German (Deutsch) is the official and main language of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It is also an official language of Belgium and Luxembourg and spoken as a regional language in Namibia. Furthermore, German (Standard German and/or dialect) is spoken in the French regions of Alsace (German: Elsass) and Lorraine (German: Lothringen), in the northern Italian province of South Tyrol (German: Südtirol, Italian: Alto Adige or Sudtirolo), and in a southern part of Denmark (South Jutland; German: Südschleswig). Standard German (Standarddeutsch) is also generally spoken by many as a second language in much of East and Central Europe. Small groups of native German speakers can be found in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. This is due to the historical influence of Austria - the former Austrian Empire, and Germany over the region in addition to the radical border changes put into place in Europe after WWI and WWII. Furthermore, small isolated communities can be found in Russia, the Central Asian Republics, Australia, South Africa and in North and South America.
German grammar retains many conjugations and declensions from proto-Germanic, which have been lost in English and other Germanic languages. This means that some aspects of it will be difficult to master, though speakers of Icelandic will find many elements of German grammar familiar.
In common with many other European languages, German has two "you" verb forms which denote the relationship the speaker has to someone else. To express familiarity, one uses the du form; for formality, the Sie form. As a general rule the Sie form is used when one might address someone as "Madam" or "Sir". If on first name terms, one uses the du form. Grammatically, the Sie form takes the 3rd person plural ending.
There are 3 different noun genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. The article of a noun depends on the gender: der (m), die (f) and das (n). Unlike in English, inanimate objects frequently have a different gender than neuter assigned to them, often arbitrarily; for example, Tür (door) is female, while Tor (gate) is neuter. However, you will generally be understood if you use the wrong gender as there are only a few (obscure) nouns which mean different things depending on gender, and their correct meaning will always be clear from the context. People may correct you, however, in order to help you to learn German.
Furthermore, German nouns are declined. There are four grammatical cases: nominative (subject), accusative (direct object), genitive (possessive), and dative (indirect object). Each varies depending on the noun's gender and whether it is singular or plural.
An orthographic peculiarity is that all nouns, even those in the middle of a sentence, begin with a capital letter.
There are very strong accentual and dialectic differences in German-speaking countries. A German from the north, where the standard version of the language is most prevalent, may have a hard time understanding a southerner's pronunciation. Standard German is universally known and taught, although not everyone speaks it well. Generally, the further south one travels, the more people speak dialect natively. The Main River serves as a rough "border" between the northern and southern German speaking cultural worlds. In Switzerland, everyone speaks a dialect natively, and it's even often used in the media. Be advised that in rural areas of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Austria, South Tyrol and Switzerland, elders speak the language with a sing-songy accent or swallowing of vowels and consonants. In Alsace many might prefer to speak French with outsiders, mostly as a result of the stigmatisation of German after World War II (and regional languages in general) by the French government. This pattern is begging to reverse with a Alsatian culture revival movement underway! However, the majority of younger people do not use standard German as an everyday language at all and therefore rarely ever reaches native level fluency. It is, however, taught at school and sometimes kindergarten from an early age on.
People from Switzerland or Baden could try speaking their dialect since they all belong to the Alemannic family.
Luxembourg is an interesting case where German serves an official language, is taught in the school system and thus nearly all Luxembourgers are fluent in German. However, the preferred language of everyday life there is more likely to be either Luxembourgish or French.
In the north of Germany, some people speak a related language called Plattdüütsch or Low German ("Plattdeutsch" in German). It is very closely related to Dutch and mainland Scandinavian languages. Nearly all Platt speakers also speak German.
The German spoken in Switzerland is referred to as Schwiizertüütsch. There are various varieties of Swiss German depending on the region and it is spoken natively by all Swiss-Germans, and widely used in the media (not news and printed formats, though). Dialects are not usually used in the media in Germany, Austria or Liechtenstein except for regional programming. Thus, this is rare in the German speaking world, as "Standarddeutsch" is more or less the sole language of media outside Switzerland. Nevertheless, all German-speaking Swiss learn standard German in school, so unless approaching rural elders, you'll be fine with standard German. The German dialects spoken in Vorarlberg (Austria), Baden-Württemberg (Germany) and Alsace (France) are Alemannic, as is Swiss German.
