Learning german as a foreign language: the 1×1 for the first steps

German is one of the ten most spoken languages in the world and one of the most important languages of transport, science and culture. In the EU, the world’s largest economic area, German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe, along with Russian, with more than 100 million native speakers. In addition, there are around 80 million second and foreign language speakers, of which at least 55 million are from the EU.

In Turkey and in the Slavic countries German is spoken as a foreign language even more often than the world language English. In the European Union, German is considered a key language, but it is also becoming increasingly important in Eastern and Central Europe. In 2015, more than 15 million people worldwide learned German at schools, universities or language institutes. The Germanist Ulrich Ammon even assumes that 290 people worldwide have learned German as a foreign language at some point in their lives.

German in the world – distribution and differences

German in the World – Distribution and Differences

German is spoken not only in Europe, but also by isolated minorities in Eastern, Central and Southern European countries, in Southern Africa, in Central Asia and even on the American continent. In Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium and the European Union, German is considered the official and working language and is the national language in Namibia. The language area also includes South Tyrol, communities in Slovakia and Brazil, eastern Belgium, Alsace, and Lorraine. German is also used in Denmark and in Northern Schleswig as a language of communication and administration. German is also a recognized minority language in Poland, Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Paraguay and South Africa.

In addition to standard German or High German, there are 13 regional languages in Germany, such as Kolsch or Bairisch, as well as countless dialects and dialects. The German language belongs to the Germanic languages and occurs in the variants Federal German, Austrian and Swiss. All three variants share the standard German orthography, in which there are only minor differences. For example, there is no "b" in standard Swiss German. Despite slight differences, High German and Austrian German as well as Swiss German are considered mutually intelligible. Austrian German is more similar to High German than Swiss German in its vocabulary. While Austrians tend to use terms of standard German, the Swiss often use a variation of the English word.

Speaking German: Pronunciation and peculiarities

Speaking German: Pronunciation and peculiarities

German is a pluricentric language. This means that language use extends beyond the national border. Germans, Austrians and Swiss differ sometimes strongly in the pronunciation of standard German. Language coloration changes not only across national borders, but also within regions. Formal High German differs greatly from the dialects used in everyday life. Although there are also many city dwellers who speak a dialect, the proportion of dialects increases considerably the more village-like one is. For someone who has learned High German in a language course, it can be very difficult to understand the corresponding dialect. Even native speakers from other regions sometimes find this difficult. However, dialects are used more in private speech and not in everyday life, so language learners do not have to worry about this when traveling to Germany.

German pronunciation is not as easy to learn for many language learners and sounds much less melodic than French, for example, and rather harsh for non-native speakers. After dark vowels (a, o, u, au), the back "ch" is pronounced like the Ach sound (book or brook), while the front "ch" is pronounced like the "ch" after light vowels (i, e, a, o, u, ei, eu) like the I sound is spoken. How the "ch" is pronounced with book and books completely differently stressed.

Even soft explosive sounds (b, d, g) are pronounced hard at the end of the word. Thus for example "way or "and". For language learners, it sounds as if the words end in "k" and "t" respectively. Also very hard and like an "x (ks) is pronounced "-chs" when there is no form in which the "-ch" is pronounced as an I or Ach sound: axis, lizard. A special feature is also the "h". If it is pronounced like a breath sound at the beginning of a syllable (dog, hammer, house), it remains silent at the end of a word (shoe) or as a stretching sound (trouble).

German vocabulary

German has more than five million words, about eight times as many as English. Due to the possibility of stringing words together at will, the tendency is increasing and the vocabulary is infinite. However, even native speakers use far fewer words in everyday life. The active vocabulary of a German speaker is about 12.000 to 16.000 words, of which about 3.500 foreign words are. After all 50.000 are usually understood without any problems.

The Rechtschreibduden lists about 135.000 words to. Due to the difficult distinction between the fixed components of the general vocabulary and the situational or occasional formations, it is impossible to list all German words collectively. When learning vocabulary, beginners need to pay special attention to so-called false friends. For example, the word "spring" in English means "spring", but in German it means "hupfen".

German Grammar

Unlike other Germanic languages, the German language has a very large system of word forms, which does not make language learning easy. In German, nouns are distinguished between three genders, each of which has four cases and is formed in singular and plural form. Another peculiarity of the German language is the use of upper and lower case letters. Nouns are always capitalized and declined in German. For each form there are corresponding articles and adjectives. The high number of prepositions and so-called tinting particles (eh, halt, eben) are typical for the German language.

Verbs are used for mode, tense, and person, and auxiliary verbs express other grammatical categories. Also the conjugations of verbs and the correct assignment of articles can be very confusing at the beginning. In German, there are the tenses present, perfect, preterite, past perfect, future tense I and future tense II. Verbs are conjugated and change their endings according to tense, person and number. After all, the sentence structure in German is more flexible than in many other languages. Although the finite verb is always in the second position in a main clause, thanks to the different cases, the other clauses can change their position (I write a postcard to my friend/Mein Freund schreibe ich eine Postkarte).

