Category Archives: About the German Language

Do German nouns have gender identity issues?

Gender of German nounsSometimes whilst teaching German, I am being asked why German nouns change genders. It is ‘die Tür’, a feminine noun, and suddenly somewhere mid sentence it is ‘der Tür’. ‘Der’ being the definite article for masculine nouns. Do German nouns have gender identity issues? A justifiable question from an unsuspecting student or a precocious question from a grind? Justifiable course and it confuses most learners of German. Nouns don’t change gender, but the apparent change of gender, the changing of articles, is due to their declension. ‘Die’ is ‘der’ in the feminine singular dative, ‘der’ ist ‘den’ in the masculine singular accusative case. Below a table with the declension of definite articles to help you mastering German.

case masc. fem. neut. plural
nominative der die das die
accusative den die das die
dative dem der dem den
genitive  des der des der

Is it ß or double s?

My students often ask during their German lessons if they can just replace ß with double ss. The answer is NEIN, unless you are learning Swiss German where the letter ß does not exist and is indeed replaced with a double ss.

How do you know when it is ß and not double ss? Quite simple: when there is a short vowel before a sharp s-sound then there is a double s. If the vowel is long or there’s a diphthong then there is an ß.

dass, der Fluss, lassen, fassen

das Maß, die Straße, heißen, weiß

Want to learn more about ß? Check out one of our previous blog articles:

What did Napoleon do for the German language?

Learn GermanDo you know what Gallicism means? Gallicisms are words from French that have found use in another language. When learning German you will come across a lot of Gallicisms. They found their way into German during the reign of Louis XIV who was revered across the German aristocracy. Amusement, fashion, cuisine, the military are all subjects that have words borrowed from French. For example das Ballett, das Turnier, der Chiffon, der Satin, die Frisur, das Kostüm, der Gobelin, das Dessert, die Kreme, der Kaffee, die Kantine, die Kolonne, der Veteran.

Other words are die Garantie, das Plädoyer, die Eleganz, die Garage, die Garderobe

Verbs ending in –ieren tend to be borrowed from French as well: abonnieren, arrangieren, revanchieren, engagieren, plädieren, frisieren.

Till the late eighteenth, lectures at German universities were in Latin and the German aristocracy spoke French and only plebeians, of which were many, spoke German. All that came to an end when Napoleon occupied large parts of German territory and people developed a national pride and a pride in their language. Gallicisms in the German language have been in decline since the Napoleonic wars. Who would have thought…

German words of Russian origin

WITH STORY Russia-Britain-EU FILE - In this file photo taken on Wednesday, June 29, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses students during his visit to German Embassy school in Moscow, Russia. Putin has remained poker-faced during Britain's EU referendum vote to exit the European Union, but the shake-up could alter the status quo in Europe, and create new opportunities for Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

When taking German lessons or attending a German course you’ll come across many German words of foreign origin. German, like other languages, borrows words typically from Latin, Greek, English and French. Less well known are Russian words that have made their way into the German language, often through the linguistic development of the part of Germany that lay behind the Iron Curtain.

There is the word der Kosmonaut, the counterpart to the English word Astronaut.

Kosmo- from Greek kosmos meaning outer space and naut from Greek nauta meaning navigator – therefore Kosmonaut is the one navigating the outer space.

Kreml (Kremlin) – meaning fort – nowadays the epicentre of power in Russia from where Mr Putin pulls the strings. Mammut (mammoth) – meaning tusk from the earth –usually what is left when one of these mammals is being excavated in the Russian steppe. There we have another German word of Russian origin, die Steppe – meaning treeless and barren land.

Die Troika from Russian tri meaning three – Troika – group of three. Are there any other German words of Russian origin that you know?

How many people do speak German?

Only 1.571% of the world  speaks German

Why learn German you may ask? Please read on …German Language coach

There are about 7,000 languages worldwide. Many languages are threatened by extinction, especially languages spoken by natives in Asia and America.

