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We speak German

Why there are more German words than most people might think. Surprising facts about the German language.

German creates 23 million words from 26 letters.
German creates 23 million words from 26 letters. © Doin Oakenhelm -

How many people speak German as their mother language?

Around 130 million people speak German as their mother language or as a second language. German is the most widely spoken mother language in the European Union and an official language in seven countries. In 42 countries there are more than 7.5 million people who belong to a German-speaking minority.

How many people have learned German as a foreign language?

289 million people. According to calculations by Ulrich Ammon, an expert on German language, this is how many people around the globe have learned German at some time in their lives. How well they speak it is another matter entirely. At the moment, 15.4 million people around the world are currently learning German as a foreign language: 90 percent of them are school students and 10 per cent are adults.

How many words are there in the German language?

More than most people might think. German learners know how quickly two nouns can be combined to form a new word. That makes counting difficult. In 2013 linguists in Berlin arrived at a total of 5.3 million German words. In 2017 the editors of the Duden dictionary of the German language arrived at a total of almost 23 million words (in the basic form only). The basis for the calculations is a huge databank collecte from a pool of factual and literary texts in the equivalent of 40,000 books. But the latest edition of Duden gets along with 145,000 keywords. And the average speaker uses only 12,000 to 16,000 words in their vocabulary.

Which words occur most frequently?

‘Der, die, das’. The definite article, which every learner of German knows well, takes first place, followed by ‘in’ and ‘und’.

Which word has the most letters?

In Duden it is: ‘Aufmerksamkeitsdefizit-Hyperaktivitätsstörung’ with 44 letters.

Why is there an International Mother Language Day?

The United Nations chose 21 February as International Mother Language Day, because almost half of the 6,000 languages around the world are threatened with extinction. German is not one of them, because it is one of the ten most widely spoken languages. But in Germany there are regional languages that are spoken by less and less people: North Frisian and Satar Frisian are particularly at risk according to the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.


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Where can people learn German?

For example, at one of the 159 Goethe Institutes in 98 countries, or at one of the 2,000 schools in the global network of Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH). There are also online opportunities offered by Deutsche Welle, the Goethe-Institut or Deutsch-Uni online.