Who speaks German?
German is the native language of well over 100 million people worldwide - in fact some figures have it as high as 121 million. It is the main language of 90-95 million people in Europe. German is the official language of the 82.2 million inhabitants of Germany, but also of Austria (8.36 million) and Liechtenstein.
Countries where German is the official language
|Germany||82.21 million speakers|
|Austria||8.36 million speakers|
|Switzerland||4.6 million speakers|
Countries where German has regional status
|South Tirol, Italy||200,000 speakers|
|Alsace-Lorraine, France||1.5 million speakers|
|Poland||1.1 million speakers|
|Former Soviet Union||1.9 million speakers|
Why learn German?
So you already have some perfectly good reasons for learning German. Maybe you want to be able to communicate with relatives, travel to Germany during your summer break, or prepare yourself for study in a German-speaking country. Maybe a German exchange student sparked your interest, you have a friend who recommended it, or you just like the way the language sounds. Just in case you need some reassurance in your decision or the final push toward taking the plunge, here are twelve more solid reasons why learning German may be a good choice for you.
- German is the most widely spoken language in Europe
More people speak German as their native language than any other language in Europe. It's no wonder, since Germany's 83 million inhabitants make it the most populous European nation. German is also an official language of Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, and the native language of a significant portion of northern Italy, eastern Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, eastern France, parts of Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Romania, as well as other parts of Europe.
While learning German can connect you to 120 million native speakers around the globe, remember that many people also learn German as a 2nd language. It is the 3rd most popular foreign language taught worldwide and the 2nd most popular in Europe and Japan, after English.
- Germany has the 3rd strongest economy and is the #1 export nation in the world
Germany has the 3rd largest economy in the world and is the economic powerhouse of the European Union. In 2007, for the 5th year in a row and despite the strength of the euro currency, the Germans were world champions in exports. The country exported 940 billion US dollars worth of goods, just ahead of US exports. From cars to machinery and industrial equipment, from pharmaceuticals to household goods, German businesses earn 1 in 3 euros through export, and 1 in 4 jobs depends on exports. The competitiveness and desirability of German products on the market are indicated by the country's substantial trade surplus, which reached 162 billion euros (209 billion dollars) in 2006 and continues to grow every year.
And don't forget that Switzerland, another German-speaking country, has one of the highest standards of living in the world.
- Knowing German creates business opportunities
Germany's economic strength equals business opportunities. Multinational business opportunities exist throughout the European Union and in the Eastern European countries, where German is the 2nd most spoken language after Russian. Companies like BMW, Daimler, Siemens, Lufthansa, SAP, Bosch, Infineon, BASF, and many others need international partners. The Japanese, who have the 2nd most powerful economy in the world, understand the business advantages a knowledge of German will bring: 68% of Japanese students study German.
If you're looking for employment in the US, knowing German can give you great advantages. German companies account for 700,000 jobs in the US, and US companies have created approximately the same number of jobs in Germany. All other things being equal, the job candidate with German skills will trump the one without such skills every time. Most surveyed companies in the US would choose someone with German literacy over an equally qualified candidate.
- Germans are innovators
From Gutenberg's printing press to Hertz' discovery of electromagnetic waves, from Ehrlich's development of chemotherapy to Einstein's theory of relativity, to Brandenburg's creation of the MP3 digital music format, throughout history Germans have proven to be great innovators. That trend continues today. 4 of the world's 10 most innovative companies are located in Germany and at 12.7% of the world's patent applications, the country ranks 3rd in the world. Consequently, 200,000 businesses introduce new products on the market each year.
As a nation committed to research and development, Germans are on the front-line of new technologies. Germany exports more high-tech products than any other country except the US and more than 600 firms are active in the cutting-edge field of biotechnology. 115 of these are located in Munich alone. The east German city of Dresden has become Europe's microchip center with its more than 765 semiconductor firms.
Given the Germans' commitment to innovation, it is perhaps not surprising that two-thirds of the world's leading international trade fairs take place in Germany. These include CeBIT, the world's largest trade fair for information and communications technology, and the IFA consumer electronics trade fair.
- The German presence on the Internet supersedes most others
Considering what great innovators the Germans are, it's not at all surprising that they maintain a dominant Internet presence. With 8 million Internet domains, Germany's top-level country domain .de is 2nd only to the extension .com. That makes Ger-man domain names even more popular than those with .net, .org, .info, and .biz extensions. Even the 2nd-place country extension .uk trails far behind at 3.7 million domain names.
