The German Language
German is one of the Indo-European languages and is spoken in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, as well as in German ethnic communities in the neighboring countries. It is a major language within the European Community. In total, approximately 120 million people speak German throughout the world. German is one of the most important cultural languages. It is the language of Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Luther, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Freud, Einstein, and numerous more famous artists and scientists. More than 10% of all books published worldwide are in German.
There are several German dialects, spoken in different regions. Some of these regional dialects are not so easy to understand, even for German ears, although they love to listen to dialects as spoken in rural Bavaria, Saxony, Swabia, Fresia, Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin or in Austria and Switzerland. Standard, today, is “Hochdeutsch” (High German), which derives from a Lower Saxon dialect spoken in the Hannover region.
Many German words are similar – or even identical – to Afrikaans words and sound familiar. But don’t be mistaken, German is totally different and not easy to learn, mainly due to the complex German grammar. Nouns – for example – come in three different genders, masculine (der), feminine (die) and neuter (das). Even advanced learners have problems to correctly pick the right gender. The tree in German (der Baum) is masculine, for example. However, a single tree species like a palm tree is feminine (die Palme). Or, even more surprising, the child (das Kind) is neuter in German! How could you know? There are no clear cut rules. One can only learn it. Another source of complexity are the 4 four different cases – nominative, genitive, dative and accusative. The cases relate to the function of a noun within a sentence and determine how nouns and articles are altered.
Why learn German
You can travel Germany without understanding a word of German. Most Germans – especially younger people – speak and understand English. German children learn English as their 1st foreign language in school since 1950. However, regardless of this fact: you will see and understand more, make more interesting experiences, have more fun and make friends easier if you have some basic knowledge of the German language. Germans generally do not expect you to speak or understand their language. However, they will be delighted and impressed if they hear you using German words and phrases and will generously tolerate all your mistakes.
The German lessons in this online travel guide are not a full-scale German language course. They are meant to be a basic introduction and to help you when travelling the country.
Note: unfortunately, the German lessons only work on Windows PCs but not on Macintosh computers.