German Language 101

Where do people speak German?

German is the native language of Germany (where it is called “Deutsch”). However, the Germans are not the only people who officially speak German. If you spoke German, you would also be able to communicate with people from Austria, the German side of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, East Belgium, and in some other parts in Europe (where only small minorities speak German though). German is also one of the national languages in Namibia (Africa). German is counted as one of the ten most important languages in the World (French, Spanish, Mandarin, and of course English are also on that top ten list).

Which language group does German belong to?

German is part of the western branch of Germanic languages. Other Germanic languages are Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Afrikaans, Norwegian, English, and Scots (though some people don't count that as a proper language). In total, there are 15 Germanic languages with around 500 million speakers. Because those languages do have some similarities, it is often said that learning another language from the same language group is often a lot easier than learning a language from a different language group. This is one of the reasons why learning English is often seen as quite easy for Germans, though English native speakers sometimes have some issues with German because the German language uses more genders (male, female, and neutral), which can cause some confusion.

What is the best method to learn German?

If you are interested in learning German, then there are plenty of options for you. You could choose an online course, buy a book about the German language (best are the ones that come with audio CDs, so you can also hear how words are supposed to be pronounced), or visit a local language class. Another, more expensive option, would be a holiday in Germany combined with a course at a local language school.

The best option is always the option that enables you to use what you have learned, however, many people simply do not have the option to just travel to a German speaking country. In that case, you might want to post notes in local supermarkets or newspapers, in which you say that you are looking for native Germans, who would like to help you with your German. In exchange you can offer them help with English – or if their English is very good, you could always offer them some other help with something you are good at.

Some basic German phrases

Hello. Hallo.
Good morning. Guten Morgen.
Good day. Guten Tag.
Good evening. Guten Abend.
Good nights. Gute Nacht.
How are you? Wie geht es Ihnen? (polite, to strangers) Wie geht es Dir? (to someone you know well)
I'm fine. Mir geht es gut.
I feel sick. Ich fühle mich krank.
I am tired. Ich bin müde.
I am sad. Ich bin traurig.
I am happy. Ich bin glücklich.
Bye. Tschüss.
See you tomorrow. Bis morgen.
One Eins
Two Zwei
Three Drei
Four Vier
Five Fünf
Six Sechs
Seven Sieben
Eight Acht
Nine Neun
Ten Zehn
Where do I find....? Wo finde ich....?
Help! Hilfe!
Please. Bitte.
Thank you. Danke.

Levels of politeness in German

You will notice, that Germans don't always use the same words to address other people. There is are two different types of the word “you” in modern German. “Sie” is used when you talk to someone who is older than you (but usually not for your parents unless you live in a very odd family), who has a superior role, someone you do not know very well, or someone you have a neutral relationship with. Examples are: teachers, barristers, strangers you meet on the street, the checkout operator in the supermarket, professors at university. Then there is “Du”. This is more familiar type of “you”. This is usually used between friends, family members, when addressing people under the age of 18, or when talking to partners.

The problem with this is that each version of “you” comes with their own set of grammar rules. You can't just simply take the same sentence and only exchange one word. In some cases this might work, but in most cases, the grammar is slightly different.

German genders

In English, you simply have “the”. But in German, it is all a little more complicated because each noun is either male, female or neutral. This is usually just a matter of learning nouns by heart with the corresponding gender. Some examples: