Did you know that German is the most spoken language in Europe?
In fact, with almost 100 million speakers worldwide, Germany’s official language surpasses English in the European Union.
The UK has a close diplomatic, economic, and commercial relation to Germany.
When you learn German, you’ll inevitably want to go to Germany or another German speaking country and you'll probably learn more about German culture and even German grammar!
Don’t forget that language and culture go hand in hand. It’s important to learn about the German language if you want to learn about German culture and there are a few things you should know if you want to become bilingual or study in a German university.
What are the origins of the German language? How has it changed over time?
The German language is full of surprises. It’s your turn to discover them.
Discover the Fabulous History of the German Language
The Germanic peoples occupied the Danish peninsula since 1200BCE and they spoke an Indo-European language that mixed Latin, Celtic, and Sanskrit. While there are no written records of this language, this is where the story of German begins.
This Germanic language was made up of several dialects including Gothic (a language that has been dead since the 4th century), Anglo-Frisian (Dutch and Flemish), and North Germanic languages (Icelandic, Norwegian). This is when the first consonant shift took place.
The second consonant shift took place between the 4th and 8th centuries and gave rise to what we call Old High German. It is also referred to as Grimm’s Law after the famous German philologist that observed this change. The word German appeared for the first time in a document in 786.
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Until the language was unified until the Middle Ages, the German language was a collection of Germanic dialects.
Historians have found mainly religious texts from this era. While there are few German texts from the 10th century, an increasing number of German documents started showing up as of 1050.
These texts are considered to be the first examples of Middle High German, the “official” ancestor of the German we know today. Old High German was made up of several local dialects. However, there was a definite break between these two languages. This is due to the large number of Latin texts being written between the 10th and 11th centuries.
Standard German (Hochdeutsch), the language you’ll learn at school, came about through Protestantism. In fact, when Martin Luther translated the Old and New Testaments in 1520, the population started becoming German speakers.
In the 19th century, German became the language of business par excellence. While the Austro-Hungarian Empire reigned over Central Europe, German was also spoken in cities such as Budapest, Prague, and Bratislava.
The Brothers Grimm were the first to document the German vocabulary in their dictionary.
German: A Germanic Language
If you’re learning German, you may notice that there are similarities to English, Persian, Swedish, and French.
German is a Germanic language and part of the Indo-European language family which includes the majority of languages currently spoken in Europe.
There are currently 3 billion people who speak a language from this massive linguistic family. However, there were never “Indo-European” people.
Over time, Indo-European branched out. The Germanic language family, of which German is a member, is one of these branches.
This is why there are similarities between all the languages in this family. You’ll notice that when you learn German that it shares a number of similarities with English, particularly when spoken.
The phonetics are similar. However, there are plenty of different German dialects so if you're living in Northern Germany, words won't be pronounced the same as they would in Bavaria, for example.
The tonic accent, which stresses certain syllables, is common to both languages meaning that German pronunciation can be easier for English speakers.
German conjugations also share a number of similarities to English including strong and weak verbs. These are similar to regular and irregular English verbs.
However, German also has a few unique properties. You’ll need to know about them if you want to speak German.
Firstly, Germans seem to construct their sentences “backwards”.
Declensions are also special feature of German. Your German tutor will probably spend a lot of time going over them. This is normal since they are essential to clearly understanding German.
German is also known for its precision and sometimes it seems that Germans have a word for everything. You can see this precision when you try to translate German words into English because are often no direct equivalents.
For example, in German, a Geisterfahrer is a driver who goes the wrong way down a road. Can you think of the English version? Look it up in a dictionary. There isn’t one!
The Peculiarities of German Cultures
Despite its proximity to our country, German culture is quite different to out own.
Would you like to learn a few things about German customs before you go to study or stay in Germany? Knowing these peculiarities are useful for getting by in German.
Firstly, German cuisine isn’t just beer and sauerkraut! While these are both famous parts of Germany’s cultural heritage, you’ll see there’s so much more to it than that. Tourists travelling to Germany will find a wealth of different cuisines.
