The German language belongs to the great Indo-European family of languages which includes members as diverse as Welsh at the western end and Bengali at the eastern end of its distribution.

German is one of the West Germanic languages and it is a close cousin of English which also belongs to the West Germanic division of the Germanic branch. Together English and German account for the greatest number of modern Germanic speakers, both as first and second languages. Their closeness is still reflected in the relative ease with which English speakers learn to pronounce German compared with French adequate speech rhythms and stress seem to come more naturally, reflecting the fact that Old English grew out of the confluence of Germanic languages spoken by the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings who settled the British Isles in such large numbers during and after the Age of Migrations, which was at its peak between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.

During the great period of migration Germanic tribes also spread southwest and south into what are now northern France and southern Germany, while others moved into Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy. These movements and the geographical separation they gave rise to consolidated variations in the original Germanic dialects spoken by the tribes in their places of origin giving rise to standard forms: German, Austrian and Swiss German.

This process was reversed over time to the extent that a form of Standard German (Hochsprache) developed, based on the written language, taught in schools and universities, and used prominently in the media. This process may have begun during the period of relative political stability initiated by the emergence of the Frankish empire under Clovis (482-511), culminating in the crowning by the Pope of Charlemagne (768-814) as Emperor Romanorum gubernans imperium.

Over the next few centuries High German became increasingly standardized and in its written form is substantially the same whether used in Germany itself, Austria or Switzerland. Despite this robust dialects (such as Markish, Upper Saxon and Luxembourgish) thrive across the German-speaking region. These will be largely incomprehensible to the non-German armed only with Hochsprache, but fortunately native German-speakers all learn Hochsprache as a first or second language.

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German holiday phrases ordered by topic.

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Sample text in German

An extract from a German version of the Little Prince.

Der Kleine Prinz

Als ich sechs Jahre alt war, habe ich in einem Buch über den Ur- wald, das den Titel "Erlebte Geschichten" trug, das erste Mal ein wunderschönes Bild gesehen. Es zeigte eine Riesenschlange, die ein wildes Tier verschlingt. Hier ist das Bild mal nachgezeichnet:

The Lords prayer in German

Das Gebet des Herrn

Vater unser im Himmel,
geheiligt werde dein Name;
dein Reich komme;
dein Wille geschehe,
wie im Himmel so auf Erden.
Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute.
Und vergib uns unsere Schuld,
wie auch wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern.
Und führe uns nicht in Versuchung,
sondern erlöse uns von dem Bösen.
Denn dein ist das Reich und die Kraft und die Herrlichkeit in Ewigkeit.

See the Lords Prayer in Afrikaans and Dutch for a comparison with other West Germanic languages.

Introduction to the German language

Our shared Indo-European (West Germanic) heritage means that English speakers will immediately guess the meaning of many ancient German words, such as some of those for family members e.g. Mutter, Vater, Tochter, Sohn, Bruder, Schwester; parts of the body - Arm, Hand, Fusz; natural phenomena – Sonne, Mond, Licht, Wind, Eis; animals – Wolf, Otter, Fuchs, Kuh, Ochse; animal products – Milch, Leder, Wolle, Honig, Horn.

We also share a common cultural heritage so German and English have absorbed many foreign words which, because they come from the same sources, will often also be recognisable.

Some of these go back to Roman times e.g. Kaiser (Caesar), Markt (market), Pfund (pound), Frucht (fruit), Keller (cellar), Socke (sock), Kessel (kettle). Many words were introduced later which reflected the role of Latin as the universal language of West European Christianity e.g. Bischof (bishop), Schule (school), Psalm, Kappelle (chapel; later ‘orchestra’), Rose;

Latin again provided many new words a few centuries later through the activities of Renaissance scholars for whom it was the language of science and the humanities: Professor, Doktor and Student belong to this phase as does a wide range of medical and legal terms such as Medizin and Medikament , Advokat and Delinquent.

Romance languages such as Italian and French contributed easily recognizable words: Bank, Kredit, Kompasz, Kavallerie , Marzipan, Tenor, Konzert, Sonate.

English loan words began entering the language in ever-increasing numbers from the middle of the eighteenth century: from Gentleman, Humor and sentimental all the way to the present with words like Computer, PC and Laptop, and Fitnesstraining.

One other point: some of the resemblances between English and German are obscured by what is known as the Second or High German Sound Shift. This is the name given to changes which affected the pronunciation of some consonants in High German. These changes took place over several hundred years and are thought to have begun before the ninth century AD in southern German dialects, their effects becoming less pronounced towards the north and west.


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Deutsche Welle International broadcasts from Germany including language learning resources. Grammar and language notes from the beeb.

Language family


Sub group

West Germanic

Related languages

North Frisian
Saterland Frisian
West Frisian

Learning Method