- Germans form the largest single heritage group in the US
If you're American, or interested in the culture, learning German can expand your appreciation and knowledge of US history and culture. In the 2000 census, 42.8 million or 15.2% of Americans reported having German ancestry, making German Americans the largest single heritage group in the US.
In waves of immigration spanning nearly 4 centuries, Germans brought along many customs and traditions that have become so ingrained in American ways that their origin is often forgotten. Family names and names of thousands of towns and cities indicate the German heritage of their ancestors or founders. Such cultural mainstays as kindergarten, hot dogs and hamburgers, and the Christmas tree were introduced by Germans to America. They founded multiple breweries, created Levi's jeans, invented ketchup, and created Hershey's chocolate. Germans had such a fundamental presence at the time of the founding of the US that a German language version of the Declaration of Independence was printed only a few days after it was adopted.
- 1 in 10 books in the world is published in German
German is not only a language of the past. As prolific researchers and scholars, German speakers produce nearly 80,000 new book titles each year. The only language markets that produce more books annually are the Chinese and English publishing industries. Munich is 2nd in the world, only to New York, in number of books published. Since only a small percentage of German books are translated into other languages (for instance, approximately 10% into Korean and Chinese, just over 5% into English), only a knowledge of German will give you access to a vast majority of these titles.
- German-speaking countries have a rich cultural heritage
Apart from their many contributions to American culture, the German speakers have a rich cultural heritage in their own right. Germany is often referred to as the land of "Dichter und Denker" -- of poets and thinkers. And rightly so, because German contributions to the arts and human thought have been nothing short of profound.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, and Hermann Hesse are just a few authors whose works are well-known internationally. 10 Nobel prizes for literature have been awarded to German, Austrian, and Swiss authors. The world of classical music is inseparable from Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, and Wagner to name only a few renowned German-speaking composers. Vienna remains an international center of music today. From the magnificent architecture of medieval buildings to the avant garde Bauhaus movement, from Dürer's woodcuts to the expressionist masterpieces of Nolde, Kirchner, and Kokoschka, Germans have made substantial contributions to world art and architecture.
Philosophy and the sciences would be unthinkable without the contributions of German speakers. The philosophies of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and numerous others have had lasting influences on modern society. The psychologists Freud and Jung forever changed the way we think about human behavior. Scientists from the three major German-speaking countries have won dozens of Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry, and medicine.
Knowing German allows you to access the works of these people in the original language and fully understand the culture from where they were derived. Anyone interested in these fields automatically expands their knowledge and skill by knowing German.
- German is not as hard as you think
If you already speak English then you already have an advantage when it comes to learning German. Modern German and modern English both evolved from the common ancestor language Germanic, and the two share many similarities in both vocabulary and grammar. If you understand any of this ...
Meine Schwester hat braunes Haar. Sie ist intelligent. Sie studiert Medizin in Berlin. Sie kann gut singen.
... then you already know some German!
In addition, German is spelled phonetically. Once you learn the system of sounds, it is easy to predict how the spoken word is written and how the written word is pronounced.
- German is required or recommended by many undergraduate and graduate programs
German speakers' strong contributions in such a broad array of fields makes the language an important asset in many disciplines. At the University of California, for instance, more majors recommend a knowledge of German as an important supplement than any other language (German: 56 majors, French: 43 majors, Spanish: 21 majors, Japanese: 7 majors). These majors include a wide range of subjects -- from biology, physics, and chemistry to linguistics, religious studies, and art history.
Considering the importance of the German language in the fields of publishing and research, it's not surprising that many graduate schools want students to have at least a reading knowledge of German. Knowing German gives graduates access to important research published in German books and professional journals.
- Germany financially sponsors over 60,000 international exchanges each year
While promoting innovation and supporting research within Germany, the Germans also recognize international cooperation and experience is essential to its continued success as a world leader. In 2001 alone, the German Academic Exchange Service supported 67,000 scholars, scientists, educators, and students in periods of international research and study. 43% of these were foreigners who were awarded financial assistance to participate in an exchange in Germany. In addition, like German students, foreign students directly enrolled in German universities pay no tuition fees.
Why learn a language?
"I speak English, so I don't have to learn a foreign language...."
Everyone speaks English, right? Well, not everyone. According to the CIA World Fact Book, only 5.6 % of the world's total population speaks English as a primary language. That number doubles when people who speak English as a 2nd or 3rd language are counted. By conservative estimates, that means that well over four-fifths of the world's population does not speak English.
