Why German Sounds Harsh to You (and Why You Shouldn’t Care)

People who don’t speak German often like to joke about the harsh sound of the language. Truth be told, German isn’t the gentlest-sounding language. It doesn’t seem to flit off the tongue the way Spanish or French do, despite having some of the same linguistic bases. Still, German can be a useful language to know in this day and age and is one of the easier tongues for native English speakers to learn. If you’re still not convinced German is the language for you and you’re trading it in for the more melodic trills of Italian or Portuguese, read on to discover what makes German seem hard on the ears and the many reasons why you shouldn’t care.

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The German Stereotype

Many people claim that German is a harsh and unromantic language. Why choose to learn it when you can wax poetic on topics of passion and love in French, right? But why is it exactly that German tends to sound this way to us English speakers, while we find French to be smooth, easy listening? Well, linguists say that when people talk about ‘harsh’ sounding languages, they’re usually referring to tongues that make sounds using the back of the vocal track. This can result in a more throaty, guttural noise which gives the language a stronger sound which others don’t seem to have. Dutch and Malay are examples of languages that, like German, have this feature and as a result can appear angrier sounding to those who don’t speak or understand them.

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However, you may be surprised to discover that German often gets stereotyped as a ‘hard’ language due to the perspective of those listening to it. French has quite a few of the same guttural sounds that German does, and yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would claim French is a harsh tongue. This is partially due to the many stereotypes that surround each language. French have long been  typecast as extraordinary lovers and the language has held the title of the ‘language of love’ for decades.  When we think of Germans, on the other hand, we tend to stereotype them as rigid rule followers with a penchant for beer and sausage. Our perception of each culture is what colors how we hear the languages and why we often claim German has a much harsher tone.

The German Perspective

Next time someone tells you that German isn’t a beautiful language, challenge them to really listen to it. Sure, it’s notorious for having long sentences and unpronounceable words, but when you really start to learn the language you begin to see how lovely it can be. All you need to do is flip open a book by Goethe in its original language to really appreciate how lyrical and poetic German is. And if you’re not able to convince those around you that learning German is a worthwhile pursuit, you shouldn’t care. There are a multitude of great reasons to learn German. For starters, a lot of people speak German these days. It is the most widely spoken language in the E.U. (where it’s used in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Hungary as well as many other nations), and the tenth most spoken language on the globe.

Furthermore, German is touted as one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn and you may find it surprisingly effortless to master. German and English have similar Germanic roots, unlike French, Spanish, and Italian which are all Romance languages. Some claim that as many as forty percent of German words sound similar to their English counterparts which can make building your vocabulary a breeze. Even better, you’re sure to have many chances to practice your language skills because it so happens that Germans are some of the most well-traveled people in the world! I’ve run into Germans in as far-flung places as Cuba and Taiwan, so there’s a high likelihood that you can make some native-speaking friends locally who will be willing to help you practice your German!

Do you think German sounds harsher than most other languages? What are some of the reasons you’re studying German? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section!