Germans get swept off their feet when they hear the dialect spoken in Bavaria. Almost every fourth German has their heart skip a beat when listening to the softer-sounding variety of German, but they cringe when the Saxonian or Rhineland Palatinate dialect is within earshot.
German dialects usually only play a minor role in German class because the standard German (Hochdeutsch) is taught.
For many Germans, though, a dialect is the first language they grow up speaking, something that they live and breathe. The further south you go in Germany, the more likely you are to find colourful variations of the German you learn in German class. But there are also dialects spoken in the north of Germany.
Germans communicate with other Germans from others parts of Germany in standard German. It’s your first choice in a business setting when speaking from the mind is important. But speaking from the heart means bubbling in your local dialect.
The dialect that is spoken in my home town is the Saarland dialect which is spoken in Saarland in the south west of Germany, and we’re going to take it as an example for the many ways to speak and pronounce German.
- About standard German and pronunciation,
- Where to find German dialects,
- What they mean to Germans,
- How they can cause misunderstandings, and finally
- The secrets of an example dialect (the Saarland dialect).
Get a glimpse of what you might expect when going to Germany (they all speak standard German too, I promise).
Also don’t forget to take my dialect quiz here. Will you be able to tell where the speakers are from?
German dialect examples
Surely, Germans from one part of Germany will understand Germans from the other part of Germany, right?
I’ll let you decide. Here are some German dialect example for you.
My friend from Bavaria was so nice to record herself saying the following sentence:
Das kann ich nicht. Tut mir leid (Sind wir wieder gut). I can’t do it. I’m sorry.
Here in standard German:
“The German language”
What does “the German language” even mean, if there are so many more elegant ways to articulate yourself when speaking German?
No standard pronunciation in German
If you’re worried about your pronunciation in German, don’t worry about it any longer. If you haven’t realised it yet, I can tell you this:
There is no standard pronunciation in German.
German managed to have a standardised written version of the so-called standard German, but the pronunciation (and use of words) widely differs depending on the region in Germany. Even the speakers on the news of northern channels sound slightly different to their southern comrades.
German dialects are more than German slang
Before 1871, in those turbulent times when Germany hadn’t been Germany but several loosely connected Germanic tribes killing each other in hazardous bloodbaths, the uniting link between them was a more or less similar language, High German dialects, out of which standard German has evolved.
Otto von Bismarck might have pushed on the unification of Germany towards the end of the 1800s, but many local customs, German accents, and dialects have survived until now and are still being cultivated. German dialects are more than just German slang, they are living history.
Map of German dialects
Linguists believe that there are still about 250 distinctive German dialects.
Here’s a map of the German dialects:
German dialects cause misunderstandings
Speaking a dialect is believed to make you smarter, with all the benefits of speaking a foreign language. But you can easily find yourself in those silly but hilarious situations where the vocabulary of standard German and the local dialect just don’t match.
To hold vs. to lift
When I lived in Munich, I went out with a friend from Günzburg (west side of Bavaria) for some serious shopping. When she was working her way through the bargain bin, she kept on holding up things my way and telling me to LIFT them:
“Kannst du das mal HEBEN?”
(Can you please LIFT that?)
Super confused but being a good a friend I did what I was told and started to lift them up, and up and up again. Maybe she meant for me to find whether it was heavy or something?
Little did I know that in her dialect to lift actually doesn’t mean to lift but to HOLD!
I don’t think I’d ever seen my friend laugh so hard until then (with me, of course) while I was staring at her in disbelief.
To lift vs. to last
A day before my friend’s wedding reception in Mannheim, we inspected the room they had hired for the big night. While decorating it, I was in charge of setting up the candles, but I voiced my concerns about the size of the candles that seemed way too small to last the entire night.
Her response was:
“Das stimmt. Wir brauchen andere. Die HEBEN nicht lange.“
(That’s right; we need different ones, they won’t LIFT long).
Not knowing the local dialect, I was pretty inclined to start my lifting game again, but a flash of genius simply made me get some bigger candles that would LAST a little longer.
Funny enough, the German word for ‘to last’ actually translates to ‘to hold longer’ (länger halten) in standard German.
