Where in the world are more people learning German?

The number of people learning German across the world is increasing, particularly in neighbouring countries, as well as in Africa and Asia.

Where in the world are more people learning German?
More people are learning German. Photo: DPA

Every five years the German Foreign Office aims to find how many people are learning German in classrooms and universities across the world.

In the latest “German as a Foreign Language” study, researchers found that interest in learning Deutsch is growing, particularly in Africa and Asia.

The study, published on Thursday by the Federal Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institut, Deutsche Welle, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Central Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA), found the number of schools with German lessons has risen from 95,000 in 2015 to about 106,000 in 2020.

READ ALSO: German is the world's fourth most popular language

At universities, 1.27 million students are currently learning German. Compared to 2015, there is a decrease of about 60,000.

It means German as a foreign language is on the timetable for more than 15.4 million people across the globe. Overall it's a slight increase from 2015 – but the number of German learners peaked in 2000 when 20.1 million were learning the language.

However, these figures are all the tip of the iceberg because the research does not include people who are learning the language on their own.

Where are people learning German?

Not surprisingly, Europe has the highest number of German learners, with 11.2 million. The study notes an increase of 18 percent to 1.185 million for the neighbouring countries Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and France.

In France alone, the number rose from over one million in 2015 to almost 1.2 million. In a forecast, the survey anticipates a further increase in interest in German there.

READ ALSO: Why learning German at an older age isn't as hard as you think

Russia is also experiencing stronger demand for the language, with an increase of 16 percent to 1.79 million learners.

Poland, on the other hand, has seen a sharp drop in demand. But with 1.95 million Deutsch speakers, it remains the country with the most German learners worldwide.

The number of German learners in the UK has also dropped – by 25 percent – which researchers believe could dip even further in future due to Britain leaving the EU.

Rise in German learners across Africa
For the African continent, the study records an increase of German learners of almost 50 percent compared to 2015, with increasing interest in Egypt, Algeria and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), for example.

There is also more demand for German in Asia, especially in China.

Meanwhile, the cooler German-American relationship seems to be reflected in the demand for German. In the US, the number of people learning German has fallen by 15 percent over the past five years.

READ ALSO: Good knowledge of German results in 'better pay' for foreigners

The need for skilled workers from abroad to have knowledge of German is playing an increasingly important role in promoting language skills, the study says.

Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, said that teaching the German language opens up future opportunities. She added that this would not only mean access to the German university system, “but also to a labour market that needs skilled workers with a knowledge of German”.

Johannes Ebert, Secretary General of the Goethe Institute, said German continues to be in high demand worldwide.

The number of course participants at the Goethe-Institut has increased by around 73,000 to 309,000.

“Our commitment to the German Immigration Act for Specialists particularly contributes to this,” said Ebert. However, the survey also shows that the promotion of the German language is particularly necessary in those countries where the number of German learners has declined.

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10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.