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10 reasons learning German is easier than you think

You may have heard that German is a difficult language to learn. Or you may have read Mark Twain’s lamentations about endlessly long words that can’t be found in a dictionary. You may have even experienced some frustrations of your own in your attempts at learning German. You are most certainly not alone, but consider this: Difficulty is relative. And for each thing you find difficult about German, there are actually some features of German that make it quite easy for English speakers in particular to learn. In fact, many of these features can be of benefit learners no matter what their native language.

1. German has phonetic spelling.

The pronunciation of German sounds is predictable. Once you have learned which letters or letter combinations represent which sounds, you will know how to pronounce new words correctly without ever having heard them or having to memorize what they sound like.

In addition, most of the sounds of German are already familiar to speakers of English, even if they are sometimes represented by different letters or letter combinations than in English. Look, for instance, at the sounds the following letters make.

b = “b” and d = “d” (baden)
k = “k” and t“t” and f=”f” and l=”l” (Kartoffel)
m = “m” and n = “n” and sch = “sh” (Mensch)
z = ts” (Zahn)
= “z”  and chs = “ks” (sechs)
w = “v” and ei = “eye” (weiß)

Typically, there are only a few new sounds to learn, but many of these are easy to replicate using sounds you already can pronounce. For instance, the sounds represented by ö and ü do not exist in English. But it is easy to make those sounds using familiar sounds and a few easy tips. Read about how to pronounce ö and ü here.

2. All nouns are capitalized.

Trying to sort out who is doing what in the sentence becomes easier when you can separate the nouns from everything else. In German, you can easily identify which words are nouns because they are all capitalized. Not just proper nouns (like Berlin, Angela MerkelOktoberfest), but ALL nouns (Computer, KindergartenBlitzkrieg)  In addition, the first word in a sentence is also capitalized, so that word may or may not be a noun. Even if you don’t speak a word of German, you can readily pick out the nouns in the following sentences.

Berlin ist eine der wasserreichsten Städte in Deutschland: Spree, Havel, eine Vielzahl an Kanälen und Flussläufen durchziehen das Stadtgebiet und werden jeden Tag überquert.

Wir sind Künstler und Künstlerinnen, die vorwiegend im Norden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland leben und arbeiten.

Did you find all 15?

3. German has one present tense.

Many languages have more than one tense expressing present time. Apart from the simple present tense (I go), English also has the continuous present tense (I am going) and an emphatic present (I do go). In German, there is only one way to express these three things: ich gehe. Here are some other examples.

Er besucht seine Eltern.
He visits his parents.
He is visiting his parents.
He does visit his parents.
Wir helfen dir.
We help you.
We are helping you.
We do help you.

4. The present tense also expresses future time.

German does have a discrete future tense, but German speakers more commonly use the present tense when talking about the future. You can get by in German in most instances without ever using the future tense.

Wir helfen dir morgen.
We will help you tomorrow.

Das Flugzeug landet um 11.54 Uhr.
The plane will land at 11:54 am.

Ich vergesse ihn nie.
I will never forget him.

5. German has one past tense for conversational use.

German uses the present perfect tense to talk about all actions or states in the past.

Ich habe mit meinen Freunden Karten gespielt.
I played cards with my friends.
I have played cards with my friends.
I was playing cards with my friends.
I did play cards with my friends.

The perfect tense form is all that is needed to express past states and actions in conversational German. Written narrative German uses a different tense, the simple past tense. You will learn to recognize many of those forms, but you will never need to produce most of them yourself.

6. Related words are easy to recognize.

One way that German creates new words is by adding prefixes or suffixes to other words, or roots of other words.

For instance, from the root of the verb spielen (spiel) to play we can make the nouns das Spiel (game) and der Spieler (player), the adjective spielerisch (playful), and the verb verspielen (to squander). From the adjective neu (new), we can form the adjective neulich (recent), the verb erneuern (to renovate, renew), and the nouns die Neuheit (novelty) and die Neuerung (reform).

Sometimes new words are derived from inflected roots.  For example, if we know the principle parts of the verb gehen to go (ginggegangen), we more readily recognize its affinity with der Gang (walk, gait).  The verb verstehen to understand (verstand, verstanden) gives us der Verstand reason, common sense.

Sometimes modern words were derived from vowel changes that are no longer part of the language; nonetheless, the roots are still recognizable. The verb schließen to close (schloss, geschlossen) gives us das Schloss (lock), der Schluss (end, closing), and der Verschluss (clasp).

English builds words from roots, too, but in English root words often derive from Greek or Latin rather than from English and their meanings are not easily discernible (e.g., eject, reject, interject, conjecture). German root words are usually of German origin. So if you know one word in German, the meanings of several others become accessible.

