency is an achievable goal. Keep in mind that even the best aspects of the language can be improved with the right language learning methods.
1. German is Close to English
As mentioned before, German is very close to English. So, you’ll actually see a lot of cognates, words that look or sound similar, and have the same meaning. This means that you can quickly enhance your vocabulary without much of an effort. Here are a few common words that are cognates in German and English:
- die Prinzessin – princess
- schwimmen – to swim
- das Wasser – water
- der Frosh – frog
- das Buch – book
- das Eis – ice
2. Learning the German Alphabet Will Be Familiar
You may think that the German alphabet is very new or complicated. With letters like “ä”, “ö”, “ü”, and “ß”, it can seem intimidating. But, the German and English alphabet is almost the same. All 26 letters of the English alphabet are found in German, and there are only 4 extra letters. So, learning the alphabet will be a piece of cake.
3. Simple Pronunciation Rules in German
People often exaggerate the harsh pronunciation of German. The “ch” and “r” sounds can make it seem like a very aggressive language. But, of course, this is not true. German is just as melodic as any other language. And with enough pronunciation practice, you’d be fluent anyway.
What makes German pronunciation easy is clear rules. While in English, there are a lot of irregularities, German is much more straightforward. Once you learn all the rules, you can use them for the whole language. German also doesn’t have silent letters like French. Which makes reading German much easier too.
But, it’s still fun to exaggerate how difficult the German pronunciation is. Check out this video for some laughs:
4. Lots of People Speak German
German is a very popular language. Of course, a lot of people speak it as their mother tongue. But did you know that German is also the second language of 289 million people? 15.4 million people are currently studying German. So, there have to be a lot of resources for you to learn German. This makes learning German much easier than a rare or obscure language.
German people are also very kind and helpful. When they find out that you’re learning German, they’ll encourage you, and even help you out. If you’re ever in doubt, you can always ask a German person to correct your grammar or pronunciation.
5. German Verbs are Easy to Conjugate
You may think of German grammar and think of it as a beast. But, really, it’s often more logical than you think. Conjugating verbs is very easy when you’re learning German. Both regular and irregular verbs follow the same set of rules. Lets take a look at this example:
Geben – to give
- ich gebe
- du gebst
- er/sie/es gibt
- wir geben
- ihr gebt
- Sie geben
As you can see the base is (almost) the same every time, and the ending changes depending on the person. The irregularities in the verbs are also very similar to English. Just like the English “drink-drank-drunk”, the German “trink-trank-getrunken” changes the base vowel as well. So, even with irregular verbs, you’ll find them kind of familiar.
German grammar is generally easy to learn. The rules are clear, and there aren’t really any exceptions to them. Once you know them, you can be confident in your knowledge. So, this clarity certainly makes German easy to learn, even with the infamous grammar.
German is Not Hard to Learn with the Right Methods
As you can see, it’s not hard to learn German. But, you need the right language learning methods to succeed. A course that nourishes your knowledge, and lets you have fun. And that’s exactly what OptiLingo offers.
OptiLingo is an app that gets you to fluency fast. It shows you the most common German words and phrases, so you learn exactly how the locals speak. Without wasting time, you can master German in record time. Make your German studies easier with OptiLingo!