Some languages are spoken by only a couple of people. More that 50% of languages have less than 10,000 speakers; more than 25% of languages have less than 1,000 speakers. 4% of the world population speak 96% of all languages. From a different angle: 96% of the world population speak 4% of all languages. People should easily be able to communicate, but they cannot because 4% represents 270 languages.

Eight languages are so called world languages with more than 150 million speakers each. They are Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bangla and Russian.

German, Latin, Slavic and Greek are all Indo-European languages. It is thought that all languages originate from one language over 100,000 years ago.

Approximately 150 languages are spoken in Europe, of which 40 are spoken in the Caucasus region alone.

Most languages are spoken in Africa and Asia. Top of the chart is Papua New Guinea with 820 languages.

Only ⅓ of all languages have writing. Most languages are solely spoken.

There were 9000 languages in 1000 B.C. Today we are left with 7,000 languages. The number of languages is in decline. Dominating countries are the cause as is the wish to communicate in a globalised world.

If I have done my homework correctly, then I can say with certainty that 1.571% of the world population speaks German. You may wonder if there is any need to learn German. Yes, there is because that percentage represents over 110 million people, most of which live in Europe.

The Muhlenberg Legend

German Language CoachIt is a great idea to learn German if you are intending to spend time in Germany, and we offer German courses here in London in the comfort of your workplace or home.

But could it have been the case that you might have needed to speak German when travelling to America?

A myth persists that in the early days of the United States of America a proposal was put forward to make German the first official language of this great nation. The motion was put to a vote and it is said that English was chosen ahead of German by just one vote which was cast by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Frederick Muhlenberg, himself a German descendant. This has become known as the Muhlenberg Legend.

However, there is a nugget of truth behind the story. In 1794 a group of German immigrants from Virginia petitioned the House of Representatives requesting that some federal laws be translated into German. When the motion was put to the vote there was a tie at 41 for and 41 against, so Muhlenberg, who actually spoke very little German, cast the deciding vote to keep English only. He is alleged to have said, “The faster the Germans become Americans, the better it will be.”

Through the years the legend evolved from the translation of statutes, to German becoming the official language of Pennsylvania and then of the whole of the United States. This is a typical example of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story and the myth has been perpetuated throughout the centuries.

In fact America does not have an official language and until the early twentieth century German was the second most widely spoken language in the USA before dropping to third behind English and Spanish.

Large numbers of Germans moved to America, particularly Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas, and there are still communities where various forms of German are spoken. At one time there were more than 800 German magazines and newspapers in the US the first of which, the Philadelphische Zeitung, was founded by Benjamin Franklin.

If you would like to learn German in London contact us here.

False friends in German

German Language Coach; false friendsGermans are loyal and trustworthy folks. However, there are some false friends in the German language that may confuse the English speaker or his mind.

If the German finance minister says that 2 Billionen Euros are sufficient to bails out Greece, then he’s got his figures right because he actually means two trillion. A billion in German is a trillion in English.

Being told in German that taking Gift is to be avoided shouldn’t be surprising, not because Germans have ulterior motives, but because Gift in German means poison in English.

The word Star in German means starling or cataract; the German equivalent for star is Stern.

Winken is to blink and not to wink, der Akt is not the deed but nude artwork. After is not after, but is located behind and means rectum. Bald is not bald, but means soon.

False friends work both ways. Consider the following:

der Roman the novel the roman der Römer
der Qualm the smoke the qualm das Bedenken
die Provision the fee the provision die Vorsorge
der Mist the dung the mist der Dunst
das Kraut the herb the kraut der Deutsche
der Unternehmer the entrepeneur the undertaker der Bestatter

Confused? Refresh your German and book one of our private German tutors.

Martin Luther and the German Language

German Language Coach; Martin LutherFew people can be unfamiliar with the name Martin Luther, the German theologian and instigator of the Reformation. The story of Luther posting his disputations of some of the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism, his 95 Theses, on the door of his local church in Wittenberg is exceedingly well known, even though some scholars doubt whether this famed incident ever actually took place.

