German or, as Germans themselves refer to it, “Deutsche” is a Germanic tongue spoken in Central and Western Europe as well as in territories and countries previously colonized by Germany. This means that just like the English language, myriad nations speak, understand, and sometimes even identify German as their mother language.
Originally a West-Central language from the Indo-European family of languages (which includes most of the well-known languages of the West such as English, French, Spanish, Dutch, etc., as well as Hindustani languages such as Urdu and Hindi), German uses the Roman or Latin script and has Romance influences thanks to proximity to France as well as the fact that Germany was the frontier of the Roman Empire.
Today, in the modern world, German is one of the most important languages of business as well as culture; so much so, it is the second most commonly spoken and understood Germanic language after English itself.
Historically, countries with large German speaking populations include the nations of Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, and Namibia (one of Germany’s colonies in Africa), and the language has influenced the likes of the Afrikaans language as well, which is spoken in South Africa.
Overall, across the globe, if one is listing languages in the descending order of number of speakers, German occupies the 12th position on that list.
Read on to know which countries in the world speak German!
German Speaking Countries of the World: And Why They Speak It
According to Deutschland.de, German is spoken and understood as a native/mother language by 130 million people approximately, spread across almost 40 countries across the globe. Besides being one of the most important languages of business and collaboration in the European Union, it is by far the most commonly spoken “native” language in Europe.
German is officially recognized as the official language of five countries besides Germany itself:
But having said that, it is also a very important minority language or secondary language, with over 7 million speakers across the world. This makes it a great linguistic bridge between nations that are quite diverse and varied, compared to each other.
Let’s take a quick look at some of them:
- Russia: If you’ve read any of the great Russian novels, you’ll know just how common Germans and German expressions were in 17-18th Century Russia. The first original emigration of Germans to Russia happened on the invitation of Catherine, the Great. Today more than eight hundred thousand Russians trace their roots to Germany and speak German.
- Poland: Owing to a shared history and years of colonization by Germans and various Germanic groups, to the end of World War II, German was spoken and understood as a minority language in Poland. Today the language is still recognized in some Voivodeships, where minority German speaking populations still reside.
Czechia and Slovakia: German was once the literary language of the region, giving the world the likes of Franz Kafka. Today, it is still understood by a significant number in both Czech Republic and Slovakia.
3. Romania: Had significant migrations of Germans from the 1800s onwards. Today, around 35000 Romanian nationals can speak German thanks to this heritage.
Read on to know which other countries across other continents beyond Europe speak German.
North and South America
- The United States of America: If we are talking about descent and heritage, German is one of the more common European heritages in the continental United States, with close to 45-47 million people claiming some kind of German descent. And, among those people, about 1.5 million speak German as a native tongue.
- Canada: More than 200,000 speakers, accounting for less than a percent of the total population, can speak German.
- Brazil: Brazil was a popular emigration destination for Germans, especially in the pre- and post-World War II era. Today, although accounting for less than 2% of the net population of Brazil, people of German descent and heritage speak German as their main language, and hence make German the second most common language of the South American giant.
- Argentina: More than 350,000 German speakers call Argentina home.
- Ecuador: More than 100,000 German speakers call this nation their home.
- Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile: All of these nations boast of significant minority populations that speak German.
Beyond this, the African nation of Namibia, known recently for their underdog heroics in T20 Cricket, was a German colony till 1915. As a result, about 19-20,000 Namibians still speak and understand German as their first language.
Some facts you didn’t know about the history of the German language
The Germanic language family has three families, North Germanic (Danish, Norwegian, Faeroese, and other Scandinavia tongues), East (although now extinct, speakers of these languages included tribes such as the Goths and Vandals, the latter of which would finally destroy the Western Roman Empire), and West Germanic. The last of these families is the one to which German, English, and Dutch belong.
Within the Fatherland itself (yes, in German, the accepted term for native country translates to Fatherland), the language now termed by linguists as Old High German is the predecessor of the modern German tongue. The language evolved via various phases from the sixth to eighteenth centuries when it reached its current, recognizable form.
German has a rich literary tradition as well, which starts from bardic tales and folk, oral traditions to the present day, with Nobel laureates such as Thomas Mann, Heinrich Boll, Herman Hesse, Nelly Sachs, Gunter Grass, and others gracing the language with their works. And of course, there’s Goethe, the ultimate Romantic author/dramatist par excellence, who wrote in a particularly ornate form of German.
Some idiosyncrasies of the German language: New learners take note!
- German nouns or ‘nomen’ are always capitalized. Although English does not differentiate between the articles preceding nouns, in German, the preceding article (“the”) comes in three forms, each for masculine, feminine, and neuter gendered nouns.
- Just like “Fatherland,” in German, the moon is a masculine noun while the Sun is feminine. This is different from most other languages in Europe.
- German works like laying bricks, by which I mean that meanings are continuously added, often resulting in extremely long words; some of the longest in any language in the world.
- Germans refer to their country as “Deutschland.” Pennsylvania has significant German-heritage population clusters, which thanks to this word, are now referred to using a misnomer: Pennsylvania Dutch.
Why you should consider learning German
- Germany has an excellent education system, and every year numerous students from across the globe go there for their higher education. So if you plan on getting a degree from any of the German universities, learning German will go a long way.
- Tourism and hospitality, both to and from Germany, are huge domains. This makes learning German especially important: no matter if you’re the traveler, or the host.
- Oktoberfest, a festival that celebrates Bavarian culture, especially beer and sausage-making. Today, it is celebrated all over the German-speaking world, and is quite a spectacle in Munich.
- Speaking of Munich, Germany is one of the greatest footballing nations in the world. So, if you are a fan of Die Mannschaft, this is the language to learn before the FIFA World Cup 2022.
- Legendary composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and many others who have enriched the Western Classical Music canon hail from a German-speaking heritage.
- Germany is a leading European economy, and has a history of migrant workers, who span across both skilled and unskilled spectrums. So, if you are looking to boost your employment chances abroad, Germany should be one of your top picks.
In today’s world, where learning is online and student-centric, take the first step towards learning this awesome language through one of the many options and platforms that the web has to offer.
So, what are you waiting for?