Reasons to Learn German #1 – 200 million People speak German

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 here 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

Knowledge of German in the EUA pretty well-known fact is that German is the native languages of the so called DACH countries which are Deutschland / Germany (D), Österreich / Austria (A) and die Schweiz / Switzerland (CH).

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.

German US

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.

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  • There is this syndrome which states, “I don’t see what I don’t know”, but when I get interested in something, suddenly I see it everywhere. Likewise, if I get interested in german language, I will see germans everywhere 😀
    Unfortunately here in latinamerica is so hard to find an economic value to learn/speak german. If you want to invest in learning a language, that is english for sure. I emphasized the “economic value” because some may argue other more esoterical values in learning languages of the world.
    Ok, for me it was useful to know some german in Nederland, maybe in Dänemark and less in Schweden but in die USA, in Frankreich, in Italien and even in the south part of die Schweiz (Chiaso) or the west (Geneve), the german language was not helpful at all, not as close as english or even spanish 😀

  • Erik_Andersen

    Kirsten – – Interesting. I’ve been looking around quite a bit lately for information on how many speak German and this is the first time I’ve run across the figure as high as 200m! Most of the people and sites who’ve quoted a figure keep it around 100m in the “home” Germanic countries and then add about 25m-30m more on the global level. So, taking it to 200m is a big jump. I’ll certainly have a look at the Wikipedia sites… not sure I have yet! Thanks for all your support for learning the German language! It’s a passion of mine too! Cheers… Erik

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