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German Language Basics

German Language Basics
on March 26, 2017

 

The German language is one of the most closely related languages to English, and is an official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy (South Tyrol), Liechtenstein and within the German-speaking community of Belgium.

Globally, the German language is spoken by nearly 100M people. In the United States, German is the fourth most widely taught foreign language after Spanish, French and American Sign Language. In the European Union, German is the third most widely taught language after English and French.

But enough of all that; here the top 6 interesting facts about the German language. 

German is the most commonly spoken language in the EU

Sure, there are nearly 100M native speakers of German worldwide, but most of them are in Europe, making German the most widely spoken native language in the European Union. More than 15% of all EU citizens speak German as their native language.

World-wide, German is the third most commonly taught language

Among students of foreign languages, German is the third most commonly taught. German actually beats out Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Spanish, and is beat out only by English and French.

The first book ever printed was in German

We've all heard of the Gutenberg Printing Press. It was used to print the Gutenberg Bible. (I guess the Gutenbergs were really creative with naming things, right?) While books existed prior to 1454, when the Gutenberg Bible was printed, they were hand-written. 

German was almost the official language of the United States

German settlers were a big portion of the population of the original 13 Colonies, and German was widely spoken across the land. Early copies of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written in German so they could be read more widely. At one point, in order to further distance itself from England, the Continental Congress even voted to change the official language of the United States of America from English to German. (German lost by just one vote!)

German and English share more than 50% of their vocabulary

The German language is closely related to English - so much so, that more than half of the words between these two languages are shared. So if you speak English and want to learn German, you've already got a great head start.

English and German also have a number of "false friends"

Cognates are words that are similar across languages. False friends are words that sound the same, but have different meaning. In German, there are many false friends; for example:

German: Kind                  Meaning: nice / cute (note warm-hearted)

German: Spring                  Meaning: jump (not a season)

German: Still                  Meaning: quiet (not "nevertheless" or "however")

For more basics, check out this post on the German alphabet.

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