It's true that English has become a global lingua franca over the past several decades. This fact, however, really should have little effect on your decision to learn a foreign language. The attitude that English alone is enough in fact creates self-imposed limitations. To remain monolingual is to stunt your educational development, to restrict your communication and thinking abilities, and to deny yourself the ability to fully appreciate and understand the world in which you live. Learning another language opens up new opportunities and gives you perspectives you might never have encountered otherwise. Personal, professional, social, and economic considerations all point to the advantages of learning foreign languages. Still not convinced? Here are 10 very good reasons why you should be learning a foreign language:
- To increase global understanding
Learning another language gives the learner the ability to step inside the mind and context of that other culture. Without the ability to communicate and understand a culture on its own terms, true access to that culture is barred. Why is this important? In a world where nations and peoples are ever more dependent upon on another to supply goods and services, solve political disputes, and ensure international security, understanding other cultures is paramount. Lack of intercultural sensitivity can lead to mistrust and misunderstandings, to an inability to cooperate, negotiate, and compromise, and perhaps even to military confrontation. Intercultural understanding begins with individuals who have language abilities and who can thereby provide one's own nation or community with an insider's view into foreign cultures, who can understand foreign news sources, and give insights into other perspectives on international situations and current events. For survival in the global community, every nation needs such individuals. A person competent in other languages can bridge the gap between cultures, contribute to international diplomacy, promote national security and world peace, and successfully engage in international trade.
As globalization and mobility and communications bring the world ever closer together, ever more urgent is the need for global citizens to be competent in other languages. The US is the only industrialized country that routinely graduates students from high school who lack knowledge of a foreign language. Where 52.7% of Europeans are fluent in their native tongue and one other language, only 9.3% of Americans are fluent in both their native tongue and another language. This statistic doesn't bode well for the future of America in a global society. The upward trend in language learning must accelerate if the US is to continue to be a major participant on the international stage.
- To improve employment potential
If businesses are to effectively compete in a global economy, they must learn to deal with other cultures on their own terms. Companies planning to do business abroad have a dire need for bi- or multi-lingual employees. Businesses that intend to compete internationally need employees who can competently communicate in the locales where they do business. Employees who speak one language can communicate only with people who speak that same language.
Business is not the only area of employment where language skills are needed, however. Multiple government agencies, the travel industry, engineering, communications, education, international law, economics, public policy, publishing, advertising, entertainment, scientific research, and a broad array of service sectors all have needs for people with foreign language skills.
Whatever your career goals, knowing a language certainly won't hurt your employability. Chances are that knowing languages will open up employment opportunities that you would not have had otherwise. And you’ll be able to command a greater salary in the workplace. All else being equal, knowing languages gives you an edge over monolingual applicants competing for the same jobs.
- To increase native language ability
Research shows that knowledge of other languages boosts students' understanding of languages in general and enables students to use their native language more effectively. This applies to specific language skills as well as overall linguistic abilities. Foreign language learners have stronger vocabulary skills in English, a better understanding of the language, and improved literacy in general. Higher reading achievement in the native language as well as enhanced listening skills and memory have been shown to correlate with extended foreign language study. These results are apparent in several studies as well as in test scores. With each additional year of foreign language instruction taken, a student's scores on college and graduate school entrance exams such as the SATs, ACTs, GREs, MCATs, and LSATs improve incrementally.
- To sharpen cognitive and life skills
Because learning a language involves a variety of learning skills, studying a foreign language can enhance one's ability to learn and function in several other areas. Children who have studied a language at the elementary level score higher on tests in reading, math, and language arts. People who have learned foreign languages show greater cognitive development in areas such as mental flexibility, creativity, and higher order thinking skills, such as problem-solving, conceptualizing, and reasoning.
In addition to cognitive benefits, foreign language study leads to the acquisition of important life skills. Because language learners learn to deal with unfamiliar cultural ideas, they are much better equipped to adapt and cope in a fast-changing world. They also learn to effectively handle new situations. In addition, the encounter with cultures different from one's own leads to tolerance of diverse lifestyles and customs. And it improves the learner's ability to understand and communicate with people from different walks of life.
- To improve chances of entry into college or graduate school
Most colleges and universities require a minimum of two years of high school foreign language for admission. Once enrolled in an undergraduate program, students are likely to find their college or university prescribes foreign language courses as a requirement for a degree. The majority of universities consider knowledge of a foreign language and culture part of what every educated person should know. Many majors in the arts and humanities, in natural sciences and behavioral and social sciences, and in professional fields, also require the study of one or more languages to ensure success in the given field.
