German much harder than Spanish?

I read the following while browing HTAL:

<<I have been studying Spanish for less than 2 years and now I am at a level where I can,
for example, read a book without any difficulty at all.

Reading German, as a comparison, despite my 7 years or so of study, is still a

Those of you who have learned both Spanish and German, do you find that German is that really much more difficult to learn than Spanish?

Was the person an English speaker? The number of words of Romance origin (French, Latin, Italian, Spanish) in English may make it (seem) easier to understand - written content at least. Even the grammar may have some similarities not found in German. The influence of French and Latin together with Scandinavian influx have moved English further away from German, after all it’s on the periphery of Europe.

German speakers will see things differently - Spanish and French are perceived as more difficult than English, but French, although it shares more morphosyntactic features with German, seems to be more difficult than Spanish because of the French pronunciation of sentences or parts of sentences as a whole and the differences between the spoken and written language.

Scandinavians may find both German and English easier than Romance languages. But then there are the Slavic languages and other Indo-European and non-European languages… Easy or difficult, that’s always a very relative question.

For me, both languages are about as easy/difficult to read - I’ve spent A LOT of time on German since 2006 but close to zero in Spanish.

Guess what - I learned Spanish in school.


The profile of the poster lists Bulgarian as his native language but he is now in Australia and obviously speaks good English. From his linguistic background, I wouldn’t have suspected that he would enjoy any particular advantage or disadvantage learning either Spanish or German. So when he said that German is much more difficult than Spanish, I wonder if there is anything inherent in German that makes it more difficult to learn.


I have thought, perhaps naively, that German should be an easy language for you to learn; say, as easy as it is for an Italian to learn Spanish. So in fact it’s a bit more complicated than that?

I think we can get to reading a book fairly quickly in German. It helps to do a lot of listening and reading. German seems to use long winded sentences and doing a lot of combined listening and reading helps us get the rhythm of these long sentences and paragraphs. Read Mark Twain on the Awful German Language

a few excerpts

““The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.””

Wilhelm, where is the turnip?
She has gone to the kitchen.
Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?
It has gone to the opera.”

I enjoy this bit of Mark Twain’s writing:

“For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six – and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that.”

And a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that! Really hilarious!

In favour of German is the richness of German culture and the importance of German history in the history of Europe, all of which I find fascinating.

We, in the English speaking world have a distorted view of history, as if all of the kings of England, the 100 years war with France, Napoleon, and the British Empire, the American Revolution, Civil War, and the two world wars (mainly the Western front and the Pacific) are all there is.

German has been the centre of Europe since Charlemagne, its towns were at the forefront of the development of the bourgeoisie, the reformation and subsequent religious wars, including the 30 years war. All of its little princedoms and dukedoms fed the blood lines of Europe’s royal families. Its people fought and farmed and settled in areas like the Baltic, Romania, Russia. The impact on Germany of Napoleon’s invasions, the rise of German nationalism, the German influence on the nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the rivalry between Austria and Germany, German music, German philosopy, Goethe…and many more reasons make it a fascinating study.

It is also interesting to come into contact with German history on the periphery, Bolzano, Prague, Riga, and I would imagine Sibiu, Romania.

I was listening to Echo Moskvi yesterday and they were talking about the life of Charles IV of Bohemia, whose architectural imprint was left on Prague. He was half-German half-Czech, a polyglot, Czech nationalist, but was also fully involved in the politics of Germany as has been the case of Prague itself.

Learn German and learn about Europe! And read Mark Twain’s description of the language but not that he learned it. It is really not that difficult if you follow the LingQ approach! Mark Twain was one of our first members.

Typos, Germany not German has been the centre

Note (not “not”) that Mark Twain learned German.

When I was younger (before we Germans became sloppy language users) we used to be able to concentrate and wait for the verb at the end of the sentence - I think Thomas Mann held the record nearly over one whole page of print…

We used to make fun of the Brits who couldn’t follow our thinking!

A British couple at a German theatre: She: Wake up, darling, the verb is coming!

I have tried to recreate a sentence I used to demonstrate a German sentence in conversation not so long ago (just imagine it being said in one breath then it’ll come easier)
Ich werde nie, aber wirklich nie, selbst wenn man mich zwingen würde – und viele haben es bereits versucht, ohne Erfolg, kann ich mit Stolz berichten – oder mir eine große Belohnung in Aussicht stellte, und wer könnte kein Geld gebrauchen, meine geliebten lange Sätze, die mir so einen Spaß bereiten, aufgeben.