Learn German as a foreign language on language trips

Learn German on language trips

Language trips are available for every budget and every language level and combine the useful with the pleasant. In addition, they offer not only the opportunity to learn a new language or to expand existing knowledge, but also to use it directly. The advantage of a language study trip is that you will not only have to speak the language in class, but also in everyday life, and you will hear it constantly, which can be very motivating. Although Germany is a comparatively small country, it offers a very good infrastructure and networking and also has a lot to offer in terms of scenery. No matter what type of traveler you are, you will get your money’s worth on a language study trip to Germany. In the north you will find the sea, dunes and wide sandy beaches, in the south high mountains, deep lakes and the proximity to the German-speaking countries of Switzerland and Austria.

In addition, you can use the central location in the middle of Europe to explore other countries. But even within Germany you can get to know different cultures and customs. Depending on the tour operator, you can also get a certificate at the end of the language course. If you want to stay longer in Germany and you already know the language, you can also stay as an au-pair or do an internship. Of course, you also have this possibility in other countries that belong to the German-speaking area. However, you should be aware that the language is best learned where it is also the official and working language and where you will encounter it everywhere in everyday life.

Learning German at universities and academies

Learn German at universities and academies

If you don’t like to learn on your own, then a language course is an ideal way for you to learn German. In Germany, many universities and academies offer language courses. The offers are usually subject to a fee, but in some cases universities and cities take over part of the costs. The Fachverband Deutsch als Fremdsprache (FaDaF) maintains a database of language schools throughout Germany. The universities and academies listed there guarantee a high standard of quality.

In addition to courses for registered students and exchange students, some colleges and universities also offer open courses. In internationally mixed groups, the German language is taught according to previous knowledge and the selected language level. If you wish, you can take a language certificate at the end of the course. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) also lists language courses at German universities in its database. These are mostly intended for international students and are mainly offered during the semester break.

In addition to basic courses for international students who want to improve their German before starting their studies, there are also specialized courses on very specific topics. As the courses are usually only offered once per semester and the number of participants is limited, you should inform yourself as early as possible. The costs for a language course lasting several weeks can amount to several hundred euros. Board and lodging are not included in the course fees. Many DAAD courses offer the possibility to apply for a DAAD university summer course scholarship.

While courses at colleges and universities take place mainly in the mornings, foreign language forums, language academies and adult education centers often offer courses in the evenings or at weekends. The courses on offer range from preparatory courses and "German as a Foreign Language" to "German for Business" and even "German for Business". For migrants and refugees in Germany integration courses are offered, in which everyday topics such as shopping, work, career and leisure are addressed.

Learn German online

Learn German online

If you want to schedule your own study time, online courses are a good option. There is a large number of offers on the Internet, which provide a good alternative to language schools. It is important that you consider in advance how good your knowledge is and what your goals are. Especially if good language skills are a prerequisite for starting a course of study or a career, you should make sure that you are dealing with a reputable provider and take a close look at what they have to offer. Since listening comprehension and speaking are essential when learning a new language, sufficient audio examples should be available. Some courses also offer a community or direct contact with a language teacher.

Apps, websites, but also software offers are available to you for learning, which allow you a flexible time management. The apps with easy learning content and vocabulary training are particularly suitable for small learning units in between times. The courses are usually also subject to a fee, but depending on the provider and subscription, they are comparatively inexpensive and some offer a free trial version. This way you can better assess whether the concept of the course suits your learning type and language level.

Learn German for free – These options are available

Learn German free of charge – These possibilities exist

If you have no or very little knowledge of German, you can also find numerous free courses, learning programs and exercise materials online. There you will learn the basic principles of the German language and the basic vocabulary. You can also find free dictionaries. Of course, this also includes the Duden website, where you can also find spelling and grammar rules. The Goethe-Institut also offers a wide range of online learning content and even a community. You can choose the learning content according to topics and language level and thus compile your own individual learning list. From "Everyday life in Germany up to "German at the workplace you can improve your language skills at the Goethe-Institut online or via app. Deutsche Welle also offers a free online language course from level A0 to B1+. With over 300 video lessons and 14.000 different exercises you will make fast progress.

In addition to traditional learning in language schools or online, it is a good idea to look for like-minded people and tandem partners. On the Internet there are forums and groups for exchange, especially for larger cities. You talk to your tandem partner like a friend about topics that interest and concern you. By exchanging with a native speaker, you not only improve your pronunciation, but also your listening comprehension. German films, series and TV programs as well as German music are also suitable for this purpose. In this way, you not only train your listening comprehension, but also learn new vocabulary and something about German culture. The same applies to German books and magazines. Even if a trip is not free, you can of course jump into the deep end while on vacation in Germany or couch surfing and talk to your host and in pubs or bars with native speakers and get at least free German lessons according to the motto "learning by doing".

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