German is among the most widely spoken language in the European Union and is the official language in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein. It's also one of the official languages of Switzerland and Luxembourg. There are other German-speaking communities scattered around Europe, such as in the Province of Bolzano-Bozen in Northern Italy and the Eastern part of Belgium, as well as communities in Eastern Europe, North and South America.
The German alphabet has 26 letters plus 3 umlauts. You may well have to spell out your name and perhaps your address in German. Here is the alphabet and how to pronounce it a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.
Döts and a sharp s The modern German alphabet's based on the Latin alphabet, consisting of 26 base letters. A little German Extrawurst, special treatment, has been added in the form of four more letters called die Umlaute ä, ö, ü and the ß, sharp s, which is pronounced as double s, eg. in beißen, to bite, or der Gruß, greeting. You'll only ever see it in lower case as words never start with a ß, and it's not used in Swiss German, which opts for double s instead. Strange sounds The German e, eg. der Engel, angel, and i, eg. die Ironie, irony, can be tricky and are sometimes easily mixed up by English speakers. The e sounds like the vowel in English 'egg', keeping your lips widely spread. The German i sounds like the 'ee' in the English word 'feet'. The German final e is never silent, but very short, e.g. die Meile, mile, or die Kasette, casette. Practise the German vowel combination ei, for example das Ei, egg, which rhymes with the English 'lie'. Don't confuse it with the the German ie, which sounds like 'ee'. Otherwise the action schießen, to shoot, becomes scheißen, to defecate, which could cause some embarrassment! The good news is that, with only a few exceptions, German consonants are very similar to their English equivalents. Sch, like in die Schule, school, sounds like sh. Ch after a vowel sounds quite similar to the Scottish loch, as in das Loch, which is not a lake, but hole in German. The letters x and y (Ypsilon) occur almost exclusively in words of Greek origin, eg. das Xylophon or das System. Sometimes y and i represent the same sound, for example in surnames: Meier, Meyer.
The equivalent of Queen's English is Hochdeutsch, lit. 'High German', which is regarded as "proper" spoken German. On the other hand, there are different varieties of standard German. The main distinction is between Austrian, German and Swiss German. For example Januar, january, is Jänner in Austrian German. Local dialects are numerous and widely spread. A speaker of Plattdeutsch from the North of Germany would struggle to hold a conversation with a speaker of Bavarian from the South of Germany, who would on his part have less problems understanding someone speaking in an Austrian dialect. As the result of German migration, a number of German dialects are spoken in North- and South-America, eg. Pennsylvania Dutch, which isn't Dutch at all but a German dialect that indicates how German was spoken in the 18th century, when their ancestors left Germany.
When giving an email or website address the conventions are: @ at . Punkt, dot / Schrägstrich, forward slash - Bindestrich, hyphen
Knowing the language of your German business partners improves your relations and therefore your chances for effective communication and success.
At some point you might have enjoyed some Schadenfreude, pleasure in other people's misfortune, and maybe went to Kindergarten as a child. You may have come across the word Zeitgeist, meaning 'the spirit of the times', or felt a bit of Angst as a teenager. See, it's all German. Not only are there lots of words of German origin in English, German welcomes English with open arms. New words are slotted into the grammatical system, albeit with a crowbar, if necessary! So, familiar words end up with strange endings, genders attached to them or even new meanings. There is even a word for them: Denglish, (the D is for Deutsch, German). Want to know a little Denglish? Here goes! die Airconditioning - air conditioning babysitten - to babysit joggen - to go jogging or running das Handy - the mobile phone der Showmaster - the TV host
German is considered a difficult language to study by English learners, with its long and winding words, four noun case endings and three grammatical genders and the pronunciation gives every muscle in your mouth a good workout. On the other hand, as both English and German are related, you'll notice a number of similarities that may make it easier to learn. Also, the compound words are so much fun to learn and the grammar's considered to be quite logical. Just watch out for the exceptions to the rules. German is a very descriptive language. Nouns, especially, often combine the object with the activity. der Staubsauger - the vacuum cleaner, consists of the noun Staub, dust and the verb saugen, to suck, ie. a dustsucker. das Fernsehen - the television, combines the words fern, far, and sehen, watching, lit. far-watching.
German words can become overwhelmingly long, but just see it as a challenge and read the word slowly out loud. How many words can you spot in the following compound nouns? Due to the economic crisis, the German government passed the Wachstumsbeschleunigungsgesetz, growth acceleration act, and the Abwrackprämie, scrappage scheme, or cash for clunkers scheme, to support the German car industry. If that's not tongue twister enough for you, here's a really popular one: Fischers Fritze fischte frische Fische. Fisherman Fritz fished fresh fish. Even tricky in English!
Mastering the subtleties of irony is still work in progress, but, just like other countries, Germans like to make jokes about older people, blondes and politics and they have a special fondness for jokes about civil servants. Warum dürfen Pausen in Ämtern nie länger als 60 Minuten dauern? Damit man die Beamten nicht jedes Mal neu anlernen muss. Why are civil servants not allowed to take one hour breaks? Because there's not enough time to train them again and again. Was ist das ideale Geschenk für's Beamtenbüro? Ein Bewegungsmelder! What is the ideal present for a civil servants' office? A motion detector.
Learning German provides you with an insight into the way of life, and the hopes and dreams of people in German speaking countries, broadening your horizon.
Wie geht's? How are you ?Ask this question and expect a straight, honest answer with much more information about a person's actual frame of mind than you might have intended. Germans generally have no problem talking openly about their bodily functions, but if they wish you Gute Fahrt it simply means Have a good trip. There are many more of those so-called false friends, words which aren't what they seem in English. German fast means almost and After stands for rectum. The German bald has nothing to do with a gentlemen's hairstyle, it means soon and Mist is not the silver dawning of a new day, it simply means... rubbish.
German is widely known as the language of the Dichter und Denker, writers and thinkers. One of the greatest is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). His drama Faust I (1808) is considered his greatest work and a national treasure, as well as the source of many quotations still present in everyday German. The phrase des Pudels Kern, lit. the core of the poodle, is often used for expressing a deeper meaning. Named after the character Gretchen in Faust, die Gretchenfrage, lit. the Gretchen question, aims at your heart and soul, often triggering a confession or a difficult decision. From a more recent source by another famous German writer, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), comes the ultimate insight into human nature: Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral. Food comes first, then morals. Die Dreigroschenoper, The Threepenny Opera, 1928
The oldest existing book written in the German language is probably Abrogans, an 8th century manuscript dictionary of translations from Latin into Old High German. One copy has survived and is kept in the library of St. Gallen in Switzerland. One of the oldest literary works is the Hildebrandslied, the song of Hildebrand, dating back to the 9th century. It's a heroic lay, telling the tragic encounter in a battle between a son, Hadubrand, and his unrecognised father, Hildebrand.
German is one of those languages that differentiate between a formal and informal you, especially when it comes to business. Always use the formal Sie for people you've just met and only switch to the informal du after being invited to do so. Play it safe and address a person unknown to you with Herr, Mr, or Frau, Ms, followed by their surname. The German Fräulein for an unmarried woman is totally out-of-date. Germans strongly differentiate between work and play. A firm handshake is the traditional formal greeting. In a more informal setting, simply say Hallo and possibly pursue with cheek-kissing, which is very much en vogue amongst women with their friends, whether male or female, but not so much between male friends, who prefer a firm pat on the shoulder. Titles are still very important, so don't be surprised to find many people in Germany calling themselves Doktor. This title is more proof of academic credentials than of medical skills.