The German language is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Italian province of South Tyrol. It is also a co-official language of Luxembourg, Belgium, and parts of southwestern Poland, as well as a national language in Namibia. German is most similar to other languages within the West Germanic language branch, including Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German (Low Saxon), Luxembourgish, Scots, and Yiddish. It also contains close similarities in vocabulary to Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, although these belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language after English.
One of the major languages of the world, German is a native language to almost 100 million people worldwide and is spoken by a total of over 130 million people. It is the most spoken native language within the European Union. German is also widely taught as a foreign language, especially in Europe, where it is the third-most taught foreign language after English and French, and the United States. The language has been influential in the fields of science and technology, where it is the second most commonly used scientific language and among the most widely used languages on websites. The German-speaking countries are ranked fifth in terms of annual publication of new books, with one-tenth of all books (including e-books) in the world being published in German.
The hardest parts of learning German can simply be conquered with the right study techniques.
And there are even some elements of German that make it one of the easier languages for English natives to pick up.
So let’s answer the question “is German hard to learn?” once and for all. We’ll take a look at two reasons German can be difficult (and how to overcome them), before relaxing with three lovely reasons German is actually easy to learn.
Is German Hard to Learn? 2 Small Reasons Yes and 3 Big Reasons No
Two Reasons German Is Hard to Learn
1. The German Case System
When people say that German grammar is hard, cases are probably the biggest reason.
But Germans learn German from a young age just as well as English speakers learn English. There’s nothing inherently difficult or complicated about the German case system—it’s just different.
So, how’s it work?
The case system involves slight modifications to a word’s form to give you extra information about the structure of the sentence. After enough of these chunks stick in your mind, using the right word forms with their respective cases will become second nature.
2. German Pronunciation
One of the biggest stereotypes about the German language involves its pronunciation. Doesn’t it just sound so harsh, angry, and exotic?
Well, German does have several sounds that don’t exist in English. Chief among them might be the two “ch” sounds and that French-sounding “r” that really have no equivalent in either American or British English.
But with a bit of training, you can master a German accent and feel those sounds roll off your tongue effortlessly.
Thanks to 70 years of war movies, you probably know what a German accent sounds like in English. Giff me zee pepahss!
That accent exists for a reason: you can’t have a “v” or a “z” sound at the ends of words in German!
Imitating what a German should sound like is actually going to give you a big leg-up when it comes to having a natural sentence rhythm and pronouncing words in the right way.
Piece of Cake! Three Big Reasons German Is Easy to Learn
1. Familiar Vocabulary
English is a Germanic language. So, unsurprisingly, is German.
That means there’s an enormous set of cognate words shared between the two languages, as well as a whole stock of newer loanwords that came directly from English to German in their modern form.
For an example of the latter, you shouldn’t have to think too hard to realize what der Workshop, das Business or das Internet might mean. (You guessed it: the workshop, the business and the internet.)
The older Germanic cognates are occasionally just as easy but sometimes require a little more thought. For example, hund (dog) isn’t far away from “hound,” but connecting die Schere to “the scissors” takes slightly more imagination. So just remember when you’re looking through a German text or working on your vocabulary, you’ve got to have a high tolerance for ambiguity.
If a word sounds a little similar to something in English—usually with a very different vowel—chances are it’s related.
2. Similar Verb Rules
If you’ve ever struggled with verbs in French, Russian or Spanish, then German is going to be a welcome relief.
Apart from a slight switch in word order, the verbs in German work almost identically to those in English.
For example, the future tenses are made with a helping verb:
ich werde gehen = I will go
And so are the past tenses:
du hattest Jura studiert = you had studied law
Furthermore, think of a verb triplet in English like drink-drank-drunk, where the vowel jumps around to reflect the tense changes.
German has a similar stock of irregular verbs, and most of them have the same vowel changes as English: trinken-trank-getrunken.
This is another perfect example of the patterns you can exploit to turbocharge your German vocabulary learning. You’re far more likely to remember these same irregular verbs than a group of irregular verbs in another, less familiar language.
3. Endless Learning Resources
German is a major world language.
Though there are only about 120 million native and non-native speakers (small on a global scale but still nothing to sneeze at), the prominence of the German-speaking countries in European culture and history means that the language cannot be ignored.
Therefore, there are a ton of resources to learn it.
Literally, people have been writing guides on how to learn German since before the invention of printing.
Today, the best of that knowledge is available to you with a few clicks of a mouse.
Multibhashi is an outstanding resource full of audio courses, vocabulary explainers, and video recordings that can take learners from raw beginner to confident language user. Sitting down with a good pronunciation resource right at the beginning is also something you should never put off. Don’t settle for phrasebooks (or teachers!) that tell you.
Finally, as we’ve already mentioned, Multibhashi is the perfect tool to develop natural, native-sounding German skills (and be entertained while you’re at it).
So, what do you think? Is German hard to learn?
Hopefully, this article has pulled back the curtain a little about why learning German really isn’t anything to be afraid of.
When it comes to new languages, more exposure can sometimes be all you need to drop any prejudices you might have. All language learning takes is some time and regular motivation. Once you’ve got those on your mind, there’s nothing stopping you!
All the best!!!