In the Italian South Tyrol, like in most of Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and southern Germany, most people speak a local dialect. However, standard German and Italian are both taught in the schools. The German spoken in South Tyrol is very similar to that of neighboring Austria and Bavaria to the north.
like 'u' in "cup", 'a' in "target". In Austria, it sounds more like "au" in "Paul".
like 'e' in "ten", or 'e' in "emotion". Very often in the spoken language and in colloquial writing it tends to be replaced by an apostrophe when found in the middle of a word. For instance: Gewehr (rifle) becomes G'wehr; gesehen (to have seen) becomes g'seh'n.
like 'i' in "bingo", or 'i' in "hit". In southern dialects, especially in Austria, it tends to be pronounced like an "ee" in "seen"
like 'oo' in "door", like 'o' in "mole"
like 'ou' in "you"
(Umlaut, transcribed as 'ae') like 'e' in "ten", 'a' in "band"
(Umlaut, transcribed as 'oe') like 'i' in "Sir" (not a sound in English)
(Umlaut, transcribed as 'ue') like 'ew' in "EWWW (disgust)"
same as 'ü', but also consonant "j" in words of foreign origin ("Yacht")
Consonants are pronounced quite strongly (except perhaps the 'r').
like 'b' in "bed"
like 'ts' in "bits" before 'i' and 'e'; like 'k' in "kid" else
like 'd' in "dog"
like 'ph' in "phone"
like 'g' in "go" (never as in "giraffe")
like 'h' in "help"
like 'y' in "yoga"
like 'c' in "cat"
like 'l' in "love"
like 'm' in "mother"
like 'n' in "nice"
like 'p' in "pig"
like 'q' in "quest" (always with "u")
like 'r' in "arm", like 'r' in "feather". Terminal Rs are almost silent but with the hit of an "r" sound. Rs beginning a word or syllable are pronounced from the back of the throat, almost as in French. In northern as well as southern Germany (Bavaria), Austria and in Switzerland, the "r" is rolled similar to as in Spanish in all positions except the initial.
like 'z' in "haze"
like 't' in "top"
like 'f' in "father", or like "v" in "victory"
like 'v' in "victory", never like 'wh' in "whisky"
Lass / Lassen Sie mich in Ruhe . (LAHS(-un zee) meesh een ROO-uh)
Don't touch me!
Fass / Fassen Sie mich nicht an! (FAHS(-un zee) meesh neekht AHN!)
I'll call the police.
Ich rufe die Polizei. (eesh ROO-fuh dee poh-lee-TSIGH)
Halt! Ein Dieb! (HAHLT! ighn DEEB!)
I need your help.
Ich brauche deine/Ihre Hilfe. (eesh BROW-khuh DIGH-nuh/EE-ruh HEEL-fuh)
It's an emergency.
Das ist ein Notfall. (dahs eest ighn NOHT-fahl)
Ich habe mich verirrt. (eesh HAH-buh meesh fer-EERT)
I lost my bag.
Ich habe meine Tasche verloren. (eesh HAH-buh migh-nuh TAH-shuh fer-LOH-run)
I lost my wallet.
Ich habe mein Portemonnaie verloren. (outdated) (eesh HAH-buh mighn port-moh-NEH fer-LOH-run) Note: Portemonnaie is of French origin, but usual in German. better: Ich habe meinen Geldbeutel verloren. (eesh HAH-buh mighn geh-ld-boy-tehl fer-LOH-run)
Ich bin krank. (eesh been krahnk)
I've been injured.
Ich bin verletzt. (eesh been fer-LETST)
I need a doctor.
Ich brauche einen Arzt. (eesh BROW-khuh IGH-nuh ARTST)
Can I use your phone?
Kann ich dein/Ihr Telefon benutzen? (kahn eesh dighn/eer tay-lay-FOHN buh-NOOT-sun?)
Can I use your mobile?
Kann ich dein/Ihr Handy benutzen? (kahn eesh dighn/eer handy buh-NOOT-sun?)
In German, the roles of dot and comma are swapped compared to their English counterparts.
The grouping separator in big numbers is a dot (.), not a comma(,); the separator
between decimal fractions and integer is a comma (,), not a dot (.).
E.g.: 1,000 in English is 1.000 in German; 3.14159 in English is 3,14159 in German.
Note that numbers above twenty are said "backwards". Twenty-one (einundzwanzig) is literally spoken as "one-and-twenty". This takes a bit of getting used to, especially in higher regions. Eg. 53426 (dreiundfünfzigtausendvierhundertsechsundzwanzig) is spoken as "three-and-fifty-thousand-four-hundred-six-and-twenty".
eine Million (igh-nuh mill-YOHN)
eine Milliarde (igh-nuh mill-YAR-duh) Note the difference to American English numbers, often mistranslated!
