German vs. French: What’s the best language to learn?

German vs. French: What’s the best language to learn?

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated May 26, 2023

Both Germany and France play key roles in Europe and beyond. Though the two nations were at odds at various points throughout history, their reconciliation and partnership paved the way for the European Union (and modern Europe) as we know it. Today, Germany and France boast two of the largest economies in the world, shining in areas as diverse as fashion, cinema, gastronomy and scientific research.  

With the two countries sharing such prestige, it’s hardly a surprise that both languages are spoken well beyond their borders. But it may also make the choice between learning German or French more difficult. Which one is easier to learn? And which will bring you the most benefits in your career or personal life (or both)? Read our article to help make up your mind.

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German vs. French: Is French easier to learn than German?

As both languages are members of the Indo-European language family, German and French share some common features beyond the Latin alphabet they use. For instance, both have grammatical genders; French has two (masculine and feminine), while German has three (masculine, feminine and neutral). However, the two languages differ on many levels and each has its own intricacies.

Generally speaking, German grammar tends to be more difficult. It follows a large number of strict rules, such as declensions. Depending on the grammatical case of the noun it modifies, an article or an adjective will have a different declension, which will affect its ending. In a way, you could compare this to a linguistic puzzle in which the shape of every piece has to fit with all the others. Even as a complete beginner in German, you’ll need to get your head around these rules in order to put all the elements correctly together. But once you’ve mastered the logic, everything will fall into place and become easier.

Though some find it easier to grasp initially, French grammar may be less predictable and logical. When it comes to grammar, its conjugation of verbs may contain more exceptions and subtle complexities than in German. French pronunciation can be another sticking point for beginners. With accents, nasal sounds, complex letter combinations and silent letters, not every word is pronounced as it’s written. As you continue to progress and reach a more advanced level, you’ll need to master these subtleties in order to sound like a native.

So, which is easier, German or French? The answer: It depends! The level of difficulty may vary if you’ve already mastered another foreign language. For example, if you can speak Italian or Spanish, you’ll probably find it easy to grasp French grammar and learn new vocabulary, even if you’ll still have to devote time to practice pronunciation. Similarly, being fluent in Dutch, English or a Nordic language will help you with German, as these are all Germanic languages.

In the end, German and French share some level of challenge. They differ primarily in the areas where they present the most difficulty. Depending on your own strengths and abilities, you might find one easier than the other.

German vs. French: Where does each language stand on the world stage?

This may be another aspect that plays into your decision to pick one language over the other.

In terms of international coverage, French is a clear winner. France’s colonial past resulted in the spread of French across the world, from the Canadian region of Québec to several countries in Africa and islands like Haïti. Nowadays, French is the official language of 29 countries and is also an official language of several international institutions, such as the European Union, the United Nations, UNESCO, the International Red Cross and the International Olympic Committee. All in all, it’s the fifth-most-spoken language in the world, with 300 million people speaking French globally

In comparison, German is “only” spoken by 155 million people — mostly in the European countries of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It’s also spoken as a first or second language in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe. With 84 million consumers and a GDP representing 20% of the European Union’s GDP,  Germany is the powerhouse of the EU and its largest market. So, on a European level at least, the country has the upper hand over France. It’s also the home of many world-renowned companies, especially in the technology and car industries, with famous names like Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Bosch and Siemens. If you happen to work in those industries, you may be better off learning German than French.

Why should I learn French or German?

So, knowing the linguistic characteristics and the world rank each language has, how can you decide between French and German? Both are very in-demand business languages and showing proficiency in either one will definitely add to your résumé. Both languages will also open many doors if you wish to study abroad, although you may first need to pass language certifications in French or German.

Geography is another important factor. For instance, if the headquarters of your company are located in Central or Eastern Europe, German will likely prove more useful than French. It may even give you an advantage to further your career and get that promotion you’re after. But if you happen to live in or close to the eastern regions of Canada, French will almost certainly prove more useful. You’ll have more opportunities to practice and use your newly acquired linguistic skills, which will keep you motivated to learn more. 

Your motivation may also vary according to your interests. If you work in science or technology or are simply passionate about those subjects, German will prove handy, as it’s often used in scientific literature. On the other hand, you’ll want to consider learning French if you enjoy fashion, gastronomy, cinema and the arts. For the same reason, if you’re a keen traveler and enjoy exploring far-flung destinations such as Vietnam, Madagascar and the Ivory Coast, then French will be a better ally for you.

German or French: take your pick and get started!

Depending on your professional prospects, personal interests and even the place you live, you may be better off learning one or the other. But, in the end, there are only winners in this friendly German vs. French debate. Whichever language you end up choosing, it will widen your horizons, make traveling easier and even help boost your career.

Learn languages at your pace

Anne-Lise Vassoille

Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries… Settled down in London, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

Anne-Lise Vassoille

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