7. Compound words make learning new words easy.

Compound words
German frequently forms new words by combining two or more existing words. This process is called compounding. A concept that requires a lengthy phrase in English is sometimes conveyed by a single compound word in German:

Schmerzensgeld is “pain money,” usually expressed in English as compensation for pain and suffering.
Torschlusspanik (literally, “door shutting panic”) succinctly expresses the anxiety a woman can feel in the race against her biological clock.
A Geisterfahrer (“ghost driver”) is a driver going in the wrong direction, against the direction of traffic.
And the ever popular Schadenfreude (“damage joy”) is pleasure one derives from witnessing somebody else’s misfortune.

One benefit of compounding for German learners is that you can understand new words if you already know the individual words that form a compound.

For instance, pediatrician is Kinderarzt (“children’s doctor”).
Season is quite logically expressed with Jahreszeit (“time of year”).
A pet is a Haustier (“house animal”). Slippers are known as Hausschuhe (“house shoes”).
The English submarine is an Unterseeboot, often shortened as U-Boot, meaning “under sea boat.”
Pork is simply Schweinefleisch (“pig meat”).

Because of compounding, the meanings of German words can be more readily predictable than their English counterparts.

8. English is a Germanic language.

Speakers of English benefit from the fact that English and German developed from the very same language roots. Evidence of their shared etymology is scattered throughout both languages today.

Their common history has resulted in cognates like Haus house, trinken to drink, hundert hundred, Mutter mother, Sommer summer, braun brown, Garten garden, and Apfel apple, to name just a mere few.

German and English also share the same 26-letter alphabet, though German has four additional letters (ä, ö, ü, ß), and they share many similar sounds and have similar stress and intonation patterns.

Both languages have the same categories and patterns of regular (weak) and irregular (strong and mixed) verbs.The regular verbs show tense through fixed suffixes (generally –ed in English, –te/-t in German), while the irregular verbs mark tense via internal sound changes and perhaps also suffixes (-t in English, –te/-t in German).

weak: kochen, kochte, gekocht to cook, cooked, cooked
strong: singen, sang, gesungen to sing, sang, sung
mixed: denken, dachte, gedacht to think, thought, thought

Both languages form their simple past tense in similar ways.

ich sah I saw
es kam it came
sie schwamm she swam
er sprach he spoke
ich brachte I brought

The perfect tenses in English and German are a two-word construction of helping verb + past participle.

ich habe gefolgt I have followed
wir haben gesagt we have said
er hat gegeben he has given
du hast gelernt you have learned
sie sind gegangen they have gone

English has largely abandoned its Germanic case system, but we still see the cases in its pronouns forms (ich, mich/mir  I, meer, ihn/ihm he, him; wer, wen/wem who, whom).

The shared roots of both languages mean that German and English form their comparative and superlative adjective forms in similar ways.

gut, besser, am besten good, better, best
heiß, heißer, am heißesten hot, hotter, hottest
lang, länger, am längsten long, longer, longest
viel, mehr, am meisten much, more, most

Such shared features of German and English are due to their common history. Noticing these similarities can be beneficial to the English-speaking learner of German.

9. German has adopted many English words.

The intense contact with the English-speaking world, particularly since the mid-20th century, has enriched German with a broad array of new English loan words, which the English-speaker will readily recognize: hi, cool, joggenComputer, chatten, Management, Bestseller, Band, Star, clever, fair, JobTrendtestenBaby, downloaden. These words and many, many others are have been integrated into standard German, giving English speakers even broader access to German vocabulary.

10. The German government provides financial assistance and resources for learning German.

Not a feature of the language itself, but nonetheless important in providing access to learning opportunities is the German government’s policy of promoting German both at home and abroad. Germany spends about 315 million euros annually to support the teaching and learning of German in schools, universities, and adult education programs. The non-profit Goethe-Institut promotes the German language and culture at home and abroad through language training courses and a diverse cultural program. The government-supported German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides financial assistance to students and scholars to visit Germany to further their German education. Individual German states offer scholarships and incentives to foreigners and visitors seeking to learn German. The German government also provides funding for the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which among its offerings has a wide array of programs, modules, and tools for learning German.

So what are you waiting for? You already know some German!

Posted in German Language, Teaching German Tagged with:
18 comments on “10 reasons learning German is easier than you think
  1. And here are two more reasons.

    11. Verbs appear in predictable places.

    The main verb in any German sentence can always be found in the second position. This means that regardless of what comes first in the sentence — the subject, an adverb, a prepositional phrase, a direct object or an indirect object, or even a whole clause — the very next thing will nearly always be the main verb, i.e., the one that is conjugated to agree with the sentence subject.

      Das Döner-Geschäft (subject) erreicht pro Jahr einen Umsatz von etwa 2,5 Milliarden Euro.
      Ursprünglich (adverb) kommt das Gericht aus der Türkei.
      Neben Currywurst und Hamburger (prepositional phrase) greifen viele Deutsche immer wieder gerne zum Döner Kebab.
      Wann der erste Döner-Imbiss in Deutschland eröffnete (dependent clause), ist ungewiss.

    In sentences with compound verbs, i.e., more than one verb part, those other verb parts appear at the end of the sentence.

