First published on Fair Languages.
Reading how many or better put how few British students took their A levels in German this year, I thought I’d start a series of posts giving some good reasons why studying German might be useful and to do away with some popular but false stereotypes such as German is fairly complicated and difficult to learn.
This also goes along with my new podcast on Fair Languages, German Hacks, in which I share some quick and dirty strategies of how to hack the German language.
So today, let’s talk about numbers!
Reasons to learn German #1: 200 million people worldwide speak or understand German
A little less known is that German is also spoken either as a mother tongue or as a minority language across Europe. This includes Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Eastern Belgium, Eastern France (namely Elsass, Lothringen) and South Tyrol / Südtirol (northern Italy).
It is also spoken in former parts of Germany that were lost after the second World War and are now parts of Eastern European countries, most notably Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Other countries include Romania, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Russia. The same is true for Namibia, a former colony, where German is a so called national language.
All of which makes it the most spoken mother tongue in the European Union and one of the 10 most important languages in the world. I think, the order has changed since the reasearch was carried out.
Numbers diverge quite a bit, but it is estimated that around 90 to 120 million people worldwide call German their mother tongue. Another 80 million learn German as a foreign language, 55 million of which in the EU alone according to Wikipedia.
And if you’re living on the American continent you will know how many people refer to their family as being German still to that day. In the census that took place in the year 2000, 42.5 million U.S. citizens reported to have German ancestors which was about 15% of the U.S. population that date.
The same is true for South America to which many Germans immigrated over time. In Brazil 5 million people speak German, in Argentina 500.000, in Mexico 200.000.
If you want to dive into the number and are really interested in the topic of how German spread over the centuries and why we have such a multitude of dialects, you should read this article on the German Wikipedia (good level of German is required). For everybody else there is of course still the English Wikipedia version.