The difficulty with German for learners is initially really only the syntax, our vocabulary isn’t that difficult and the grammar is in the process of being watered down, so even that (“she”) is no longer that frightening.

I always wanted to learn German because of my involvement with music and piano studies, unfortunately I haven’t so far. German culture is very much appreciated in Greece and there are lots of learners of the language. From what I 've heard people saying the structure is similar to Ancient Greek and from the above quote I can tell that! Also German culture was widely influenced by Ancient Greek culture during the 18-19th century. We stereotypically say that Germans know the Greek history better than Greeks do. I don’t know if that’s true but they are the no 1 visitors of ancient monuments. No matter how hot, how isolated, how far from the beach and the restaurants you 'll always find some German visitor there :wink: I was once trying to find an ancient Mycenean cemetary literary in the middle of the nowhere. There were no signs or anyone to ask since it was far from any of the main roads. We were wandering around the area with the car for about 2 hours without luck. (Unfortunately there are hundreds of small sites like that almost abandoned due to ‘lack of money’). We finally spotted the place only because we saw a car with German plates stopped outside!

ktm that’s interesting, I only speak modern greek but if I ever decide to learn german this should make things easier

To Cantotango:

It isn’t that I find German particularly difficult to read. I just mean that I’m at roughly the same level in Spanish although it’s 15 years since I spend any active time on it (except for a few audiobooks earlier this year). Somehow most of my Spanish is still with me, while German has its peculiarities regarding subordinate clauses, separable verbs, the case system… :slight_smile:

This being said, I LOVE German.

German was my first language that I attempted to learn. This was when I was like 9-10 years old. I continued the language for a good 3-5 years. I wasn’t bad at the language at all. I could hold a conversation quite easily and read a fair amount. When I hit high school it was replaced with Spanish. I felt bad that I didn’t continue German at the time and I still do. I’m hoping to change that and start German here in May 2010. I still have all of my old courses that I went through( All Audio German and German Made Simple). I hope to use those two courses along with LingQ to get going at the language again. I’ll probably only be able to spend a good 3-4 months of intensive learning because I’ll be heading off to university that fall. I’m quite excited to take up German again.

I was learning German in school too, but then quit so I could try a language from scratch on Lingq, so I took up a little French. I plan to eventually get back to German, mostly 'cause I like the lit so much and if I end up living in Poland in the future, German’s a good language to have on that side of the world…

plus older Polish people with German ancestry automatically want to start talking to me in German when the hear I speak English as if German German and English were like Spanish/Portuguese, I have to keep telling them in Polish that I’m more likely to understand them if the just spoke Polish…

As an English speaker having studied and still studying both Spanish and German, I do think that German is harder, but not extremely so. English has a lot of similarities with both languages, which probably makes them both easier to master than a language like Russian or Arabic for example. But I think Spanish and English have more in common in syntax and vocabulary than German and English, which makes it easier to comprehend and get used to. I also think that simple words in English are closer to simple German words than Spanish ones, while more complex words are closer to more complex Spanish words than German ones. That means that it would be easier to read simple German texts initally than Spanish ones, but advanced German texts would be harder, because while many of the complex words used in such advanced texts in Spanish would look like English ones and the English speaker could infer the meaning even if they’ve never seen the word before, complex German words are long and foreign and require more effort to learn. That could partially explain why the person quoted above has such trouble reading German books, along with the mind-boggling syntax.

None of this should discourage you from learning German though, it’s a great language and culture, and totally worth the effort.

German was my first foreign language, which I learned in school, and I am actively working on Spanish now. The only real difficult in Spanish I find are the verbs and unless you already know a Romance language, it can take a while to become accustomed to altering the endings of a verb to indicate tense, mood and aspect. As has been mentioned, the chief difficulty of German by contrast lies in its syntax, though for some the case system can be a chore as well. The great thing about learning German for me was that it got me familiar with how case and declensions work, something I had more or less given up on in Latin. By persevering with German, cases are now a feature that I think I could come to grips with in other languages like Russian or Latin much sooner if I were to begin learning them. Overall, I would say German is probably more difficult for an English-speaker to learn (which is rather curious given it’s very close linguistic relationship to English), but not overwhelmingly so

Interestingly, I have heard that German philosophers have found GWF Hegel’s German so difficult to learn due to his long sentences, they often had to consult English translations in order to make sense of certain passages, since English is more rigid with respect to its syntax.