German speaking countries

German written language consists of two variations:

Deutsch writing

  • Standard German (High German)
  • Swiss German

German speaking countries:

  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Liechtenstein
  • Central and Eastern Switzerland
  • South Tirol (Italy)
  • Other significant populations of German speakers using their own dialect in northern Italy, eastern France (Alsace and parts of Lorraine), as well as parts of Belgium and Luxembourg. German is the native tongue of the majority of people in the European Union.

Written German

Additions to Latin Alphabet: ß

Swiss German uses ss instead of ß

German uses a capital letter for the noun.

In German a point is used in place of a comma; eg: 27,000 is 27.000 in German.

Traditionally German was written in a Gothic style known as "Fraktur", which dates from the 14th century. In the period following World War II, however, Fraktur was largely superseded by the Roman characters used throughout the rest of Western Europe.

Umlaute (German accents)

To type accents with ALT codes, hold down the ALT key, then on the numeric keypad type the three or four digits listed here. However not with laptops, ALT codes only work with the numeric keypad, NOT the row of numbers across the top of your keyboard, as on laptops.

a with diaeresis accent
   ä  ALT + 132    Ä  ALT + 142

o with diaeresis accent
   ö  ALT + 148    Ö  ALT + 153

e with grave accent
   è  ALT + 138    È  ALT + 0200

u with diaeresis accent
   ü  ALT + 129    Ü  ALT + 154

ß with sharp s - ess-zed
   ß  ALT + 225

German Alphabet

   a      A  

   b      B  

   c      C  

   d      D  

   e      E  

   f      F  

   g      G  

   h      H  

   i      I  

   j      J  

   k      K  

   l      L  

   m      M  

   n      N  

   o      O  

   p      P  

   q      Q  

   r      R  

   s      S  

   t      T  

   u      U  

   v      V  

   w      W  

   x      X  

   y      Y  

   z      Z  

Standard German

Standard German or 'High' German (Hochdeutsch) is the main written form used everyday with slight differences in written Swiss German.

Standard German is used in the following countries and regions:

  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Luxembourg

GermanyIf you are needing a translation for German speakers in general (eg: for a website), then Standard German is used. If the text is specifically for Switzerland (Central & Eastern) or Lichstenstein then you must use Swiss German. The difference between the two written languages is very slight (although very different and varied when spoken).




Swiss German (Alemannisch)

Swiss GermanThe map to the right shows the German speaking part of Switzerland (Central & Eastern Switzerland). For more information on the languages spoken in Switzerland, click on the map

In written German all nouns begin with a capital letter. The Umlaute (ä, ö, ü) can be written as ae, oe, ue, when the usual version can't be typed, eg: Graubünden can be written as Graubuenden.

In the last 20 years a dictionary laying down agreed spellings has been compiled, and it's still open to some controversy: ask a Swiss person to write something in Swiss-German and they'll probably struggle to think of how to spell the words.

Written Swiss German

Examples of the differences between Written Swiss German and standard German

In Swiss German ss is used instead of ß

There are many words that are only used in Swiss German, e.g.

   Estrich - Dachboden (attic)
   Rahm - Sahne (cream)
   Detailhandel - Einzelhandel (retail)
   Finken - Hausschuhe (slippers)
   Götti - Pate (godfather)

Many words have been taken over from French, e.g.

   Coiffeur - Friseur (hairdresser)
   Confiserie - Feinbäckerei (confectionery)
   Pralinés - Pralinen (chocolates)
   Mercerie - Kurzwaren (haberdashery)
   Poulet - Hähnchen (chicken)

Some words have different spellings, e.g.

   Sauce - Soße, also Sauce
   Crème/Creme - Krem, also Creme
   Résumé - Resümee
   Parkieren - parken (to park)

In Standard German there are words than can end in -ation and -ierung (Spezifikation/Spezifizierung), but some have only -ierung in Standard German, whereas Swiss German has both, e.g.

Reservation or Reservierung - only Reservierung

Renovation or Renovierung - only Renovierung

different gender:

der or das Radio (m. or n.) - das Radio (only n. in Standard German)

More and more English words are adopted, but it seems that the German speaking Swiss are even more keen on English/American words than the Germans!

There are so many suble difference and nuances which are difficult or impossible to define. But one usually knows whether something has been written in Swiss German (CH) or not.