Ein Tisch für eine Person/zwei Personen, bitte. (ighn TISH fuur IGHN-uh payr-ZOHN/TSVIGH payr-ZOHN-nen, BIT-tuh)
Can I look at the menu, please?
Ich hätte gerne die Speisekarte. (ikh HET-tuh GAYR-nuh dee SHPIGH-zuh-kahr-tuh)
Is there a house specialty?
Gibt es eine Spezialität des Hauses? (gipt ess igh-nuh shpeh-tsyah-lee-TAYT dess HOW-zess?)
Is there a local specialty?
Gibt es eine Spezialität aus dieser Gegend? (gipt ess igh-nuh shpeh-tsyah-lee-TAYT owss DEE-zer GAY-gent?)
I'm a vegetarian.
Ich bin Vegetarier. (ikh bin vay-gay-TAH-ree-er)
I don't eat pork.
Ich esse kein Schweinefleisch. (ikh ESS-uh kign SHVIGN-uh-flighsh)
I only eat kosher food.
Ich esse nur koscher. (ikh ESS-uh noor KOH-sher)
Can you make it "lite", please? (less oil/butter/lard)
Könnten Sie es bitte nicht so fett machen? (KOON-ten zee ess BIT-tuh nikht zo fett MAHKH-en?)
Tagesessen (TAHG-ess-ess-en) / Menü (meh-NUU)
Note: While "Tagesessen" should be used in pubs and taverns, "Menü" is the correct word in classic restaurants.
Without, eg. I would like spaghetti without cheese
Ich möchte die Spaghetti, ohne Käse (Ikh merkhte dee schpagetti, ohna kayze), "Ohne" being the key word here.
à la carte
a la carte (ah lah KAHRT)
Abendessen or Abendbrot (AH-bent-ess-en or AH-bent-broht)
Note: "Abendbrot" is mainly used in rural areas. Most Germans, even the non-English speaking, understand dinner as well.
I would like _____.
Ich möchte _____. (ikh MERKH-tuh)
I would like a dish containing ____
Ich möchte etwas mit ____ (ikh MOOKH-tuh ett-vahss mit _____)
Literally means "I want something with ____"
sausage (Will also be heard as a way to say whatever)
(frisches) Gemüse ([FRISH-ess] guh-MUU-zuh)
(frisches) Obst ([FRISH-ess] OWPST)
May I have a glass of _____?
Könnte ich ein Glas _____ haben? (KOON-tuh ikh ighn glahss _____ HAH-ben?)
May I have a cup of _____?
Könnte ich eine Tasse _____ haben? (KOON-tuh ikh IGH-nuh TAH-suh _____ HAH-ben?)
May I have a bottle of _____?
Könnte ich eine Flasche _____ haben? (KOON-tuh ikh IGH-nuh FLAH-shuh _____ HAH-ben?)
Mineralwasser or Sprudel(-wasser) (mee-ne-RAHL-wah-ser or SHPROO-del-[wah-ser])
Note: Tap water is quite uncommon in German restaurants.
Bier (beer) Note: At least in Germany and Austria, you better say what kind of beer you want. There are: Export (EKS-port), known as 'Helles' (HELL-as) in Bavaria and as 'Lager' (LAH-ger) in Switzerland; Pils (pilss); Hefeweizen (HAY-fuh-vigh-tsen), known as 'Weißbier' (VIGHSS-beer) in Bavaria; dunkles Hefeweizen (DOONK-less HAY-fuh-vigh-tsen); Alt (ahlt) in the Düsseldorf region; Kölsch (koolsh) in Cologne and probably most of the other Rhineland; Bockbier (BOCK-beer) sometimes in the South of Germany. If you only say beer, you will get a Pils on most cases.
May I have some _____?
Kann ich etwas _____ haben? (kahn ikh ET-vahss _____ HAH-ben?)
Excuse me, waiter! (getting attention of server)
Ich bin fertig. (ikh bin FAYR-tikh)
It was delicious.
Es war hervorragend. (ess vahr hayr-FOR-rah-gent)
Please clear the plates.
Würden Sie bitte abräumen? (VUUR-den zee BIT-tuh ahb-ROY-men?)