German is the primary language used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. It is also an important secondary language throughout Europe. While fewer high schools offer German than Spanish or French, many colleges do have German classes. The College Board lists 473 colleges that offer a major in German (2011).
Similarities between English and German
English descended from Germanic languages, although many other languages also contributed to modern English. German vocabulary is relatively easy to learn because many words differ by only a few letters; for example, the English "dr" becomes "tr" in German. Here are some basic German vocabulary words and the English equivalents:
trinken: to drink,
danken: to thank,
tanzen: to dance.
Germans also have an apparent love of long, compound nouns. Instead of creating new words, Germans may simply combine several words already in use. An example is Ansichtspostkarte, which means picture post card. While these extra-long words may look intimidating at first glance, the fact that these words are made of smaller words you might already know is yet another aid to rapid acquisition of vocabulary.
Challenges of Learning German
German has some significant differences from English. Like many other languages, German word endings change for different declensions: nominative, dative, genitive and accusative. The definite article ("the" in English) and the indefinite article ("a" or "an" in English) depend upon the gender of a noun. English nouns do not have gender for grammatical purposes, so this is a new concept for the native speaker of English.
The Defense Language Aptitude Battery, a test used by the United States government to select candidates for language training, gives a score that is used to determine the appropriate language difficulty level for a potential student. German is in Category II, which means it is considered more difficult than French or Spanish, but less difficult than the Slavic and Asian languages (Knight, n.d.).
Basic German vocabulary is not difficult for those who already speak English. Those who wish to quickly learn useful phrases for European travel can certainly succeed with a good self-teaching resource or continuing education class. Learning to read scholarly German fluently, however, requires years of careful study. German is worth consideration as a college foreign language option because of the significance of German contributions to business, science, and the humanities. The language of Beethoven, Einstein, and Goethe can be a part of your life as well.
The College Board. (2011). Find a college: Major: German. Accessed January 7, 2011.
Knight, J. (n.d.). Language Training and Skills. Accessed January 8, 2011.