Every month this year, we will be turning our focus towards one of the core languages we love to teach – looking at the language’s potential for business, considering a few facts and figures to put its global prospects in context, plus sharing some tips to help you get started. This month we take a look at German, the language of one of the largest manufacturing economies in the world.
Germany has a population of almost 84 million, which accounts for the majority of German speakers (around 130 million people speak German as a native or second language). While these numbers may seem small compared to the number of people who speak languages such as English, Spanish or Mandarin, the German language remains a popular and desirable language to learn for business and within politics due to the importance of Germany on a global business, economic and political stage.
Learning German: Business Prospects and Opportunities
Germany may not be a small country, but if you are trying to decide which language to learn it may seem like one to dismiss early on because, unlike English or Spanish, it is mainly spoken within Germany and so it does not have the global reach of either language. However, consider what you may already know about Germany: Angela Merkel, the first female Chancellor of Germany, is a world-famous political figure; Germany is one of the world’s largest manufacturing countries (in a comfortable fourth place after China, the United States and Japan); and Germany has the fourth largest global economy by GDP (again, comfortably positioned ahead of fifth-placed India).
These manufacturing figures mirror the GDP figures: the world’s largest economies ahead of Germany are the United States, China and Japan. And these manufacturing figures also hint at why Germany has remained so resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic – while service-focused economies (such as here in the UK) have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, manufacturing-focused economies have been able to keep the worst effects at bay – Germany’s economy only shrank by 5% in 2020, whereas the UK figure is closer to 10%. Another part of this financial resilience is that the UK has had to pay out more financial support than Germany has to its workforce, meaning that the emergency recovery support required has simply cost Germany less money than many other European countries.
Germany is also one of the most established economies in the world, and it is the origin and ongoing base for some of the most trusted global brands, particularly automotive brands such as Volkswagen, Audi and BMW. If your business trades in any form of manufacturing, Germany may be an excellent place for you to expand your business.
As with so many countries in Europe right now, the fallout from Brexit may be on your mind. However, we are hopeful that some of the hiccups of European trade will resolve during 2021, creating greater opportunities for mutual trade, business growth and development, and wider economic success.
Did You Know? A Few Facts about German
Whether you work in the manufacturing industry, rely on political stability or have an eye on the evolving relationship between the UK and Europe, Germany may well be the language to learn to help you navigate your way into the future.
Here are a few interesting facts to know about German before you get started on your language-learning journey.
- German is an official language for many European institutions (including the European Union and the European Commission), and it is an official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.
- While German shares the same Latin alphabet as English, it does have a few notable differences. One is the ‘scharfes S’ or ‘ß’, which can also be represented by a double s (‘ss’) where the scharfes S character is not available. A common example is contained in the German word for ‘street’, ‘Straße’.
- Another regular difference in German (and some other languages) is the umlaut: two small dots over certain vowels, such as the ‘ä’ in ‘Mädchen’ (meaning ‘girl’) or the ‘ö’ in ‘schön’ (meaning ‘beautiful/pretty’). Umlauts affect the pronunciation of a word and can give you clues about the word as you learn, such as whether the word is plural or not (for example, ‘Haus’ is singular while ‘Häuser’ is plural – meaning ‘house/houses’ respectively). Sometimes an umlaut can even change the meaning of a word – while ‘schön’ may refer to beauty, the umlaut-free version ‘schon’ simply means ‘already’. Find out more about umlauts here, including what a ‘metal umlaut’ is!
- Are you baffled as to why some words in German have an initial capital letter, while others do not? The reason for this is that all nouns begin with a capital letter in German, which is a general rule of thumb that it is useful to keep in mind when you get started. This is certainly an unusual construction to adapt to when you are used to writing in English, where only the first letter of a sentence and proper nouns get the initial-capital treatment.
- German is famous for having some unwieldy long words of around 40 characters that would certainly be broken into pieces in most other languages. One famous and oft-cited example is ‘Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän’, which simply means ‘Danube steamship company captain’. Find some more examples here and here!
- German is not a language that is widely spoken around the world; however, it is one of the most important languages in Europe due to Germany’s economic and political importance within the European Union. A German dialect, Swiss-German, is also the main language of Switzerland, and Swiss-German is mutually intelligible with German in much the same way that Castilian Spanish can be understood in Spanish-speaking areas of Latin America, and vice versa. Another common dialect of German is Bavarian, which is spoken across most of Austria. So your German skills could be helpful for a future holiday in other parts of Europe, too!
Tips to Help You Get Started
Learning a language may seem like a big challenge, but if English is your native language then German may feel like an achievable target: it is a European language, it uses the Latin alphabet and it is closely related to English on the language family tree (it is also closely related to Dutch, in case you also speak Dutch!). Here are a few tips to help you develop your language skills.
- It may not feel like it when you look at a page of German text, but English, German and Dutch are all closely related. They are all positioned on the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. In theory, this means that learning German may be a little easier if English is your native language – and this fact may help to motivate you when the going gets tough! However, if you need extra motivation, try to focus on why you are learning this language. Whether your goal is personal or professional, it may have the motivating power to keep your studies on track!
- German grammar has a reputation for being a little overwhelming, and one of the biggest challenges can be getting the gender right for different nouns (not an issue that we tend to have in English, so it may also feel like a new concept). As you build your vocabulary, try learning the nouns alongside whether they are masculine, feminine or neuter (der, die or das, respectively) – for example, ‘der Garten’ (the garden), ‘die Katze (the cat) and ‘das Auto’ (the car). (Note the capital letters for each noun, too!)
- Prepare to absorb the language in any way you can, whether through reading news websites, books and magazines, or watching German films and television programmes. If you want to challenge your mind two times over, search Netflix for the mystery-drama series Dark, set in Germany. It is the first original Netflix production made in German and it has a twisty, turny storyline that is enough to make the mind boggle at times – but listening to the German dialogue (perhaps with the help of the English subtitles until you feel more confident following the story through a new language) is one way to become more familiar with German. It will also give you a keen ear for the ways that pronunciation (including using umlauts) sounds in German.
- Consider attending a language-learning course or joining a conversational German group. Speaking new words aloud can be daunting when learning a language, but sharing the experience with other learners can help to build your confidence.
If you would like to find out more about learning German to help you grow your business prospects around the world, contact us today. We can work with you to develop a bespoke language-learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your global colleagues, whether virtually or in person. All our courses can be taught live online.