German may not be among the world's most widely spoken languages, unlike its counterparts such as Spanish, French, or Portuguese, but it remains the mother tongue of over 130 million people globally. If you're embarking on the journey of learning German, you might be curious to discover where this language finds its voice around the world. Perhaps you're even contemplating a future trip where you can put your language skills to the test. While destinations like Berlin or Munich may immediately come to mind for German-speaking experiences, there are intriguing options that may have eluded your radar until now.
Have you ever heard of the picturesque mountainous province of South Tyrol in Italy? Or the charmingly petite nation of Liechtenstein, counted among the world's tiniest countries? Surprisingly, these are also regions where the German language thrives, offering unique travel opportunities.
In this guide, we will unveil some hidden treasures within German-speaking territories, shed light on U.S. states boasting significant German-speaking households, and delve into fascinating historical insights that illuminate why the German language didn't spread as widely as some of its European counterparts.
What is the official language of Germany?
The official language of Germany is indeed German, and it is spoken by over 95% of the population. However, it's worth noting that there are also officially recognized minority languages in the country.
For instance, the West Slavic language Sorbian is spoken by 0.09% of Germans in the eastern part of the country. In the northern region of North Frisia, North Frisian is spoken by a very small group, approximately 0.01% of the population. Additionally, in the northernmost part of Germany, there is a minority group of around 0.06% who speak Danish, which is not surprising as languages often overlap in border regions between countries.
Lastly, the minority groups of Sinti and Roma speak Romani, and they are dispersed across the entire country, constituting about 0.1% of Germany's population. These recognized minority languages reflect the linguistic diversity present in Germany.
How many German-speaking countries are there in the world?
The most widely recognized German-speaking countries are Germany and Austria, both of which have German as their exclusive official language. Austria boasts renowned cities like Vienna and Salzburg and is a favored destination for skiing enthusiasts, with the Alps encompassing more than half of its territory.
Another German-speaking nation that beckons visitors, known not only for its stunning landscapes but also its world-class chocolate, is Switzerland. Switzerland also has two additional official languages, French and Italian.
Belgium, home to the capital and political hub of the European Union, Brussels, presents a unique blend of German, French, and Dutch speakers.
While the smaller countries of Luxembourg and Liechtenstein might not be as familiar to some, they also include German as one of their national languages and offer picturesque green landscapes dotted with mountain-top castles, ensuring an unforgettable visit.
In addition to these, there are various other German-speaking regions, such as South Tyrol in Italy, where 61% of the population speaks German. However, these aforementioned six countries are officially recognized as German-speaking nations.
List of German-speaking countries
We are all aware that German is the primary language in Germany, but how many of these countries did you consider when thinking about German-speaking nations?
A brief history of linguistic imperialism
The straightforward answer lies in timing. When most European countries were establishing their colonies, Germany had yet to become a nation-state. The region we now know as Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire, a loosely organized collection of states rife with internal conflicts.
While formidable maritime empires like England were dispatching ships to distant shores, disseminating the English language across the globe, Germany was embroiled in a process of self-definition and was grappling with the delineation of its own territorial boundaries.
The German nation-state didn't coalesce until 1871, and shortly thereafter, it made attempts to colonize previously uncolonized regions. These efforts extended to parts of what is now Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Namibia in West Africa, and Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania in East Africa, as well as a handful of Pacific islands, including Papua New Guinea and Samoa.
However, German colonial ambitions were abruptly curtailed in 1914 when Germany lost World War I, leading to the confiscation of its few colonial possessions by the victorious powers.
As a result, German-speaking countries are not commonly found in regions like South America or Africa today, in contrast to the prevalence of Spanish and French-speaking nations.
Spreading languages today
Throughout history, Germany remained largely confined to Central Europe, and in retrospect, this may be seen as a positive outcome. The spread of languages should not be driven solely by shifts in political power dynamics. Instead, languages should flourish because individuals develop a genuine interest in them, choosing to learn them for various reasons such as business, travel, or simply the enjoyment of the learning process. Fortunately, this is precisely what's happening in the modern era.
In today's interconnected world, one can easily access resources online to learn from a vast array of over 50 languages, ranging from Haitian Creole to Vietnamese. This democratization of language learning allows for the preservation and promotion of even lesser-known languages.
If you have an affinity for German culture, German-speaking people, and German-speaking countries, you may find our German blog to be an invaluable, free resource for expanding your German vocabulary.
And for those seeking a more immersive and tailored language learning experience, look no further than Berlitz Thailand. As a trusted partner in language education, Berlitz offers a platform for connecting with native speakers and diving deep into the German language and culture. Discover the joy of learning and connecting through language with Berlitz Thailand today.