They’re great a baking, too. In fact, they love it! There are over 300 different types of bread in Germany.
With over 1,500 types, German sausage steals the show. There are so many different things to try.
You have to try real German pretzels, of course. You can find them in every single bakery in Germany and everywhere during traditional festivals. Did you know that 100,000 beers are consumed during Oktoberfest?
Daily German life is an important part of German culture, too. Family and learning are at the centre of everyday German life and children are at the heart of German families.
Foreigners travelling to Germany will see that German children are treated like tiny kings. This can make them seem undisciplined and unruly to British parents. However, this is because their education is quite different to ours.
In Germany, children are allowed to freely express their creativity. You’ll see children going on their school breaks without bothering anyone.
If you go to Germany, you should keep in mind that their culture is different to ours. Germans prefer experience to qualifications, unlike the university-obsessed British culture.
Germans are also famously more direct and frank in their professional lives. There is also a culture of rules and order in Germany. They’re not known for their incivility!
Would You Pass a German Citizenship Test?
Learning languages and immersing yourself in a foreign culture can sometimes make you want to become a citizen. If you want to become a German citizen, there is one thing you should know.
Firstly, Germany is divided into 16 states, each with its own constitution, parliament, and government. They have a degree of autonomy but no power when it comes to decisions at an international level.
After you’ve learnt about German history and chosen where you’d like to live, you should learn about what rights you have as a European national. As it stands, you are currently free to travel around all the member countries of the EU.
You can therefore freely live and work in Germany. You can spend three months in the country without restriction and six months if you’re looking for work.
Germany has some of the best salaries in the world. It's no surprise why so many people are interested in learning German.
Unemployment, at 7%, is much lower than many other places. If you weren’t born on German soil and neither of your parents are German, there are a few things you’ll have to do to become German. You’ll need the necessary forms, documents, €255, and be able to prove that you’ve lived in Germany for 8 years.
You’ll also need to be aware of the rights of German citizens and pass their famous naturalisation test that includes 33 questions. There are questions on German economy, history, and politics.
If you’d like to be part of the 98% that pass the test their first time, you best get started with your German classes! With private tutorials, language stays, and group classes, there are plenty to choose from!
10 German Personalities
Whether you’re learning German or would like to know more about the German language, you should learn about some famous historical and current German figures!
How could we not mention Albert Einstein? He’s the guy who developed the theory of relativity!
Born on 14 March 1879 in Ulm, Württemberg, Einstein was as German as they come! We say “was” because he fled Nazi Germany in 1933 shortly after Hitler came to power and became stateless. He subsequently became Swiss and then Swiss-American and died in Princeton in 1955.
When it comes to famous Germans, it’s hard not to mention Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism and the leader of the Christian religious revolution. You’ve heard of the Lutheran bible, right? He translated the Bible into German!
Anne Frank is also a well known German. She is famous as a symbol of the suffering at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War. Anne Frank’s Diary, which was written while she hid from the Nazis during the the Second World War, is a literary classic. She was killed aged 15.
Finally, here are a few more famous Germans:
Claudia Schiffer, model
Immanuel Kant, philosopher
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Boris Boris Becker, tennis legend
Karl Lagereld, fashion designer
Johann Wolfgana von Goethe, writer. The Shakespeare of German
Horst Tappert, actor who played Derrick
Karl May, writer
Great German Writers
There are plenty of famous German writers. If you’ve never studied German literature, it’s not too late! Check out our short list of the must-read writers!
To start, you need to read Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as he is to German what Shakespeare is to English. The German Shakespeare, if you will. He is the author of Prometheus, Faust, Part One, Faust, Part One, and Elective Affinities.
We shouldn’t forget Patrick Süskind, either. He’s the author who wrote the thriller “Perfume”.
Finally, here are a few other great German writers that are worth mentioning.
The Brothers Grimm
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