Interesting Facts About The German Language

German is among the most spoken languages across the world, and is the native tongue of multiple countries in Europe.

However, with so many people based in Germany having such a good knowledge of English, why is it so important to learn to speak German. Moreover, what are the best techniques to adopt when trying to get up to speed with this powerful language?

Well, if you don’t go through the process of learning this rather intriguing language then there are many (what can only be described as) weird and wonderful things that you will miss out on! Just take a look at these fascinating facts, for example, to get an idea of why learning German is so worthwhile.

1. While Germany is said to be one of the top ten spoken languages across Europe, it is at the same time the number one mother tongue language on the continent. How is this possible, you ask? German is often the first language of habitants in various countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and even parts of Belgium and Slovakia.

2. The German language has not two, but three different genders! There are feminine and masculine nouns, just like in languages such as French, however the Germans additionally have neutral words for things like objects with no defined gender.

3. Although Germany is one hour ahead of GMT, you might be fooled into thinking that it is in the same time zone as the UK if you happen to ask a local what the time is. This is because the Germans say it is half two when it is actually 1.30pm. Though it might seem a bit odd, this is again quite a logical approach as some would argue that it is in fact only half way through the second hour of the afternoon.

In Germany, you say it is halfway to the next hour. I.e. 8.30am would be 'halb neun'.
Don't get confused - learn how the Germans tell the time differently to us! Photo via Visual hunt

4. The German alphabet has more than 26 consonants. This is due to additional official letters like 'ß', which creates a sound similar to 'ss' in English. Other distinctive features are the letter-diacritic combinations it uses, i.e. the two dots above vowels to indicate a shift in pronunciation.

5. The German language is known for its incredibly long words, which emerge as a result of compound words adjoining eachother like a domino effect.

6. Germany shares more than 60% of its vocabulary with English, as opposed to French which shares less than 30%. Is it therefore safe to say that these figures mean you are already a proficient German speaker before you even start learning? Maybe not, but at least it means you’re well on your way!

Whether you decide to attend a beginners' class, take the subject at school, learn German online or to try to teach yourself, there are of course some basics you must master first. Be top of your class from the offset by following sone of these helpful tips!

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Tips For Learning German

Language learning app, DuoLingo, offers tips and advice for new German learners, however most of these apply to those studying any foreign language.

Among the list are words of encouragement, like not to expect to be perfect and to be patient.

Meanwhile, the specialist tool also provides suggestions to ease and accelerate learning such as finding a language partner, listening to spoken German, practicing speaking with othersreading aloud or talking to yourself as well as using flash cards and visually labelling your surroundings in German.

Top Tips For Language Learning

While German shares many similarities with English, it is ultimately a language of its own with distinctive phonetics, grammar rules, vocabulary and more to get to grips with, much like any foreign language.

Learning a new language involves taking lots of baby steps and not becoming overwhelmed. Some of the very first simple steps to take are to master the alphabet and learn some basic key words.

Mastering the German alphabet can help you with pronunciation.
The German language has an extra consonant and uses two dots above vowels to create different sounds and emphasis. Photo credit: marcoverch via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Experts say that the first stages of language acquisition should involve a silent period whereby you are absorbing many aspects of the language and experiencing a number of reactions to them, just like when you learnt to speak your first language as a toddler.

While learning your first ever language comes quite naturally, you may need to look at different ways to approach taking on your second language. Here are just a few different techniques that could help with your language-learning journey.

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Online Learning: Learn German Using Websites And Apps

If you choose to study German online, you can benefit from a number of tools available on the web.

Not only are there a range of courses adapted for all levels, there are also various websites and apps that help you yo improve your German language skills, some of these even go as far as to say they can help you to become fluent.

I have already mentioned DuoLingo, but there are numerous other apps (like Memrise, for example) which can provide mini tutorials and German lessons and are great to interact with whilst on the go.

Although these apps have been developed for this specific purpose, you can equally make progress by doing something as simple as watching video clips in German on YouTube.

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One of the best things about learning a language like German online is that it is often completely free!

Watching German: Learn German Through Television And Film

As with the acquisition of any new language, you have to hear it to be able to process it and understand how the words and sounds work together to produce fluency. As such, watching television is a great way to get to grips with the German language.

Not only will you be able to hear the various parts of speech being spoken by native speakers, you will be able to watch how the native speakers use their mouths to create sounds unknown to the English language, as well as benefitting from the extra guidance of facial expressions, hand gestures and the setting around the characters.

If you want to start off with something easy, why not watch children’s television, like a simple episode of Peppa Pig in German, so that you can familiarise yourself with basic words and phrases illustrated in a simplistic way.

Once you are confident that you are ready to try something more challenging, why not watch a movie that you have seen before so that you can easily follow the storyline and focus on taking in the language.

Listening To German: Learn German Through Podcasts And Audiobooks

As mentioned above, listening is key when learning a new language. If you don’t have the time to dedicate to sitting down and watching a film or television programme in German, then why not put on some German radio or podcasts that you can listen to whilst getting on with chores or while exercising at the gym.

With the latest app technology, it is so easy to find audiobooks, podcasts and even radio stations in international languages. The great thing is, even if you aren’t fully focused, you will still subconsciously be taking different aspects of the language in.

Reading German: Learn German With Newspapers Designed For Beginners

Keeping up to date on news affairs in German is not only interesting on a cultural level, it can also help you to learn very practical vocabulary.

That said, throwing yourself in at the deep end can be a bit daunting so you may not wish to start with the Germans’ equivalent of the Daily Telegraph, for instance! Instead, skip the broadsheets and look out for resources that are designed for learners. The content will be simple enough for you to gain some confidence with the language and encourage you to read more.

Look for newspapers adapted for beginners or aimed at children as the terminology will be simpler.
Reading German newspapers is a good way to improve your language skills. Photo credit: quapan via Visual Hunt / CC BY

Some examples of foreigner-friendly German news sites are Nachrichtenleicht, geared towards beginners and therefore known for its simplicity; Logo, a children’s website that consequently uses very simplistic terminology and features lots of images, charts and videos as visual aids; and The Huffington Post (in German, of course!), which is slightly more complex but usually covers some interesting ground and therefore might grab your attention.

Not aimed at German newbies per se, the Huffington Post is supposedly adapted for B2-level learners. You can find out more about the different levels of comprehension by looking in the CEFR, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Playing In German: Learn German With Interactive Games

Playing games is a popular teaching method in school, and it’s no surprise as it certainly makes learning much more fun. Why not, therefore, play games that require the use of German words to make your language learning journey more exciting?

The website German-Games.Net has been created for just that purpose. A quality online app for German language learners, it offers a range of games designed to help you revise the content you just learned via their tutorials and tests, some of which are mix and match games whilst others are multiple choice spelling games.

Playing games, especially if you have a competitive streak, gives you an incentive to learn and absorb key language features so that you can feel that sense of elation when you get a question or puzzle right.

By engaging with German in this fun way, it will increase your likelihood of retaining the information you have learned, especially if the games are well-designed and thought out with vibrant colours and appealing pictures that relate to the content displayed.

Testing Your German Skills: Recognition And Certification

While the most recognised qualification across the UK and Ireland are the GCSE and A Level certificates, there are other methods of language learning which can lead to you gaining certification in the subject. For instance, the International Baccalaureate and various university degrees offer you the chance to study German, as well as many other languages, as an option before being awarded a grade at the end of the course.

There are also various websites and independent schools that offer you the opportunity to test your comprehension in German, however, the best place to go for this is to the Goethe-Institut, an official body for the testing of German. This institution can provide world-recognised evidence of your German language skills.

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.