Heben (to lift) and halten (to hold) seem to be tricky ones for Germans depending on where you’re from.
In my dialect we use some hilarious and confusing words and structures too (you’ll find them further down). I must admit, it’s still not easy for me to suppress them when speaking standard German.
What German dialects mean to Germans
The dialect I grew up speaking is the one spoken in Saarland, the smallest state in Germany in the southwest close to France and Luxembourg.
I’m able to burst out some funny-sounding sentences in that dialect called Saarländisch but that’s about it. How it actually works, I have no idea.
The dialect is your first language
The local dialect might be the first language you speak, even before standard German, but it’s neither taught in school nor would you seriously write in it. Where it does come up is in comedy.
Once you switch on the TV or the radio, you get a glimpse of what standard German sounds like. You read books written in standard German, you know how to write in standard German, while you’re still thinking in your own dialect.
Embarrassing standard German
That might be the reason Germans sometimes find it hard to switch to speaking standard German when they only ever get to speak their local dialect. It can make you feel a little silly like you’re being snooty, arrogant, and snobby. Like you’re backstabbing your friends (and culture).
On the other hand, not switching to standard German when it’s appropriate has the potential to irritate others.
Speaking German doesn’t only embarrass language learners; it’s the same for Germans sometimes.
An Example: Saarländisch
All this talk about dialects, how about we have a look at the dialect I grew up speaking? In Saarland we speak in a distinctive accent and use a lot of words that you only find in Saarland (and France and Luxembourg).
Did you understand everything? Nope? You’re probably not alone.
The Saarland region
Every German dialect is tied to a certain region. The region I grew up in is called Saarland.
Saarland is the smallest federal state in Germany (apart from the city state of Bremen), only has about 1 million inhabitants and is located here:
Can’t see it? It’s the blue dot to the left. I’ll zoom in for you:
It surprisingly looks a little bit like the friendly elephant of the most popular German kids’ show Die Sendung mit der Maus (which is co-produced by Saarländischer Rundfunk, the public radio and television broadcaster of Saarland)
But Saarland even had their own kids cartoon throughout the 70s and 80s, the Saarloodris. They were used as commercial separators on TV by Saarländischer Rundfunk:
Didn’t understand anything? It’s because they are singing in Saarländisch! Beautiful, isn’t it?
Not only do we have little cartoon characters from back then, but the Saarland region now also has their on emojis, the Saarmojis. It’s now super easy to express yourself in Saarländisch even without knowing any Saarländisch at all!
For example you could opt for one of our most famous landmarks in Saarland to show you’re in the know:
Or you could use alternative smileys, the Lyoner-Smileys, since Saarländers love eating their good ol’ Bologna sausages called Lyoner:
I know you’re totally hooked, how could anyone resist those lovely sausages? But now moving right along to something more serious…
Is Saarland actually German?
I’m super German, so much that sometimes I’m being complimented on my fantastic German. “Thank you”, I think when it happens, “It only took me three decades to become that good.”
Surprisingly, the compliments don’t come from foreigners but from other Germans because they seem to think that people living in Saarland must not be from Germany.
But Saarland is indeed part of Germany.
And it has been since 1957, this time continuously.
Before rejoining Germany, the Saar region was ping-ponged back and forth between Germany and France during and in between the two World Wars, and was also independent right after WWII. But the people, Saarländers, have always had strong ties to the other Germanic tribes and remained German-speaking, no matter whether Germany or France happened to administer the region.
And here is a fun fact: my grandparents made it through six currencies in their lifetime without moving once:
- Mark (until 1923)
- French Franc (1920-1935)
- Reichsmark (1935-1947)
- Saar-Mark (June – Nov 1947)
- French Franc (Nov 1947 – 1959)
- Deutsche Mark (1959-2002)
- Euro (2002 – current)
Even though we’re part of Germany, we Saarländers would totally agree that we’re the most French of all Germans.
What is Saarland like?
There are numerous ways to make your way into Saarland and one of my favourites is taking the train. Even if you happen to be on an ICE, Germany’s fasted train, the closer you get to Saarland, the slower the trains will get. It certainly indicates how life is lived in Saarland.
