6 Interesting Language Facts about German

welocalize July 6, 2022

Spoken by more than 130 million people in 42 countries of the world. German— like English and French—is a pluricentric language with Germany, Austria and Switzerland as the three countries with the most native speakers. As the 11th most spoken language in the world, it is estimated that around 95 million people speak German as a first language, 10-25 million as a second language and 75-100 million as a foreign language.

Here are six interesting language facts about German:

Did You Know?

 1. Half-way to fluent.

German and English share more than half of their vocabulary — so if you know English, you’re already half-way to speaking German! In comparison, English and French share just 27% of the same vocabulary.

2. Keeping time.

In German, time is counted with respect to the next hour. If a German tells you that it is halb drei (“half three”), you might assume that it’s 3:30. However, since time is counted by the minutes to the next hour, “half three” means that it’s a half-hour until three, or 2:30.

3. Protected language.

In the Netherlands, Low German is a protected regional language according to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

4. Words that only exist in German.

In German, there are actually many ‘untranslatable’ words that just don’t have an equivalent in other languages. For example, ‘Ohrwurm’ (ear worm) means having a catchy song stuck in your head, and ‘Treppenwitz’ (staircase joke), a witty retort thought of when it is too late.

5. Record-breaker.

Worldwide, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, German accounts for the most written translations into and from a language. It is one of the most-studied languages worldwide.

6. Party of three.

German words have three genders. In many Romance languages, nouns can either be masculine or feminine. German further complicates the picture by introducing a neuter gender for words that are neither masculine nor feminine.

Here’s some tips and considerations for translation in German:

Prepare for text expansion.

The German language is rich in long words and typically expands compared to English text. When designing marketing material or items that need to maintain pagination to account for expansion by leaving an adequate amount of white space when designing the source file. Since marketing materials should also appeal to the eye, we recommend to stay away from hyphenating long words in order to break the text at the end of the line and rather allow for overall expansion.

Font selection and usage.

The German Language like many other languages uses special characters, “Umlaute” in German. There’s even an extra consonant, ß, called “Eszett” which is unique to German. Try to choose fonts that cover a wide variety of writing systems when designing source file content. Fonts that support Unicode characters are best, also staying away from very complex, artistic fonts as these font styles typically do not support special characters.

Character restrictions.

When creating English source content where character restrictions are required, such as in mobile app localization or labels and screens for medical devices, be mindful of languages such as German where, due to text expansion, the same character restrictions may not be as feasible as compared to English. A tightly-designed user interface may present problems later down the line. Design the source format with these character restrictions in mind.

Translation tip: When creating English source content where character restrictions are required, such as in mobile app localization or labels and screens for medical devices, be mindful of languages such as German where, due to text expansion, the same character restrictions may not be as feasible as compared to English. A tightly-designed user interface may present problems later down the line. Design the source format with these character restrictions in mind.

Difference in marketing approach + word choice.

In some countries, like the United States, marketing materials often over exaggerate the benefits or abilities of a product or service. Words and phrases such as ‘amazing’, ‘the best’, or ‘incredible’ do translate into German, however German marketing campaigns typically stay away from exaggerated claims and tend to focus on facts, numbers, and certified information. If a U.S. marketing text is simply just translated into German without adjusting it for certain elements, the German reader might be disinterested as the presented material might seem misleading especially if comparative marketing is used. An in-country German linguist will have knowledge of advertising laws and will be able to work with you on localizing your marketing content so that it resonates with a German audience.

 

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