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Learn German Vocabulary

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About the German Language

The German language has been spoken and written for many centuries, and is nowadays used as a first language by millions of people across Europe. Unlike some more recently developed languages such as English, German has retained a complex formal structure and grammar. However, it’s not surprising that, in their normal written and spoken language, modern Germans use turns of phrase which might not have been common in past centuries, as the language is still developing all the time. German vocabulary adapts and changes to new circumstances such as modern technology and methods of communication.

There is sometimes a big difference between the way people speak to their friends and family, and the way they write and speak in formal situations, such as the workplace.
Of course, this is true for all languages and in all countries, but in Germany, people attach particular importance to using the appropriate kind of language in each setting. This is just one of the reasons why it is important to learn the language from someone who understands all its variations; a native speaker. This is also the only way to ensure that the language being learned is up-to-date and appropriate.

German has another characteristic which can cause problems for learners; German sentences will often include several subordinate clauses (“Nebensätzen”), which can make the meaning of the whole a little obscure at first. This structure sometimes leads to very long sentences, though fortunately people rarely speak this way in everyday conversations. Learning the language from a German native speaker is a good way to understand the differences between written and spoken German.

How Many Words Do Germans Use?

It’s impossible to count the number or words in any language accurately, because of alternative forms such as plurals and word endings. However, most German dictionaries list about 75,000 words. German vocabulary mostly derives from the language’s ancient roots, with a few more recent borrowings from Latin, French, and English.

It has been estimated that most German speakers regularly use about three thousand words, though people who speak and write the language in a more specialized way, such as medical practitioners and scientists, will naturally employ many more. However, the difference of over 70,000 words demonstrates that there is a large proportion of the German vocabulary which is used only occasionally. The total size of the German vocabulary is especially difficult to estimate, because of the way German nouns can be run together to form long compound words. These are sometimes difficult for beginners, but can be useful and even fun once they are understood.

How Slang Is Used In German

The modern German vocabulary includes plenty of words which only occur in informal speech. Although slang has no place in any kind of official writing, students need to know some of the words which they will encounter every day in social situations, or when watching television drama, for example. Learning from a native speaker is the best way to ensure that the informal vocabulary is current, and that appropriate usage is understood.

Here are some examples of everyday informal language:

German word Meaning Example of use Translation
fett very good, terrific Das ist aber fett! That’s great!
platt tired Ich bin platt! I’m shattered!
Kumpel bro Was geht ab, Kumpel? What’s up, bro?
gebongt agreed Treffen wir uns morgen um zwei? – Ok, ist gebongt. How about meeting at 2pm tomorrow? – OK, that’s fine.
abhängen to hang out Lass‘ uns heute einen Film schauen und abhängen. Let’s watch a movie and hang out.
schnuppe unimportant Das ist mir schnuppe. I don’t care.
Kohle money, dosh Die Kohle zum Fenster rausschmeißen. Throwing money away.
blaumachen pretend to be ill Ich mache heute blau. I’m pulling a sickie today.
Zoff trouble, aggro Mach hier keinen Zoff! Don’t try that here!
durchgeknallt crazy Sie ist völlig durchgeknallt. She is totally crazy.
She is off her rocker.