It’s not that time has stopped but it certainly goes by slower than you’d expect it coming from a bigger city. After all, Saarland is located in the outskirts of Germany in the German countryside.
It’s a retreat from a hectic city life.
Apart from a de-stressed nature, Saarländers tend to gravitate less to sticking to rules compared to Germans from other parts of Germany.
Sights you don’t want to miss are certainly the Saarschleife (the bend of the river Saar):
Having been an industrial and mining region, Saarland offers a beautiful and down to earth industrial heritage called Völklinger Hütte (Völklingen Ironsworks), now a UNESCO Word heritage site and former ironwork factory that was operating from 1873 to 1986:
On the other side, you’ll also find an amazing amount of Michelin star awarded chefs in this tiny piece of land (currently 6):
As you might expect in the countryside, you’ll come across many amateur chefs as well, called der Schwenker. The word der Schwenker is not only used for the meat that is sizzling on the BBQ but also the BBQ itself. And now guess what the activity is called? As a hint read this word backwards: neknewhcs.
Distinctive features of Saarländisch
Speaking of language, there are two dialects in Saarland, the Moselle Franconian dialect in the northwest and the Rhine Franconian dialect in the south east.
The two separate dialects in Saarland are not caused by the river Saar that meanders through the West part of this beautiful piece of land but are dictated by the different pronunciation of the word das (the).
Saarländers, the people, refer to the linguistic division as the Das-Dat-Grenze (das-dat-isogloss). The southern part pronounces the word similar to the standardised standard German das, while northern Saarland prefers to say dat.
The French administration of the region has left positive marks on the Saarland dialect with several French words and structures turned into a hilarious Saarland version.
- Saarländers don’t walk on the sidewalk (Fußgängerweg) but on the “Trottoir”, (pronounced “Trottva”),
- Get out their “Portemonnaie” (pronounced “Portmonnä”), and
- Tell everyone that they HAVE cold (Isch hann kalt) instead of they ARE cold (Mir ist kalt), similar to the French construction J’ai froid.
The French language has had a less great impact on the German spoken in the region than it has had the other way. Parts of the French dialect up until about 30 kilometers into France is easily understandable by Saarländers and almost sounds like a copy of the Saarland dialect.
1. Holen is better than nehmen
Holen (to go get something), here we go again! For the words we add to the German language, we got rid of one special verb: nehmen (to take).
The Saarland dialect, no matter if Rhine or Moselle Franconian, simply uses holen (to get/fetch) exclusively instead, which can cause some confusion among non-Saarländers.
Consequently, Saarländers don’t take the bus, they go and get the bus:
Isch hol’ de Bus. (Ich nehme den Bus)
They also don’t take their medicine, they go and get their medicine:
Isch hol’ die Tabletten. (Ich nehme die Tabletten)
They don’t commit suicide, they go and get their suicide:
Ich hol’ mir das Leben. (Ich nehme mir das Leben)
2. Es Claudia
We also add another little word that makes the Saarland dialect so distinctive. A little rude sounding to other Germans, Saarländers don’t blink an eye when referring to a woman using ‘it’ (not only a girl or baby), even together with her name:
Es (Et) Claudia lo hinnen.
It Claudia over there.
3. Less cases and the love for the ‘sch’ sound
Similar to other parts of Germany, the genitive case is almost non-existent and every now and again we get rid of the accusative as well (it’s paradise, I know!).
Also make sure to get rid of every single ‘ch’ sound like in ich and pronounce it like ‘sch’ instead
Instead of saying
Ich mache die Tür des Autos auf. Das habe ich dir doch gesagt.
Saarländers will say
Isch mach de Dür vom Audo uff. Das (Dat) hann isch da doch gesaaht.
If you want to try it out yourself, you could give the following sentences a try. They are taken from a Saarland dialect course I found on Memrise (there’s also more on Deutsche Welle):
die Freck – the cold, the flu
dabba – fast
es Kannel – rain gutter
gugg emool do – look there
lehne – to borrow, to lend
joo – yes
nee / nää – no
hä? – excuse me? (when you didn’t understood)
fawas? – what for?
Unn? – What’s up? / How are you?