      Ende März fand die erste Dönermesse Deutschlands in Berlin statt.(separable prefix verb)
      Für den Döner muss der Grillspieß senkrecht sein. (modal verb + infinitive)
      Der Kunde kann den Döner individuell gestalten. (modal verb + infinitive)
      Den Döner hat man in Berlin erfunden. (auxiliary verb + past participle)

    There are just a few scenarios when the main verb will not be in the second position, but rather the first. This happens most frequently in yes-no questions and commands.

      Ist der Döner überhaupt noch ein türkisches Produkt? (yes-no question)
      Probiere doch mal einen Döner! (command)

    So, identifying verbs in German sentences is an easy task. Verbs are in the second position (or the first) and at the end of a sentence.

    Clauses that have their own subject and verb but are not complete sentences also have predictable word order. These dependent clauses send the second-position verb to the end of the clause.

      Wann der erste Döner-Imbiss in Deutschland eröffnete (end of dependent clause), ist ungewiss.
      Der Döner ist in Deutschland so erfolgreich, weil er schnell geht und trotzdem frisch ist. (compound dependent clause with verb at the end of each thought)
  2. 12. Commas help make meaning.

    Apart from separating items in a series, in German commas mark the division of grammatical units. Commas help define where one thought ends and a new one begins. Commas mark the separation between independent clauses. In addition, dependent clauses in German — including subordinate clauses and relative clauses — are always set off by commas. Commas can therefore help you chunk the sentence into meaningful units.

      Die Musikindustrie muss die Musik in digitale Informationen umwandeln, bevor sie diese auf eine CD überträgt.
      The music industry must transform the music into digital information / before they transfer it to a CD.

      Es ist besonders wichtig, dass Kinder frei entscheiden können, was sie mit ihrem Taschengeld machen.
      It is especially important / that children are able to decide freely / what they do with their allowance money.

      Die steinerne Brücke, die den linksrheinischen Stadtteil mit der Altstadt verbindet, galt im Mittelalter als ein echtes Weltwunder.
      The stone bridge / that connects the district west of the Rhine with the historic old town / was considered in the Middle Ages to be a true world wonder.

  3. Dan says:

    Isn’t simple when German and English are both second languages..

  4. Mohamad Abdulkader says:

    i just want to thank you for you amazing work … thank alot … hope i can learn the german language as can as possible..

  5. Naf07 says:

    I am still confused with the use of mein/ meine/meine, dein/deine/deine and dises/disen. Could anyone help me out here?

  6. Alex says:

    Vielen dank! This is very useful. I am a beginner (British) and have recently moved to Berlin. I have had a few German lessons but have been getting very bogged down in the grammar. Thanks for making it seem less frightening.

  7. Diane Baker says:

    I love your site! I’m a rank beginner learning German from Cincinnati (which has a huge Oktoberfest), but I have a question. *Fressen* is a verb used only with reference to animals. Are there any other verbs in German which only apply to animals, or is this the only one? If it is the only verb in this category, why does this verb category not have more development? Seems logical that it might (and Germans are very logical!) Danke, Herr Profesore!

  8. Stratton Ngoti says:

    I love this site it is very helpful.
    I am the Germany learner beginner here in Tanzania.
    Everything my teacher teach me here is in this web.
    Keep it up.
    If you have any DVDs with lesson it will be nice and it will help us.

  9. stephen snape says:

    Very helpful article .
    Even for a beginner such as myself

  10. Henrieta says:

    It is very easy so learn and confirm these two languages. FUR MIR IST ES SEHR INTERESSANT!

  11. Ram says:

    This is good. I am beginner and just trying learn from many internet resources. Just came across the word nach (after) and nacht (night) which although have different meanings, the german syllables are same except for addition of t in the second word. But found they are pronounced differently. For nach it is long “a” and for nacht it is short “a”.
    Can you let me know if my understanding is right? If so why the difference.

    • Your observation is correct. The a in nach is long, while the a in Nacht is short. The (unsatisfactory) answer to your question “why the difference” is simply that these vowel differences are not codified in the German spelling system.

      There are generalizations about extrapolating pronunciation from spelling, but those are only observed tendencies and not strict rules. Namely:

      • Vowels are long before a single consonant (Fuß, den), before h (ihn, Wahl), or when doubled (Meer, Aal)
      • Vowels are short before two or more consonants (Tonne, Mist)

      The general observation that long vowels precede single consonants, short vowels precede 2 or more consonants does not work with your nach/Nacht example. Even if we accept ch as a single consonant sound or phoneme ([x] in this case), there are other words in German where the generalization also breaks down and not only with words containing ch (e.g., Weg (long e), but weg (short e)).

      So my advice would be to follow the general rules as a baseline, but take note of exceptions where you observe them. FWIW, many exceptions are common one-syllable words (e.g., in, es, man, mit, which all contain short vowels despite being followed by a single consonant).

  12. morbid manni says:

    The word “Schmerzengeld” is only used in Austria, in Germany it is “Schmerzensgeld”.

    See also:

    Sorry for my bad english, I’m german.

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