How many people worldwide speak German? Who defined what standard German is in the first place? How many words are there in the German language? And what do “false friends” have to do with learning German? We have the answer to all these questions – and more…

5 facts about the German language | ActiLingua Academy Blog

1. Usage

German is spoken by more than 120 million people in Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland and in parts of Belgium, Northern Italy and Eastern France. It is a key language in the European Union and the new economies of Central and Eastern Europe.

2. The USA almost chose German over English

It is claimed that German almost became the official language of the United States of America. During the American Revolution, the United States wanted to cut off all ties from England. So the Continental Congress considered changing the main language from English to German. When it came to the vote, English won by just one vote!

3. Vocabulary

The German language consists of about 5.3 million words – with a rising trend. About one third of those words were added in the last 100 years alone. This means, the German language contains eight times as many words as the English language.

The average person uses far fewer words: only 12.000 – 16.000 words are used on a regular basis, including about 3.500 foreign words.

The “Duden”, a popular reference book for grammar and orthography of the German language, lists 135.000 words.

4. False Friends

German and English have more in common than you might think. Words like “Kindergarten” or “Strudel” for example, mean the same in English and German. But there are some words that are a bit tricky. Those words are called false friends: words that are similar in the German and English language, but mean something different. Here are some examples:

  • Word: Kind
    • English meaning: nice, cute
    • German meaning: child
  • Word: still
    • English meaning: nevertheless, however
    • German meaning: silent
  • Word: spring
    • English meaning: a time of the year
    • German meaning: jump

5. Standard German is just made up

Students ask us on a regular basis, where “standard German” is spoken. The right answer would be: nowhere and everywhere. Standard German is a mixture of Middle German and High German (which is spoken in Austria). It did not develop out of one regional dialect but was artificially created by poets, philosophers and scholars. If you’re interested in this topic you can read more in this article (scroll down for English version).

The actual usage of the German language varies slightly from region to region. Nevertheless, standard German can be found everywhere in Austria and Germany. Especially at schools, workplaces or when you’re watching TV. And in German language schools of course 😉