Grumbeere – potatoes
die Flemm hann – don’t feeling like doing something
Please also don’t forget to take my dialect quiz here. Will you be able to tell where the speakers are from?
Are you able to tell the differences between standard German and a German dialect? Do you even have a favourite one? Let me know in the comments.
97 replies on “The German Germans don’t understand – German dialects“
When talking about German the language (in English) it is disappointing that you have not included other German speaking countries, like Austria.
I agree, the Austrian dialects are missing but I left them out on purpose because I was going to write a separate post about them (and the Swiss German ones). Thanks for pointing it out, I should have mentioned it in the post! Will update it once the Austrian one is ready. Thank you for your comment!
My topic of my bachelorwork was about german dialects too. I love the history, diversity and the character of the german dialects. Its so personally and full of emotions comparing to standard German. Thank you for the nice summery, I must share it between my stundent. Gwen (born in Munich, living in the Czech Republic)
That’s awesome! So true, dialects really mean something! Glad you like the article. Danke für deinen Kommentar. Pfiati!
I’m from Bad Kreuznach and I can understand most of what was said. We’re neighbors anyway! I can’t understand the Bavarian dialect though. My mom and I often said we could be sitting next to Germans from another region and they wouldn’t understand a word we said!!!!
Bad Kreuznach! I’ve been there many times, it’s such a lovely town. Yes, I’m sure we would easily understand each other <3 Even after living in Bavaria for more than 10 years, I still have problems understanding some of them but I suppose it goes both ways, Bavarians won't understand us either - I've tried 😀 Thank you for your comment
Ironically, Bad Kreuznach used to be right on the border of Bavaria (city actually spanned the border – the Nahe being the border). No – the city was not relocated. It’s just how far Bavaria was spread. LOL
I didn’t know that! Thank you for telling us, it’s really interesting how the borders changed even within Germany 😀 Danke schön!
Really fascinating. I speak Afrikaans and I find the cognate words, pronunciation and sentence structure in some German dialects to be familiar to the kind of language my community uses! But if you ask me if I do speak German I’d have to say no, and “hochdeutsch” is rather hard for me to understand. Perhaps it’s because there’s considerable german ancestry in my community ( from centuries ago), and there is something like a small amount of code-switching ( if one can call it that) between regional Afrikaans communities.
That is indeed fascinating! I’ve noticed the same, Africaans and German seem very similar, it’s definitely on my list of languages I want to learn one day. Interesting that you find Hochdeutsch rather hard, but then given that Hochdeutsch is the ‘newer German’ not too surprising. Thank you for you commment, I really enjoyed reading it. Danke schön!
I am also a South African (assuming Sonkind is also and not Namibian/Zimbabwean etc.). The dialectal similarities referred to is probably the “heben” being used as 1) to hold/2) to last as in “1) hou dit vas/2) dit hou nogals lank” etc. I believe this is more the french/dutch/flemish influence from the surrounding areas rather than a German concept; however, I might be mistaken.
Afrikaans is a very simply language. It is basically German, except for the omission of 1) conjugation, 2) genders, 3.1) simple past, 3.2) past perfect and 3.3) future perfect tenses.
We only use 3 tenses: present, present perfect and past (simple past is rarely used by old timers, but that is more Dutch eg. “het … gehad = had” etc.).
Thank you Pieter for your comment. It really sounds like learning Afrikaans must be like paradise, no conjugation, genders and ony three tenses! 🙂 Thank you for pointing out the similarities, really interesting!
I found it extremely interesting your article! Thank you for it!
I had to drop speaking German at one point. I usually treat with a lot of German tourists and at the beggining I was willing to speak them in their language so they would understand everything much better (a lot of them dont have a very good English). But unfortunately every time I was standing there with a stupid face because I could not understand a word of what they were asking. That´s not what I was studying for 4 years in a Language School! Not a word! And all of the phrases were standard things that we answer every day a hundred of times.
It´s so frustrating for us, a non-native speakers! And other of my collegues suffers from the same thing. So, I just stopped talking (and begun loosing) German and – English is on now, folks.