Luther though, apart from being the author of a massive change in the religious landscape of Europe, also played a major part in the development of German as we know it today. During his captivity at Wartburg Castle from 1521-22, he commenced work on translating the New Testament from Greek into German. His aim was to make the Bible accessible to as many people as possible, so he went to some lengths to ensure that his translation could be understood by northern and southern Germans alike, despite their many different dialects. His research took him out into local towns and marketplaces so he was able to use contemporary language in his Bible so, as he said, “people may read it without hindrance”.

Luther’s New Testament was published in 1522 and followed in 1534 by a translation of the whole Bible. The publication came at a time when printed books were beginning to circulate widely. Luther’s vernacular style won widespread praise and his German Bible became hugely influential in shaping the language. The Saxon dialect used by Luther became the common literary language from which today’s Standard German evolved and his translation had an impact in Germany and beyond which he could scarcely have anticipated.

Enrol on a German language course with our native tutors to learn the language bequeathed to us by Luther and his contemporaries.

Council for German Orthography

German Language coach; Council for German OrthographyThere is an official body for regulation of the German language, just as there is for many other languages. These institutions are often called language academies. In the case of German, the role is fulfilled by the Council for German Orthography, shortened to RdR from its German name, der Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung.

Der Rat is composed of members from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the South Tyrol region of Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium and Liechtenstein. It was formed in 2004, when it replaced the existing Intergovernmental Commission for German Orthography (Zwischenstaatliche Kommission für deutsche Rechtschreibung). The RdR was formed following the German orthography reform of 1996 which set out to simplify the spelling of the German language in order to make it easier to learn.

In fact, you could draw a comparison to the differences between UK and US English. US English has simplified spellings which, though they are opposed by language purists, make for easier learning by foreign speakers. The German reform was controversial, but nevertheless the new standards became compulsory in schools and public administration and have gradually been accepted even by some of their fiercest opponents.

When you undertake a German language course today, you will learn according to the new standards, so you can judge them for yourself. You can learn German in London with our native tutors, all of whom are dedicated and experienced in teaching German to adults.

German expressions in English

German Language Coach, German expressions in EnglishEnglish has been steadily adopting words from German for several centuries. I will describe a few here; the tip of the iceberg so to speak. And there we have the first word that has been loaned from German: the iceberg.

We have all heard of the über-cool word doppelganger which is also a German term. Doppel meaning double, der Gänger derives from the word gehen (to go) – hence der Doppelgänger.

Most of us have been to the kinder garden, mused over the meaning of zeitgeist, seen the movie Poltergeist and heard of leitmotiv and angst – all loaned from the German language.

Anyone living in Middlesex, Essex or Sussex may wonder were these place names originate. Middlesex derives from Middle Saxony, Essex from East Saxony, Sussex from South Saxony. Saxons settled in England during the fifth and sixth century and liked to give places familiar names.

Arriving late for work because the railways are kaput? Today, broken railways are of course not the fault of Germany’s Blitzkrieg. The word kaput is German though, as is der Blitz (lightning) + der Krieg (war) = der Blitzkrieg.

Are you wallowing in Schadenfreude when your colleague draws flak from the boss because he is late for work again? There we have two more words loaned from German: flak and Schadenfreude. Flak is an abbreviation of the word Flugwabwehrkanone (air defence canon). Schadenfreude is made up of Schaden (the harm or damage) and Freude (joy). Therefore, Schadenfreude is the pleasure one takes in the misfortune of others.

We’ve all eaten Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), we measure the temperature in Fahrenheit, drive around in cars with Diesel engines, eat Frankfurters and Hamburgers – all German.

Tokio Hotel, Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten are German bands. However, Motörhead is not German – it is an English band that has loaned, or shall I say stolen, the Umlaut from German. Confused and want to start taking German lessons? You better get in touch with us!