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The German Language

German is the language with the largest number of native speakers in the European Union. It is the native language for 90 million people in Europe – primarily in the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria and Switzerland and surrounding areas – and 50 million learn it as their foreign language of choice. It was the language spoken by Albert Einstein, Ludwig van Beethoven, Rosa Luxemburg, and Käthe Kollwitz.

Mark Twain tried to learn the language, and put up a courageous battle. One of his difficulties with the language was the length of words, such as 'Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen' or 'Waffenstillstandsunterhandlungen'. This is what Mark Twain said: "I would do away with those great long compounded words; or require the speaker to deliver them in sections, with intermissions for refreshments."

German is an old language; it has existed in some form for over a thousand years. Although there has been a standard form for 200 years, it is not immune from change. It is very much alive and reflects the culture of those that speak it. Teens in Germany speak a very different German than the German one typically learns in college. Expressions such as "Hast du Problem oder was?", originally coined by immigrant workers, have been appropriated by German youth and considered 'echt grell' (totally cool) today.

High (standard) German is primarily spoken in the media and on stage. Everywhere else, regional variations reign. The German spoken in Bavaria is very different from the German in Hamburg or Dresden. The language is also deeply affected by English borrowings, especially in those areas where no German terminology exists, such as in technology, business or economics.

German is a language in flux. Words that were fashionable thirty years ago now sound stale and dated. So the German language lives. It just barely survived a complete spelling overhaul that is still being implemented. In spite of its rapidly changing form, good style, grammar, and spelling will never go out of style. That is what we aim to teach our students.