German is an easy language for native English speakers to learn. Both languages are Western (meaning Germanic) languages, so they have many similarities. English and German both use the Roman alphabet and have many words that are similar. This is because many English words were derived from German words. German grammar and sentence structure also shares some similarities with English.
The biggest hurdle for native English speakers learning German is simply vocabulary and some grammar. Pronunciation is not hard for an English speaker, and it helps that both languages are written with the same characters (with a few exceptions).
The main differences between the German alphabet and the English alphabet are the “ess tset” (ß) and umlauts (two small dots over a vowel). The ß symbol simply reads like “ss” would in English. This symbol is used after long vowels, and a regular “s” is used after short vowels. Umlauts change the pronunciation of the vowel. These differences are very minute when compared to the English language and should not pose a problem to new students of German.
The other differences between German and English lie in the conjugations of verbs. This is because German has a polite form that is used for formal speech. When speaking formally in German, one should use the pronoun “Sie”* and the corresponding verb conjugation. See the charts below for more information.
*Please note that, unlike in English, all proper nouns are capitalized in German even if they do not begin a sentence. The pronoun “Sie,” when used formally, is also capitalized. The pronoun for “I” (ich) is only capitalized when it starts a sentence.
Pronoun Charts and Example Conjugations
Personal Pronouns Singular Plural
First person ich I wir we
Second person du you ihr you all
Third person er he sie they
Formal Sie you Sie they
Notice that in the above chart, Sie/sie is used quite often. Sie can mean her, they, you (formal), or they (formal). You can tell which form is being used by context and by the verb conjugation. This may be confusing to new students of the language, but after a little practice, you’ll start to pick up on the patterns.
Now take a look at the conjugation chart below for a regular verb “gehen” (to go).
ich gehe I go
du gehst You go
er/sie/es geht He/she/it goes
wir gehen We go
ihr geht You all go
sie/Sie gehen They/you (formal) go
Notice how the ending changes for each conjugation. For most verbs, the above pattern is followed in order to get the correct conjugation. There are several irregular verbs; those conjugations must simply be memorized. Below is an example of an irregular conjugation chart for the verb “sein” (to be).
ich bin I am
du bist You are
er/sie/es ist He/she/it is
wir sind We are
ihr seid You all are
sie/Sie sind They/you (formal) are
Irregular verbs do not follow patterns. For each irregular verb you learn, you must memorize the conjugations for each pronoun.