You probably know some German already


German has words for things that don't exist in other languages. That's why, as you learn German, you may come across terms you know from English, French or Russian – because they use some German terms. Ersatz (replacement), Kindergarten (nursery school), Leitmotiv (guiding theme) or Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) are German terms which are used in the English language, for example. In Sweden, people recently started using the German term Fingerspitzengefühl to describe a tactful or sensitive way of dealing with people and things. People in Russia use the term Zeitnot if they do not have enough time.  And in Japan, student jobs are called arubaito (Japanese pronunciation of Arbeit, or work). 

In some language, German words have been given new meanings. In France, the word vasistas refers to skylight windows. This is because Napoleon's soldiers are said to have exclaimed "Was ist das?" (what is that?) when they saw skylights for the first time. 

In turn, foreign words are used in the German language, too. According to the Duden, the most renowned dictionary of the German language, about 21 percent of German nouns are actually foreign words. These have enriched the German language, and people use them so naturally that they do not recognise them as foreign words anymore. 

Almost four percent of German words are from English, such as Fairness, Wellness or Trainer. Quite a few French words have transcended the border too, especially in the areas of fashion, politics, law and food. In court, the prosecutor delivers a "Plädoyer" (plaidoirie) as he or she addresses the court in favour of a sentence. The head of government composes a "Kabinett" (cabinet), i.e. his or her group of ministers. Everyday words like "Balkon"(balcon), "Adresse" (adresse) or "Annonce" (annonce) also came to Germany from France.

It is a lesser known fact that German also uses words from the Slavic languages. "Gurke" (gherkin or cucumber), for example, comes from the Polish wordogórek, and a number of animal names such as the "Nerz" (mink, from the Ukrainian word noryca) have become integral part of the German language.

Further information on this portal

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