Germany is not the only country where German is widely spoken. In fact, there are seven countries where German is the official language or a dominant one.
German is one of the world's most prominent languages and is the most widely spoken native tongue in the European Union. Officials estimate that about 95 million people speak German as a first language. That doesn't account for the many millions more who know it as a second language or are proficient but not fluent.
German is also one of the top three most popular foreign languages to learn in the United States.
Most native German speakers (about 78 percent) are found in Germany (Deutschland). Here's where to find the six others:
Austria ( Österreich) should quickly come to mind. Germany's neighbor to the south has a population of about 8.5 million. Most Austrians speak German, as that is the official language. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "I'll-be-back" accent is Austrian German.
Austria's beautiful, mostly mountainous landscape is contained in a space about the size of the U.S. state of Maine. Vienna ( Wien), the capital, is one of Europe's loveliest and most-livable cities.
Note: The various variations of German spoken in different regions have such strong dialects they could nearly be considered a different language. So if you study German in a U.S. school, you may not be able to understand it when spoken in different regions, like Austria or even southern Germany. In school, as well as in the media and in official documents, German speakers typically use Hochdeutsch or Standarddeutsch. Luckily, many German speakers understand Hochdeutsch, so even if you cannot understand their heavy dialect, they will likely be able to understand and communicate with you.
Most of the 8 million citizens of Switzerland (die Schweiz) speak German. The rest speak French, Italian or Romansh.
Switzerland's largest city is Zurich, but the capital is Bern, with the federal courts headquartered in French-speaking Lausanne. Switzerland has displayed its penchant for independence and neutrality by remaining the only major German-speaking country outside of the European Union and the euro currency zone.
Then there's the "postage stamp" country of Liechtenstein, tucked in between Austria and Switzerland. Its nickname comes from both its diminutive size (62 square miles) and its philatelic activities.
Vaduz, the capital, and largest city counts fewer than 5,000 inhabitants and doesn't have its own airport (Flughafen). But it does have the German-language newspapers, the Liechtensteiner Vaterland, and the Liechtensteiner Volksblatt.
Liechtenstein's total population is only about 38,000.
Most people forget Luxembourg (Luxemburg, without the o, in German), situated on Germany's western border. Although French is used for street and place names and for official business, most of Luxembourg's citizens speak a dialect of German called Lëtztebuergesch in daily life, and Luxembourg is considered a German-speaking country.
Many of Luxembourg's newspapers are published in German, including the Luxemburger Wort (Luxemburg Word).
Although the official language of Belgium (Belgien) is Dutch, residents also speak French and German. Of the three, German is the least common. It's mostly used among the Belgians who live on or near the German and Luxembourg borders. Estimates put Belgium's German-speaking population around 1 percent.
Belgium is sometimes called "Europe in miniature" because of its multilingual population: Flemish (Dutch) in the north (Flanders), French in the south (Wallonia) and German in the east (Ostbelgien). The main towns in the German-speaking region are Eupen and Sankt Vith.
The Belgischer Rundfunk (BRF) radio service broadcasts in German, and The Grenz-Echo, a German-language newspaper, was established in 1927.
6. South Tyrol, Italy
It may come as a surprise that German is a common language in the South Tyrol (also known as Alto Adige) providence of Italy. The population of this area is about half a million, and census data shows about 62 percent of the residents speak German. Second, comes Italian. The remainder speaks Ladin or another language.
Most of the other German-speakers in Europe are scattered across eastern Europe in former Germanic areas of countries such as Poland, Romania, and Russia. (Johnny Weissmuller, of the 1930s-'40s "Tarzan" movies and Olympic fame, was born to German-speaking parents in what is now Romania.)
A few other German-speaking regions are in Germany's former colonies, including Namibia (former German Southwest Africa), Ruanda-Urundi, Burundi and several other former outposts in the Pacific. German minority populations (Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites) are also still found in regions of North and South America.
German is also spoken in some villages in Slovakia and Brazil.
A Closer Look at 3 German-Speaking Countries
Now let's concentrate on Austria, Germany, and Switzerland - and have a short German lesson in the process.
Austria is the Latin (and English) term for Österreich, literally the "eastern realm." (We'll talk about those two dots over the O, called umlauts, later.) Vienna is the capital city. In German: Wien ist die Hauptstadt. (See the pronunciation key below)
Germany is called Deutschland in German (Deutsch). Die Hauptstadt ist Berlin.
Switzerland: Die Schweiz is the German term for Switzerland, but to avoid the confusion that could result from using the country's four official languages, the sensible Swiss opted for the Latin designation, "Helvetia," on their coins and stamps. Helvetia is what the Romans called their Swiss province.
The German Umlaut, the two dots sometimes placed over the German vowels a, o and u (as in Österreich), is a critical element in German spelling. The umlauted vowels ä, ö, and ü (and their capitalized equivalents Ä, Ö, Ü) are actually a shortened form for ae, oe and ue, respectively. At one time, the e was placed above the vowel, but as time went on, the e became just two dots ("diaeresis" in English).
In telegrams and in plain computer text, the umlauted forms still appear as ae, oe and ue. A German keyboard includes separate keys for the three umlauted characters (plus the ß, the so-called "sharp s" or "double s" character). The umlauted letters are separate letters in the German alphabet, and they are pronounced differently from their plain a, o or u cousins.