You might be surprised to hear that German is in fact the most spoken language in the European Union with approximately 100 million native speakers. It also has a further 30 million speakers who use is as their second language. Over recent years Germany has become the economic powerhouse of Europe. Millions of immigrants and expats have flocked to Germany in search of work and economic prosperity. Many of whom have had to learn German in order to find a job and assimilate into German culture.
Germans are widely considered to have a high level of foreign language proficiency. Some 67% of the German population is said to be proficient in at least one foreign language. An additional 27% speaking two. Given that Germany is such a multilingual nation, what languages do they actually speak there?
English is the Lingua Franca of the western world. It’s the language of international business and much of western media. It comes as no surprise then that some 56% of the population is able to speak it. English is widely taught in schools across Germany from a young age. Most of the younger generation have a reasonable level of English proficiency when leaving school. Thus allowing them to work and travel with relative ease.
English is ever present in many of the larger German cities such as Berlin and Munich. Full of expats, and international citizens, you won’t have to go far to hear English being spoken. Most public transport in the cities will also play an announcement in English and most Cafés and restaurants will have waitresses and waiters who can deal with English speaking customers.
If you’re an English speaker, you’ll have little to no trouble in the larger cities.
Some 15% of the German population is said to be able to speak French. A close neighbour of Germany, much of European commerce and business is conducted between the two countries. French is also taught widely in German schools with much of the population taking French lessons at some point in their early years. This is due to it’s global influence and also it’s importance in the European Union. France is also a very popular travel destination for German tourists with a whopping 3+ million of them spending their time in the country every year. Many French will also come to work in the larger German cities where quality of life is high and job prospects are numerous.
The Russian speaking population is said to be around 5% in the country. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many Russians fled to Germany as well as other European countries to seek a better life. However, the majority of them are actually German nationals. Ethnic Germans who came from the former Soviet Union. Many of whom had moved to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan when free movement was possible in the USSR. Upon it’s collapse many of these individuals returned. The descendants of settlers from German speaking Central Europe. Almost two million of them came back to Germany in the 1990s.
It is estimated that the Turkish population in Germany is over 3 million people. Many of whom came to Germany as labour migrants in the 60’s and 70’s and decided to stay. The actual Turkish speaking population is said to be even greater due to the influx of Turkish speaking communities from other countries such as Macedonia, Cyprus and Romania, as well as other areas of southeastern Europe. Most recently, due to conflicts in both Syria and Iraq, Germany has offered asylum to large amounts of immigrants fleeing their war torn countries, many of whom are Turkish speakers.
German also has quite a few minority languages in addition to the four mentioned above.
One such language is Sorbian, with both Upper and Lower forms, it’s spoken by only 0.09% of the population in small communities in the east of Germany, namely Saxony and Brandenburg. It’s currently at quite a high risk of extinction due to the many of the native speakers being elderly.
Then we also have North Frisian. Spoken in Nordfriesland by around 10,500 people. It itself is comprised of 10 dialects.
Low German, spoken in the North of the country, is a west Germanic language used by some 5 million people. This is quite a staggering amount when you compare it to the population of some European countries.