How Many People Speak German, And Where Is It Spoken?

German is one of the most popular languages in the world, and you might be surprised by how many places it’s spoken.
How Many People Speak German, And Where Is It Spoken?

A Brief History Of The German Language

The first instances of the Germanic language were recorded when the Germanic people encountered the Romans in the first century BCE. At the time, Germanic was a massive group of mutually intelligible dialects in central Europe. It would later evolve into a variety of different languages, including English, Swedish, Dutch, Afrikaans and many others. At some point in the centuries following the Roman-Germanic meeting, Germanic split into North Germanic, which formed the basis of Scandinavian languages, and West Germanic, which later evolved into German, English, Scots and others.

The earliest evidence of Old High German, the West Germanic ancestor to modern German, comes from the runes of Elder Futhark, which have been dated to the sixth century CE. Old High German was widely used between 750 to 1050 CE. The year 1050 CE marks the movement to Middle German, and the shift was mainly caused by changes in vowel pronunciation and grammar. It was at this point that German split from Old Saxon, which later went on to become the basis for Low German, a vernacular language spoken in northern Germany.

Middle German was when written German began to flourish, and it slowly replaced Latin in governmental and legal capacities. Historians disagree on exactly when the period of Middle German ended, but one estimate places it in the 16th century, arguing that publishing Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible led to the unofficial standardization of Modern German. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that a more official standardization of German appeared, ushering in German as it’s known today (with a few differences).

Where In The World Is German Spoken?

German is the only official language of both Germany and Austria, and it’s one of the official languages of Switzerland, along with French and Italian. There are also a number of German speakers in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Namibia, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, the United States and Uruguay.

How Many People Speak German In The World?

Based on census data from 2010, German is the 11th most-spoken language in the world, with over 132 million speakers. Of that number, about 79 million of the speakers live in Germany. About 76 million people in the world speak German as a first language, with an additional 56 million speaking it as a second, third or fourth language.

How Many People Speak German In Europe?

Europe is, as expected, where the greatest numbers of German speakers live. As mentioned, Germany has the largest number, with 79 million people who speak German in total. In Austria, where German is the only official language, basically the entire population of 8.7 million people speak the language. A huge part of Switzerland also speaks the language, with 4,490,000 speakers of the Swiss German language, and an additional 292,000 speakers of standard German.

There are German speakers spread throughout most countries in Europe, though it faced expulsion in many places at the end of World War II. German today is one of 24 official languages for the European Union, and there are about 100 million people who speak it throughout Europe as a whole. After Russian, it’s the most-spoken language on the continent.

How Many People Speak German In North America?

Throughout North America, there are about 1.4 million German speakers. In the United States specifically, German has been on the decline for over a century now, from over 2 million in 1910 to only about 1 million now. Before World War I, it was the second most-spoken language in the U.S. but has fallen from that position, which is now occupied by Spanish. But German was popular in the country back then because of the huge number of German immigrants who came to the country in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pockets of German settlers appeared all over the United States and Canada, and their culture is still evident in certain communities, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch and the last few Texas German speakers. Canada also has almost 400,000 German speakers, most of whom immigrated to the country in the 20th century. 

How Many People Speak German In South America?

While there are many German-speakers in North America, there are even more in South America, with about 2.2 million in total. It’s primarily thanks to German communities that came to the Americas in the 19th century. Most countries have several thousand — Uruguay has 27,000, Paraguay 58,000, Ecuador 112,000 and Chile 20,000 — but Brazil and Argentina are both home to a much more sizeable German-speaking population. Argentina has about 400,000 German speakers, and Brazil has 1.5 million. These populations are usually highly condensed. In Brazil, almost all the Germans live in the southern region, where you can even find cities like Blumenau that look like exact reproductions of German culture. It’s likely South America still has flourishing German communities because there was less of a demand for assimilation when the immigrants arrived.

How Many People Speak German In Africa?

During the late 19th century, Germany, like many European countries, made colonialist land grabs in Africa. Germany was rather late to the game, however, and took comparatively less land than countries like France and the United Kingdom. The German colonial empire didn’t last long, either, because Germany was forced to give up its colonies at the end of World War I in 1918. The only country with a sizeable number of German-speakers in Africa is Namibia, formerly called German Southwest Africa, with 11,200.

Why Learn German?

We won’t sugarcoat it — German isn’t one of the easiest languages for English-speakers to learn. But it’s also not one of the hardest. Plus, it’s a fun challenge. No matter what reason you have for learning the language, German can be very useful.

German is one of the most commonly used languages in business and can be very useful in advancing careers. Because it’s so widely spoken in Europe, it’s also one of the best languages to learn before a European voyage.

When you learn German, you can read Franz Kafka’s short stories in the original language or better understand the works of Walter Benjamin. There are plenty more reasons to embrace German culture, and we encourage you to dive in language-first.

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