For those planning to continue on to graduate study in most any field, knowledge of a 2nd and sometimes even a 3rd language is often a prerequisite for admission. From mathematics to anthropology, biology to art history, you’ll find most graduate programs require some kind of foreign language knowledge of their applicants. In some programs, graduate students are required to gain a reading knowledge of other languages, especially in doctoral programs. This is because important research is often published in non-English language books and professional journals.
Even when an undergraduate or graduate institution doesn't require a foreign language, it's often recommended by programs. Knowing a language can't hurt it is highly likely to make you a more competitive candidate in the admissions process.
- To appreciate international literature, music, and film
Most of the world's literary and artistic works were written in languages other than English. A translation of a text can never be fully true to the intent, beauty, style, and uniqueness of its original. A translation is always subject to the interpretation of the translator, not least because some elements of languages simply don't have translations in other languages. Word plays, metaphors, innuendos, cultural references and culturally loaded vocabulary words, and formulations unique to the original language often get lost in translation. To be able to fully appreciate music, literature, theater, and film in other languages, one must be able to access them in their original form.
- To make travel more feasible and enjoyable
Though it's possible to travel to foreign countries without speaking the native language, your experience will be shaped by your ability or inability to see beyond the surface of the culture. When you lack the ability to communicate in the native language, you cannot fully participate in day-to-day life, understand the culture, or communicate with the people. The language barrier can be anywhere from frustrating to downright dangerous. When you know the language, you have the comfort of being able to successfully navigate all sorts of situations, like order meals in restaurants, ask for and understand directions, find accommodations and perhaps negotiate cheaper prices, and meet and talk with natives, to name only a few. In most countries, people will appreciate attempts to use their language. You’ll be able to communicate more completely and have a deeper, more satisfying travel experience.
It's true that in tourist areas English may be spoken. However, even if the natives know some English, many are uncomfortable speaking it, particularly beyond their limited interactions with tourists. Also, these well-beaten paths are not places where you’ll get to know the country you're visiting -- they cater to tourists and provide a watered-down and often stereotypical and commercialized version of the culture to meet and profit from tourists' expectations. If you intend to stray from the tourist centers and explore the real country and really get to know it, you must know the language. Your language ability will allow you to see and do things that many visitors cannot.
- To expand study abroad options
Because relatively few Americans are competent in foreign languages, competition for study abroad programs in English-speaking countries is sometimes intense. Unfortunately, students often shy away from studying in countries where English is not the native language for all the wrong reasons. They mistakenly believe that their grades will suffer, that their language proficiency isn't adequate, or that they won't be able to fit in or understand the culture.
Simply your willingness to learn a language can make you an apt candidate for many study abroad programs. Some foreign programs require no prior language experience and offer an intensive immersion experience prior to the selected program of study. Other programs require only a few semesters of prior language instruction. Whatever program you choose, continued language study while in the foreign country is typical. The benefit is that students can leave the language classroom and immediately put into practice what they have learned in class. Because students can focus on their language development while learning about the culture, their daily experiences and courses complement one another, leading to comparable or even better grades than at the home institution, where students often take a myriad of courses that have little or no connection.
For advanced language students, the opportunities are even greater. Advanced skill level applicants can participate in programs that allow them to be fully immersed and integrated into the academic and social life of the country in which they are studying.
- To increase understanding of oneself and one's own culture
Knowing another language and culture affords you the unique opportunity of seeing yourself and your own culture from an outside perspective. There are aspects of your language, yourself, your life, and your own culture that you accept as absolute and universal or that you have never even considered until you encounter a culture and people who do things in a much different way than you're used to. Contact with other languages and cultures gives you the unique opportunity to step outside your familiar scope of existence and view your culture's customs, traditions, and norms as well as your own value system through the eyes of others. Conversely, a monolingual, mono-cultural view of the world severely limits your perspective. Intercultural experiences have a monumental influence on shaping your identity, heightening your self-awareness, and giving you a full appreciation of your life situation. These things can happen only with knowledge of cultures and languages other than your own.
- To make lifelong friends
Knowing other languages effectively increases the number of people on the globe with whom you can communicate. And people who speak other languages fully appreciate the effort and desire learners expend to get to know their culture and to communicate with them. Whether through meeting foreign exchange students on campus or local immigrants in the community, getting to know natives or international students while studying abroad, or establishing a connection with a foreign pen pal, your ability to speak other languages and your interest in other cultures can connect you deeply with people around the globe.
Anyone who has told you that learning another language is impractical, unrewarding, or simply a waste of your precious time is doing you a great disservice.
Take advantage and enhance your life ... learn a language!