Self-Access Centre - German

Welcome to the Self-Access Centre materials database. Here you can find out about the German materials available in the SAC.

If you are interested in studying German at UCL, please click here.

The SAC is here to provide you with opportunities to study German outside class time. You may feel extra study is necessary in order to achieve the exam score you want, or you may just enjoy studying German. Either way, the SAC could be useful for you.

If you have a very clear idea of what you need to study in German, use the Resources menu above to look for the study topics which are of importance to you. If you need advice and guidance on what to study, you should talk to your class tutor, who will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations on what to study.

We have a wide range of resources to help you study German on your own. In the Self-Access Centre you can find course books, dictionaries, but also, reading, grammar and vocabulary books. You can also browse through magazines and newspapers in German, watch online TV or listen to radio stations. There are links to BBC Languages programmes, which will allow you to learn German by watching interactive videos. You can also watch German films , TV documentaries, or course videos. You can also practice your German by doing the online exercises.

A bit about the language

German (Deutsch) is a West Germanic language related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. It is one of the world's major languages and the most widely spoken first language in the European Union. Globally, German is spoken by approximately 105 million native speakers and also by about 80 million non-native speakers. Standard German is widely taught in schools, universities and Goethe Institutes worldwide.

Geographic distribution

  • German in Europe


German is spoken primarily in Germany (where it is the first language for more than 95% of the population), Austria (89%) and Switzerland (65%). German is also spoken by the majority in Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. Other European German-speaking communities are found in Northern Italy, in the East Cantons of Belgium, in the French Alsace region, which often was traded between Germany and France in history and in some border villages of the former South Jutland County of Denmark. German-speaking communities can still be found in parts of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Russia and Kazakhstan. In Russia, forced expulsions after World War II and massive emigration to Germany in the 1980s and 1990s have depopulated most of these communities. German is spoken minority groups and descendants in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Morocco, Netherlands, Portugal, Scandinavia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

South America

In Brazil, there are largest concentrations of German speakers in some area.. There are also important concentrations of German-speaking descendants in Argentina (5 milion), Venezuela, Paraguay and Chile (3 milion). In the 20th century, over 100,000 German political refugees and invited entrepreneurs settled in Latin America, in countries such as Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, and established German-speaking enclaves. Nearly all inhabitants of the city of Pomerode in the state of Santa Catarina in Brazil can speak German.

North America

German in the United States is the fifth most spoken language at home (~ 1.4 million) after English, Spanish, Chinese, and French according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The United States, therefore, has one of the largest concentrations of German speakers outside Europe. The states of North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states where German is the most common language spoken at home after English. An indication of the German presence can be found in the names of such places as New Ulm and many other towns in Minnesota, Bismarck, Munich, Karlsruhe, and Strasburg in North Dakota; New Braunfels and Muenster in Texas; and Kiel, Berlin and Germantown in Wisconsin. Over the course of the 20th century many of the descendants of 18th- and 19th-century immigrants ceased speaking German at home, but small populations of elderly (as well as some younger) speakers can be found in Pennsylvania, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Texas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oregon, Louisiana and Oklahoma. A significant group of German Pietists in Iowa formed the Amana Colonies and continue to speak their heritage language.

In Canada, there are 622,650 speakers of German according to the last census in 2006, while people of German ancestry (German Canadians) are found throughout the country. German-speaking communities are particularly located in British Columbia and Ontario. There is a large and vibrant community in the city of Kitchener, Ontario, which was at one point named Berlin. German immigrants were instrumental in the country's three largest urban areas: Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver; after the Second World War immigrants managed to preserve a fluency in the German language in their respective neighbourhoods and sections. In the first half of the 20ᵗʰ century, over a million German-Canadians made the language Canada's third most spoken after French and English.

In Mexico there are also large populations of German ancestry, mainly in the cities of: Mexico City, Puebla, Mazatlán, Tapachula, and larger populations scattered in the states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. German ancestry is also said to be found in neighbouring towns around Guadalajara, Jalisco and much of Northern Mexico, where German influence was immersed into the Mexican culture.


In Australia, the state of South Australia experienced a pronounced wave of Germans arriving in the 1840s from Prussia. With the prolonged isolation from other German speakers and contact with Australian English some have suggested a unique dialect formed known as Barossa German spoken predominantly in the Barossa Valley near Adelaide. Usage sharply declined with the advent of World War I, the prevailing anti-German sentiment in the population and related government action. It continued to be used as a first language into the 20th century, but now its use is limited to a few older speakers. There is also an important German creole being studied and recovered, named Unserdeutsch, spoken in the former German colony of Papua New Guinea, across Micronesia and in northern Australia (i.e. coastal parts of Queensland and Western Australia), by a few elderly people. The risk of its extinction is serious and efforts to revive interest in the language are being implemented by scholars.

Official status

Standard German is the only official language in Liechtenstein; it shares official status in Germany (with Danish, Frisian and Sorbian as minority languages), in Austria (with Slovene, Croatian, and Hungarian), Switzerland (with French, Italian and Romansh), Belgium (with Dutch and French) and Luxembourg (with French and Luxembourgish). It is used as a local official language in Italy (Province of Bolzano-Bozen), as well as in the cities of Sopron (Hungary), Krahule (Slovakia) and several cities in Romania. It is the official language (with Italian) of the Vatican Swiss Guard.

