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Focus on: German Language and Culture

14th August 2019

Are you ready to reach out to Europe’s largest economy?

READ THE SMALL PRINT

Research tells us that German consumers value self-reliance and attention to detail. How often do British or American consumers skim through the terms and conditions on a website or a license agreement? Our German counterparts are likely to read attentively from start to finish. Dot those “i”s and cross those “t”s.

BEWARE FALSE FRIENDS

German and English both belong to the West Germanic family of languages and have a number of similarities. But don’t be fooled by the words that look similar but mean very different things. The German adjective sensibel means sensitive in English. Konfession is the German word for religious denomination and oldtimer doesn’t mean an elderly person; it means a vintage car. Take nothing for granted.

BERLIN BUZZ

The largest city in Europe’s largest economy attracted €2 billion in start-up venture capital funding in 2018. Berlin’s affordable rent, inclusive culture and quality of life is attracting so many budding entrepreneurs that new businesses are starting at the rate of one every 20 minutes. How tech-savvy is Berlin? The city is currently home to 99,400 software developers.

DEAD ON ARRIVAL

German consumers are far more likely to have a grasp of English than vice versa, but that still allows plenty of room for phrasing errors that can leave reputations in ruins. The word rucksack originated in Germany, so when a leading manufacturer of rucksacks recently launched a new one in Germany they could have used that word without confusion. Unfortunately they advertised the product using the English phrase body bag instead. No matter how adventurous German hikers may be, we doubt they’d relish that particular trip.

ON AND ON AND ON

The longest English word has only forty five letters. By German standards it’s a model of brevity. The German language famously strings long and complex words together. As something becomes more specialised, the name for it becomes longer. The German noun for a button on the front pocket of a pair of trousers will include the translation of button, front pocket and trousers. With no cut-off point for this lengthening process, it can lead to some remarkably long-winded vocabulary.

FOR EXAMPLE

The longest German word is (deep breath)

Oberweserdampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmützenabzeichenpoliermittelkanister-deckelherstellungsverbandsvorsitzendenausweishüllenschneidemaschinenmotor-wartungsplanaktualisierungsbeauftragtenzertifikatsausstellungsbehördenbeamten-krawattenknotenbindeanleitungsautorenbürocomputertastaturanschlusskabelumhüllungs-reparaturdienstfahrzeugsvorderreifengummibeschichtungsfabrikgebäu-deheizungsrohrverlegungsmechanikerwerkzeugkastenverschluss-klappensicherungsschlossfunktionstestverantwortlichenprüfungsfragebogenfragenentwickler-qualifikationsurkundendruckertintenpatronennachfüllpaketbestellformularankreuzkästchendesignerausbildung.

That’s 627 letters to describe an education programme.

This one, to be precise:

Education programme for a designer of checkboxes used on order forms for ink cartridge refill packets for printers used in the creation of qualification documents for developers of the questions in questionnaires within an exam for a person responsible for testing the functionality of lock valve protection clasps used in the toolboxes of mechanics who transfer heating pipes in the buildings of factories which make rubber coating for the front tyres of vehicles of repair services for wrapping of connection cables of computer keyboards in the offices of authors of instructions for tying knots of the ties of officials of authorities which issue certificates for those commissioned to make updates to maintenance plans for motors of machines used in the cutting of covers of ID cards of chairpersons of associations which manufacture lids of cans of polish for the insignia on the cap of the captain of the Upper Weser steamboat excursion company.

You have to hope for the students’ sakes they don’t have to write the programme title at the start of every lesson

 

However you phrase it, Germany is Britain’s oldest trading partner. Should you be seeking partnerships there too?