Hallo Anyuta, So sad to hear you gave it up but glad you fell in love with another language. If you want to get back into German, I can highly recommend Deutsche Welle. They offer an endless arsenal of listening exercises and short videos for any level you can think of. They’ve also just brought out a new series about the way Germans live, it’s called Deutschlandlabor. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Hope the links help a little, would be sad to see you go <3
awesome article. My families in Saarbrucken. My mom went to school in Bad Kreuznach. Rest of the clan is spread out in Saarland & the pfalz. Thanks for the fun writing!
Nice! Glad you liked the article Polly!
Menko D. Christoph
I was born in Tuebingen, but grew up in Heilbronn and Mannheim, all in Baden Wuerttemberg. As a young boy I spoke entirely in the Swabian (Schwaebisch) dialect. then my family relocated to Arolsen, in the state of Hessen, after which I attended the Merchant Marine School in Hamburg-Blankenese. I quickly realized and learned that in order to be understood, I needed to use and speak Standard German or “Schriftdeutsch.” Hence, I had lots of exposure to different German dialects, and few difficulties comprehending what was being said or meant. – Now, speaking “Platt Deutsch”, that is a totally different story! – Lol….. Thanks for your article and providing this German linguistic insight.
Hallo Menko, Glad you like the article. It must have been a shock after moving to the north and being confronted with a totally different way of speaking! Glad you adapted well, extraordinary that you have no trouble understanding any of them, that’s awesome! Thank you so much for your story, loved reading it.
We have a lot of dialects in the United Kingdom, too, but in general they are usually quite intelligible to the majority of English speakers. The only English I have found almost impossible to understand is the English spoken by some Jamaicans. I studied German for six years in grammar school and I still speak Hochdeutsch fluently, but I find Swiss and Austrian dialects very hard to understand. The German language has had a considerable influence on the development of Swedish (I lived in Sweden for 29 years) and my Swedish partner can read German quite well as many Swedish words are close to their German equivalents, for example, begränsa to limit based on begrenzen in German. Germans living in Sweden usually manage to pick up Swedish quite quickly. German was the main foreign language studied in Swedish schools up until 1945, when it was replaced by English and it is now studied by very few people.
Hallo Barry, English dialects and accents, sometimes I think you could fill a book with it or two, funny that they still seem to be understandable in other parts of the UK. I haven’t learnt Swedish (yet), but from words and sentences I’ve seen, it looks very similar to German. I’d love to give Swedish a try one day, languages are just beautiful! Thank you for commenting and sharing it with us 😀
Love this article! I studied abroad in Saarbrücken (and learned my German from a Southern German in high school), so this made me feel right at home. 🙂 My students are always surprised by how different German dialects can be and sometimes I slip in Saarländisch without even realizing it. It’s been killer to say “ich” in Hochdeutsch instead of trying to at least make it sound a little more southern lol.
Nice! I’ve noticed quite a few exchange students in Saarbrücken in recent years, it must have become popular. Sounds like you had a fantastic time in Saarland. Yeah once you’re used to speaking a dialect it’s hard to switch back, I understand! Glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for telling us your story 😀 Tschüß
Pedro Montoto García
I lived in Luxembourg for a while, without knowing a single word of German or Luxembourgish. Would you say Luxembourgish is the same language you speak or something different? Do you have trouble communicating with Luxembourgers?
Nice! I love Luxembourg. Luxembourgers usually speak perfect German, so communicating is not an issue at all. They speak in a beautiful accent, the intonation is almost French even though they are speaking German. I love listening to Juncker in European Parlament or the Commission because it makes me feel at home. Luxembourgish itself is very similar to the German dialect spoken on the German side of that border region, close to Perl and Orscholz just to trough in some town names, so I would say that Germans from this region (and further north) will probably understand Luxembourgish but the further you move away from the border, the more likely people will assume it to be a different language. My mum was born in a tiny town right next to the Luxembourg border and she has always been able to understand Luxembourgers but has also ended up taking classes in Luxembourgish to be able to join in properly.