German has an officially recognized status as regional or auxiliary language in Denmark (South Jutland region), France (Alsace and Moselle regions), Italy (Gressoney valley), Namibia, Poland (Opole region), and Russia (Asowo and Halbstadt). German is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. It is the language with the largest number of native speakers in the European Union, and, just behind English and ahead of French, the second-most spoken language in Europe.

Modern German

  • Martin Luther

When Martin Luther translated the Bible (the New Testament in 1522 and the Old Testament, published in parts and completed in 1534) he based his translation mainly on the bureaucratic standard language used in Saxony. In the beginning, copies of the Bible had a long list for each region, which translated words unknown in the region into the regional dialect. Roman Catholics rejected Luther's translation in the beginning and tried to create their own Catholic standard — which, however, only differed from 'Protestant German' in some minor details. It took until the middle of the 18th century to create a standard that was widely accepted. In 1901 the 2nd Orthographical Conference ended with a complete standardization of German language in written form, while the Deutsche Bühnensprache (literally: German stage-language) had already established spelling rules for German three years earlier, which were later to become obligatory for general German pronunciation.

German was the language of commerce and government in the Habsburg Empire, which encompassed a large area of Central and Eastern Europe. Until the mid-19th century it was essentially the language of townspeople throughout most of the Empire. It indicated that the speaker was a merchant, an urbanite, not their nationality. Some cities, such as Prague and Budapest were gradually Germanized in the years after their incorporation into the Habsburg domain. Others, such as Bratislava, were originally settled during the Habsburg period and were primarily German at that time. A few cities such as Milan remained primarily non-German. Until about 1800, standard German was almost only a written language. At this time, people in urban northern Germany, who spoke dialects very different from Standard German, learned it almost like a foreign language and tried to pronounce it as close to the spelling as possible. Prescriptive pronunciation guides used to consider northern German pronunciation to be the standard. However, the actual pronunciation of standard German varies from region to region.

  • Ethno-linguistic map of Austro-Hungary in 1910

The first dictionary was put together by the Brothers Grimm. The 16 parts of this dictionary were issued between 1852 and 1860, and it remains until now the most comprehensive guide to the words of the German language. In 1860, the grammatical and orthographic rules of the German language first appeared in a compilation called the Duden Handbook. Currently the Duden is in its 24th edition and published in 12 volumes, each covering different aspects like loan words, etymology, pronunciation, synonyms, etc. The Duden is updated regularly, with new editions appearing every four or five years.

In 1901, the form of German explained in the Duden was declared the standard definition of the German language. Official revisions of some of these rules were not issued until 1998, when governmental representatives of all German-speaking countries officially promulgated the German spelling reform of 1996. Since the reform, German spelling has been in an eight-year transitional period during which the reformed spelling is taught in most schools, while traditional and reformed spellings co-exist in the media. Media and written works are almost all produced in standard German (often called Hochdeutsch in German), which is understood in all areas where German is spoken.

The 1996 language reform – “ß”

The German orthography reform of 1996 is based on an international agreement signed in Vienna in July 1996 by the governments of the German-speaking countries of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.  The reformed orthography became obligatory in schools and in public administration. However, there was a campaign against the reform and in the resulting public debate the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany was called upon to delineate the extent of reform. In its decision in 1998, the court stated that because there was no law governing orthography, outside the schools people could spell as they liked, including the use of traditional spelling. In the wake of this decision there have been complaints and fear of the rise of arbitrary spelling. The only sure and easily recognizable symptom of a text's being in compliance with the reform is the -ss at the end of words, such as dass and muss. Classic spelling forbade this ending, instead using daß and muß. The cause of the controversy evolved around the question of whether a language is part of the culture which must be preserved or a means of communicating information which has to allow for growth.

German dialects versus varieties of standard German

In German linguistics, German dialects are distinguished from varieties of standard German. The German dialects are the traditional local varieties. They are traditionally traced back to the different German tribes. Many of them are hardly understandable to someone who knows only standard German, since they often differ from standard German in lexicon, phonology and syntax. If a narrow definition of language based on mutual intelligibility is used, many German dialects are considered to be separate languages. However, such a point of view is unusual in German linguistics. The varieties of standard German refer to the different local varieties of the standard German. They only differ slightly in lexicon and phonology. In certain regions, they have replaced the traditional German dialects, especially in Northern Germany.

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Promotion of the German language

The use and learning of the German language are promoted by a number of organisations. The government-backed Goethe Institut (named after the famous German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) aims to enhance the knowledge of German culture and language within Europe and the rest of the world. This is done by holding exhibitions and conferences with German-related themes, and providing training and guidance in the learning and use of the German language. The German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle is the equivalent of the British BBC World Service and provides radio and television broadcasts in German and a variety of other languages across the globe. Its German language services are tailored for German language learners by being spoken at slow speed.

Source: adapted from www.wikipedia.org