German on Mother Language Day

Feb 21, 2013
  • To mark International Mother Language Day, we reveal the most popular German words abroad, plus a record-holder and some interesting facts.

The 2012 "Wort des Jahres" (Word of the Year) was "Rettungsroutine" (salvation routine). Enlarge image The 2012 "Wort des Jahres" (Word of the Year) was "Rettungsroutine" (salvation routine). (© picture-alliance/dpa) German is the native tongue of more than 100 million people in the European Union, that is to say around 20 percent of the EU's population. Worldwide, some 14.5 million people speak German as a foreign language. In emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India, we are seeing growing interest in German. It is above all the country's economic power, political weight and leading position in key technologies which contribute to the significance of German. The German language plays an important role on the Internet: in the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, for instance, the German page ranks second only to the English version, offering around a million articles.

In addition to the many regional dialects that are to be found across Germany, there are a number of sociolects in the German language. In urban districts with a high immigrant population in particular, young people can be heard speaking "Kiezdeutsch", a kind of local slang. Speakers of Kiezdeutsch create new sentence structures and like to leave words out. There are, after all, quite a few – contemporary German is estimated to contain 500,000 words. The core vocabulary of an adult German is roughly 50,000 to 70,000 words. Incidentally, the "E" is the most common letter in the German language.

Of course, German also has a number of idiosyncracies. The most prominent must be the language's compound nouns: with no fewer than 80 letters, the word "Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitäten-hauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft" even made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest published word in the German language.

  • "The Most Beautiful German Word," an international competition initiated by the German Language Council and the Goethe-Institut, seeks out the world's favorite German words: "Habseligkeiten" – meaning belongings – is considered to be the most popular German word abroad, followed by "Geborgenheit," which means security, or the feeling of being safe, "lieben," which is the verb "to love," "Augenblick," a moment, and "Rhabarbermarmelade" – rhubarb jam.
  • International Mother Language Day was observed on February 21, 2013

What's Your Favorite Word of the Week?

The "Word of the Week" feature, introduced by the German Information Center USA at the German Embassy in Washington in January 2011 and published at and in The Week in Germany (TWIG) ever since, highlights a different German word every Friday.

Among the personal favorites of editors that have appeared so far in the "Word of the Week" category are the following words:


Deutsche Sprache


Word of the Week

Word of the Week

Every Friday, and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

A New Guide to German Language and Education

Goethe-Schiller Archive reopened

To kick off 2013, presents a redesigned guide for Americans interested in German language and education, serving four user-groups: German-learners, German teachers, those interested in studying in Germany, and those interested in exchange programs to Germany.

do Deutsch

Do Deutsch

The German language opens up a wealth of opportunities. Learn why you should "just add German" here on our do Deutsch pages.