Spoken Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch)

Spoken Swiss-German (two-thirds of the Swiss population) is very different from the German spoken in Germany or Austria and consists of -

numerous dialects which vary between regions and cantons.

Selected dictionaries for dialects are available, e.g. for Bernese or Basel dialects. Writing in dialects is mainly used in literature or personal statements, e.g. greetings to a friend. It is then written in a more or less phonetic way.

German-speaking Swiss typically use dialect at home, at work, in shops, etc., with local radio and TV programs frequently being in dialect as well. Standard German is used in school, in newspapers and magazines, in international business, and for broadcasts such as national news and imported TV shows.

Written Austrian German ( )

Austrians write Standard German and use the same spelling as the Germans.

The differences are mainly in vocabulary and here predominantly in the fields of law and of food. Austrians know most Standard German versions of the Austrian term for a food item (e.g. AT Kren vs. DE Meerrettich for horseradish, Marille vs. Aprikose for apricot) but not necessarily for the equivalent legal term used in Germany (e.g. AT Lokalaugenschein vs. DE Lokaltermin for local inspection). Austrians prefer to use the present perfect tense over the simple past compared to how a German would recount an event. For the verbs stehen and sitzen, Germans form the present perfect tense with haben. Austrians distinguish between "er hat gestanden" (he confessed) and "er ist gestanden" (he stood); "er hat gesessen" (he spent some time in jail) and "er ist gesessen" (he sat). For a non-Austrian, however, Austrians would make allowances and not expect them to be aware of this difference.

Spoken Austrian German ( )

Spoken Austrian differs considerably from east to west within Austria and even more from spoken German north of Bavaria. On the whole it is less flat than Standard German, with large deviations from Standard German in the vowels and a very guttural pronounciation in the Austrian west.

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German Translation sample:

Alle Menschen sind frei und gleich an Wrde und Rechten geboren. Sie sind mit Vernunft und Gewissen begabt und sollen einander im Geist der Brderlichkeit begegnen.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

German Speaking countries

Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland.

Indo-European Language group

European language groups

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic

Difficulty in learning German as a native English speaker

The Defense Language Institute categorizes German as relatively difficult (level 2, of 4 levels)

Difficulty in learning French as a native English speaker

The Defense Language Institute categorizes French as relatively easy (level 1, of 4 levels)

German letter writing samples

  • Letter (formal)
  • Letter (informal)

German Business Etiquette

Courtesy and a degree of formality are the most important aspects.

  • Meeting

If you do not speak German, be careful of addressing a person in English. While Germans can speak very good English, some may well feel offended by the presumption.

Germans usually prefer third-party introductions whenever possible.

Praising is not part of German business protocol and will often cause embarrassment.

Football, recent holidays, work and beer are good conversation topics.

  • Eating

German etiquette regarding who should pay the bill at the end of a meal is quite peculiar. The person who extends the invitation will be the person who pays. They do not expect you at all to fight for the bill. Your persistence will result in a serious offence.

After returning home, remember to send a hand-written card to your hosts for their invitation (dinner parties).

For restaurants and taxis, a tip of 10% or slightly less will be sufficient

  • Negotiation

Punctuality in German business culture is sacred.

The best time to schedule a business appointment is between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm or between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm. Avoid scheduling appointments on Friday afternoon, as some offices will close by 2:00 pm or 3:00 pm on Fridays.

Dress in corporate business is formal, dark and conservative for both men and women. Dress codes in the IT sector are more casual.

Germans will arrive at the meeting well informed, and expect the same from you.

Unlike North Americans, Australians and Spaniards, which are typically "high risk-taking" cultures, German businesspeople tend to be traditionally cautious to new ideas and concepts.

When you are preparing promotional material, be aware that German executives are not impressed by glitzy advertising, illustrations or memorable slogans.

  • Aversion to Risk

The emphasis on conformity combined with a fear of the unknown makes Germans very apprehensive about risk. Security is guaranteed through risk analysis.

German language learning links

Translation services company offering German Website translation and advice on text expansion or contraction and translating all the pages or just the main pages.

Swiss German speaking guide giving useful tips on where and when Swiss German is spoken over standard High German. Also it details the differences in pronounciation.

Learning German for beginners from the BBC, which is free and good.