German is a West Germanic language within the Indo-European family of languages and, as such, contrasts with Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Modern Icelandic, which are North Germanic languages. Furthermore, German–together with its sister languages Yiddish and Swiss German, Austrian German, and Luxemburg German–is traditionally called a High Germanic Language in opposition to its other sister languages English, Dutch, Afrikaans, traditionally called Low Germanic. This means that German is closer to Yiddish, etc., than to Dutch, Afrikaans, and English which themselves are closer to each other than to German. One can see this by comparing word forms. The word for ‘eat’ in both German and Yiddish is essen, with an s-sound. The corresponding words in Dutch,  Afrikaans, and English have a t-sound: eten, eet, eat.

Of the languages taught in our department, German has the greatest number of speakers: more than 100 million. More inhabitants of the European Union speak German as their first language than any other.  It is the sole official language of Austria and Germany and one of the official languages in Belgium, Italy (South Tyrol), Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. German is a major vehicle of culture and knowledge, with centuries of literature, and is the mother tongue of world-famous authors (Goethe, Kafka, Mann), architects (Gropius), composers (Bach, Beethoven), philosophers (Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein) and scientists (Einstein). No study of the history of the world in the twentieth first century is complete without detailed consideration of the German-speaking countries and their inhabitants. 


The German Language Program

We offer 3 years of German language study: First year elementary German (1-3); second-year intermediate German (4-5); and third-year advanced German conversation and composition.

The goal in first-year German language study is to become proficient in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing within a lively, interactive, and stimulating yet relaxed classroom atmosphere. It is expected that students acquire enough German in order to be able to function and communicate on a basic level in a German-speaking country, as well as to gain an insight into German culture. This serves as a good foundation either for further study in German language, linguistics, literature, and culture, or for future career purposes.

After 1 year of German, students may participate in the German Play Production course, which focuses on pronunciation alongside the reading, analysis, and production of a play in German. The second year German course focuses on literature and cultural literacy alongside a broadening of vocabulary, a development of oral, listening, and written competence, as well as grammatical accuracy. Individuals with some German language experience are encouraged to take the German Language Placement Exam to ensure enrollment in the appropriate language course.

In the third year (152, 153, 155), current affairs juxtaposed with German cultural history provide the basis for conversation and composition in a genre-approach to more complex writing skills, idiomatic expression, interpretation, analysis, and criticism. The first two in the series (152, 153) are requirements for majors and minors of German and are designed to prepare students for a variety of goals besides preparation for advanced literature and linguistic courses taught in German (140-level and above). We also offer a course in business German (154).