Sprechen Sie Deutsch? (Do You speak German?) – A question that connects you with the heart of Europe and some of the most culturally-rich countries in the world. As the official language of 7 countries, German is more than a method of communication; it’s a link to a wealth of historic, artistic, and scientific heritage.
According to Britannica, German is a principal language in Europe, with over 90 million native speakers globally. Spring German (a project I co-founded) has a helpful video tackling the question of how you can answer where you are from – and who knows, maybe you come from one of the following German speaking countries?
This comprehensive guide will take you through German-speaking countries, complete with maps and cultural insights that uncover the essence of each Germanic local.
1. Germany: The heartland of the standard German language
Germany is the heartland of the German language in Europe.
This standard German is overseen by the Council for German Orthography, ensuring the language that brought us thinkers like Goethe and Einstein remains at the core of German cultural identity.
Cultural Insight: the coziness many Germans feel
German Gemütlichkeit is a charming little quirk of the German culture: this little word describes the state of warmth, coziness and ultimate well-being. This coziness isn’t necessarily focused around your home but rather it’s a feeling that you can enjoy during festivals, such as the Oktoberfest or when you want to wish someone a Merry Christmas in German.
2. Austria: Alpine charm with German as the official language
Austria offers an elegant variant of the German language, mainly characterized by its alpine charm. The Austrian German differs slightly in vocabulary (you can check the dedicated article for it!).
On Effortless Conversations, we explain 5 key differences in that blog post. And what do you have to know about people living in the country?
Well, Austrians are really passionate about sports, especially winter sports! Alpine skiing and snowboarding events are regularly held.
The capital city of Vienna (Wien) is often known as the world’s music capital.
Cultural Insight: A contribution many German people around the world enjoy – classical music
Austria has made significant cultural contributions to the German-speaking world, especially in the field of classical music. The influence of the Viennese Waltz (Wiener Walzer) and the compositions from Mozart and Strauss can be seen clearly in the usage of musical terms in Austrian German: they had their powerful impact on the language!
3. Switzerland: German spoken as co-official language
Switzerland is a true linguistic mosaic in which German is one of four official languages – German, French, Italian and Romansh.
Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) is a collection of Alemannic dialects, and while the written language aligns with standard German (Hochdeutsch), the spoken form is quite distinct – just like with Austrian German, we have a separate article dedicated to tackle the challenges of Schweizerdeutsch!
Cultural Insight: Learn and speak German like a Swiss watch!
Switzerland’s precision and innovation are reflected in its language, with terms like “Uhrmacher” (watchmaker) symbolizing the country’s huge history in watchmaking. The idiom “like a Swiss watch” refers to something that operates very reliably or precisely. Swiss watches are famed for their quality, and accuracy. So, when you say that something works “like a Swiss watch,” you mean that it functions just like it has to!
4. Belgium: Three official languages with many German speakers
In Belgium, German is spoken in one of the three official language communities.
Although a smaller segment of the population, the German-speaking community in Belgium has its own parliament and enjoys cultural autonomy. German plays a significant role in the country’s politics and many people also speak German as their second language. This community primarily resides in the eastern part of the country, in an area known as the East Cantons (Ostbelgien).
Cultural Insight: Karneval just like other German speaking countries
A significant characteristic of the Belgian-German culture is the: Karneval. It’s a similar celebration to the ones found in Germany. This event is characterized by conventional attire, processions, and an assortment of age-old customs that originate from medieval times.
5. Luxembourg: Crossroads of culture and language
Nearly every Luxembourger is trilingual: Luxembourgish, French, and German are all official languages in the country. While Luxembourgish is the national language and used in everyday conversation, German and French are also part of the life in Luxembourg. All three languages are featured in education, the legal system, and the media.
German is typically used as the language for reading and writing in primary schools and is the primary language for many newspapers and publications. (It’s quite fascinating that Luxembourg’s students often learn to read and write in German before they do so in their own national language, Luxembourgish – what a good education system can do, right?!)
Cultural Insight: One of the centers of the European Union Institutions
Luxembourg City, the capital, is one of the three official capitals of the European Union (alongside Brussels and Strasbourg) and is the seat of several important EU institutions, including the European Court of Justice, the European Investment Bank, and parts of the European Commission.
6. Liechtenstein: A small country where they use German as an official language
Liechtenstein’s population is predominantly German-speaking, with the official language being German. The entire population of approximately 38,000 people speak some dialect of Alemannic German, which is close to the dialects spoken in eastern Switzerland and regions of Austria.
Cultural Insight: History of the German language in the Liechtenstein National Museum
Liechtenstein – although a small country with modest population – has a diverse cultural scene. The Liechtenstein National Museum (Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum) gives insights into the country’s history and culture, including the royal heritage and local customs, also the language. The country also celebrates a variety of traditional festivals and events throughout the year: ‘Staatsfeiertag‘ (National Day) on August 15th, which begins with an official ceremony attended by the Prince of Liechtenstein and followed by a day of festivities.
7. Namibia: an African German-speaking community
Now, this one might come as a surprise but in Namibia, Germany is recognized as a national language. This doesn’t mean that it’s and official language in the African country, because that’s English, but German is a recognized one!
The German language is part of Namibia’s colonial legacy – the country was a German colony until the end of World War I. Although German is only spoken by a small minority of the Namibian population, German is taught in some schools as a foreign language and there are German-speaking communities and associations.
Cultural Insight: A German diaspora with a mix of African languages
The version of German spoken in Namibia is known for its simplicity but it’s also a mix of words from South African English, Afrikaans, Ovambo, and other Bantu languages. This unique dialect of German is alternately referred to as Südwesterdeutsch. Younger citizen often refer to it as Namsläng or Namdeutsch, which means Namibian slang.
German language learning with Immersion and Contextual Learning
Through immersion and contextual learning, students can learn German in everyday use rather than studying vocabulary and grammar in isolation. The Conversation Based Chunking method encourages full linguistic immersion.
The mastery of German not only opens up communication with millions but also offers insight into the life and soul of the German-speaking regions. Each country presents a unique aspect of German culture, and through language, you can put them together into mosaics on what these nations contribute to the world..