German Is the Most Common Native Language in the European Union (EU)
With more than 100 million native speakers, German is the most common native language spoken in the EU. There’s even a push on to make German one of the working languages of the EU.
It’s not surprising that it’s so common, given that it’s the only official language in three countries (Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein) and ranks as an official language in another three (Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium).
German also ranks highly as a national minority language in yet another four countries (Poland, Denmark, Italy and Hungary).
German Has Its Own Letter Called the “Sharp S”
While German shares mostly the same alphabet as English, it does have a special letter: ß. This letter is known as the scharfes “s” (sharp “s”). It looks almost like a capital B, but it’s definitely not.
It’s actually a short-form for the consonant blend “sz” known in German as Eszett. Interesting to note—it was 2017 before this unique letter ever got a capitalized version, ẞ.
German Writing Got a Major Overhaul in 1998… and Again in 2006!
In German, this overhaul is known as neue Rechtschreibung (new correct writing). The main goal of the overhaul was to standardize spelling and punctuation across all German-speaking countries.
Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein all signed onto the changes in Vienna in 1996, whereas Luxembourg did not. It did however adopt the reforms more gradually.
The half-hour mark in German refers to the next hour coming up, not the previous one as is the case in British English.
For example, halb neun is 8:30, not 9:30. You take it literally as “half nine” meaning 30 minutes before 9:00. This is quite different than “half nine” in British English, which would be 9:30, or the similar “half past nine” in American English.
So when you use halb referring to time in German, you have to think of the hour coming up, not the one that just passed.