Attractive language

The German language is the most frequently spoken mother tongue in the European Union
The German language is the most frequently spoken mother tongue in the European Union Goethe-Institut/Anastasia Tsayder/dpa
German is the most widely spoken native language in the European Union. Interest in learning German is rising rapidly in many countries.

German is one of the 15 or so Germanic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family. About 130 million people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Liechtenstein and South Tyrol (Italy) speak German natively or as a regularly used second language. It is therefore the most widely spoken native language in the EU and one of the ten most widely spoken languages. The 2015 survey on ‘German as a foreign language worldwide’ refers to a total of 15.4 million people currently learning German as a second language. The number of people globally who actually speak German as a foreign language can only be roughly estimated at about 100 million.

dpa/Waltraud Grubitzsch

One reason why German’s importance is disproportionally high relative to the number of people speaking it stems from the country’s economic strength, which makes the language very desirable. This desirability is helping drive an active policy of spreading the German language: by supporting language teaching facilities in Germany and abroad; providing scholarships or making academic offers to mobile international students. It is also clear from the significantly increasing interest in German, especially in the rising powers of China, India and Brazil as well as in other fast-growing areas of the Asian continent, where in places demand has quadrupled since 2010.

Important institutions for German learning include the 140 German schools outside 
Germany and the almost 2,000 schools that lay emphasis on German lessons, which 
are included in the Federal Foreign Office’s initiative, Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH). In 2014, around 228,000 people took language courses at the Goethe-Institut, which offers German as a foreign language and language tests in more than 90 countries. Around 1.3 million people learn German at universities in 108 countries.

By contrast, the relevance of German as a language of international scholarship is essentially declining. The global share of art­icles in German in scientific publications forms only one Per cent in bibliographic ­databases. German enjoys greater import­ance as a language of scholarship in the 
humanities and social sciences. Non-German-speaking scholars only very rarely publish in German, whereas German-speaking scholars by contrast publish extensively in English, particularly in the sciences. On the Internet, however, the German language plays an important role. With regard to the most used languages there, based on Websites German was in third place in 2015, a long way behind English, but only just behind Russian.

Globalisation is exerting pressure on all international languages, and this is serving to appreciably further strengthen the position of English as the world language. But German will nonetheless remain an important international language.

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