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.

German Vocabulary

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."

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.