Overview of the German Language
German (Deutsch) is the official language of Germany, Liechtenstein, and Austria. German is also one of the four national languages in Switzerland. Diverse modern dialects of the German language are spoken in Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, northern Italy, much of Switzerland, eastern France (Alsace and parts of Lorraine), as well as parts of Luxembourg and Belgium. Small groups of people who speak German also live in various eastern European countries, and many people learn German in schools.
Emigration has also spread the German language to many other parts of the globe. Today, there are communities of German speakers in the U.S., Canada, South America (Brazil, Argentina, and Chile), South Africa, and Australia.
Low German dialects are spoken in the flatlands of the northern regions of Germany. They sound more similar to Dutch and English than to High German. No standard literary language exists for this group of dialects. The High German dialectal group originated from the highlands in the southern parts of Germany. The standard written form of the German language evolved from High German dialects.
The Swiss and Austrian dialects belong to the Alemannic group of dialects. Alemannic dialects differ considerably from High German in phonology and grammar. In Swiss German, for example, the word "Kind" (child) is pronounced "Chind." Furthermore, in most of the Swiss German dialects, the nouns do not differentiate case inflections the way they do in High German.
The German language belongs to the West Germanic sub-branch (along with English, Frisian, Yiddish, Dutch, and Afrikaans) of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. German was shaped by migration of the Germanic tribes who lived in northern Europe during the first millennium BC. German pronunciation underwent several major changes before it crystallized in the form of High German in the 6th century AD. The earliest record written in Old High German is a Latin-German dictionary, dating from 770 AD.
German vocabulary has contributed many words to English. For example, kindergarten and dachshund are English words of German origin. So are frankfurter and hamburger. They refer to the German cities, Frankfurt and Hamburg.
Beware of false friends as you learn German vocabulary! They can make you look ridiculous! If you tell someone that the Chef lost his Tag in the Klosett - you are really saying that the boss lost his day in the lavatory! Other German vocabulary words that might trick you are bald, which means "soon"; Brief, which means "letter"; and also, which means "thus."
Formal and Informal Address in the German Language
When you speak German, there are two forms of address: formal and informal. The formal address uses the pronoun Sie and the last name of a person preceded by Frau (Mrs.) or Herr (Mr.).
Example: "Frau Meier, wo wohnen Sie?"
(Mrs. Meier, where do you live?)
Relatives, friends and youths address each other with du and their first names.
Example: "Sabine, wo wohnst du?"
(Sabine, where do you live?)
German Grammar and German Spelling
If you are learning German, you will notice a variety of grammatical differences between the German language and English. For one thing, all German nouns are capitalized. For example, in the sentence Das Haus steht am See (The house is located at the lake), the nouns Haus (house) and See (lake) are capitalized.
For many years, experts and politicians discussed the revision of the German rules of spelling. The debate drew widespread public interest, since the matter was a very controversial one. Finally, however, the new spelling system was implemented officially on August 1, 1998. The reform aimed to ease daily usage of the German language. The original 212 spelling rules were reduced to 112, and the rules of punctuation were cut down from 52 to 9. Most schools and other official sources had switched to the new spellings by July 31, 2005, the end of the official transitional period. However, many other sources, such as newspapers and private writers, continue to use the traditional spellings, and the reforms remain a point of contention for many German speakers.
To an English speaker learning German, German pronunciation may sound difficult because of the consonant clusters in many words. It is not unusual to have three consonants in one syllable. Regular practice is necessary to learn to speak German well and develop good German pronunciation.
These aspects of German grammar and pronunciation are a few reasons why good German software programs or audio products can be so important. It's easier than ever for you to begin to learn German with the language resources and language software provided by Transparent Language. With our language learning products, you can quickly begin to speak a new language, learn vocabulary, understand grammar, and master correct pronunciation. Best of luck with your German language learning!