Thank you for sharing your article. As a fellow Saarländer, I understand all points made. I have lived in the USA for 40 years, and speak English every day to communicate with friends, neighbors and in official business, and speak “Ginglish” a German-English mix where English words are substituted in order to shorten the sentence, at home. My husband is from the Rheinpfalz, and also speaks his dialect at home. When visiting family and friends in Germany, I usually fall right into my dialect and no one will comment on any accent and compliments us about how well we still speak German, after 40 years away. When I try to speak Hochdeutsch outside of the Saarland, Pfalz and Franken, then people tell me that they hear an American German spoken and compliment my German language skills, haha. Guess I have an American accent trying to speak my other foreign language of Hochdeutsch.
Alla dann, bis zum nägstemol.
Tach Annemarie, Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! I totally agree, speaking Hochdeutsch can feel like speaking a foreign language, I understand 😀 Glad you still get to go back and you’re still able to speak Saarländisch, that’s awesome! 😀 Bis dann (Vielleicht sogar mal im Saarland!)
Does anyone know what German dialects in other countries isolated from standard German would sound like? I’ve discovered a strange German dialect formerly spoken in the Texas Hill Country, now only spoken by a few elderly people. And then there’s Pennsylvania Dutch, which isn’t Dutch at all but German. I read that the Amish have Swiss German origins, so I’m guessing Pennsylvania Dutch would sound like very archaic Swiss German.
I’ve never heard it myself but I’ve read about it. Would be insteresting to know how it sounds, must be like a blast from the past 😀 I’m going to google search that… Thank you for your comment!
I’m a German living in the State of Georgia. I don’t know anything about Texas German, but a little about Pennsylvania Dutch. Most Old Order Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch, and refer to non-Amish people as “English”, regardless of ethnicity. Some Amish who migrated to the United States in the 1850s speak a form of Bernese German or a Low Alemannic Alsatian dialect. According to one scholar, “today, almost all Amish are functionally bilingual in Pennsylvania Dutch and English; however, domains of usage are sharply separated. Pennsylvania Dutch dominates in most in-group settings, such as the dinner table and preaching in church services. In contrast, English is used for most reading and writing. English is also the medium of instruction in schools and is used in business transactions and often, out of politeness, in situations involving interactions with non-Amish. Finally, the Amish read prayers and sing in Standard German (which, in Pennsylvania Dutch, is called Hochdeitsch at church services. The distinctive use of three different languages serves as a powerful conveyor of Amish identity. The Amish largely share a German or Swiss-German ancestry. Source: Wikipedia.
I’m from Lower Saxony and I speak not only Hochdeutsch I also speak and understand other German Dialects. You didn’t wrote anything about Plattdeutsch? English English, german, dutch, frisian are all west germanic languages.
Even swedish, icelandic, faroese are also germanic languages, specifically north germanic languages.
There were east germanic language but they are all exticnt now.(source: https://www.quora.com/Is-English-derived-from-German)
Geographically, you can see that england is very close to friesland, a province in netherland. Linguistically, old english and old frisian are mutually intelligible.
Hallo Elke, Thank you for the interesting insight, it all make sense! I don’t know too much about Plattdeutsch to be honest, apart from what I wrote in the article, that Plattdeutsch is spoken less and less and not as easy to find than the dialects from the south of Germany. Will have to talk to my friends from up north to attempt write something about Plattdeutsch. Vielen Dank für deinen Kommentar.
I am from Westfahlen and grew up with my grandparents who spoke Platt Deutch and Hochdeutch. When they talked about something not meant for my ears they would switch to Platt. Little did they know , it did not take me long to pick it up. At one point I could also speak it, but 50 years in Canada made me forget it. I sometimes wonder if I could still understand it.
Awe, what a lovely story, that would have been such a shock for your grandparents to discover you understand Platt! Thank you for telling us about it 🙂
Pennslyvania Dutch would most likely be a derivative of Swiss German seeing that Jakob Amman, the founder of the Old Order Amish was from there. Outsiders most likely pronounced Deutsch as Dutch. Therefore the dialect of the Pennsylvania Amish came to be known as Pennslyvania “Dutch” Interesting how words foreign to English get Anglicized.
Ah yea that would make sense. It’s really interesting how words and names can change used in different contexts. Thank you for your comment, danke schön!
Hello! I loved your article! Well, I’m german -very german, to be exactly. I’ve lived in Austria (Vienna) the first years of my life. That’s probably why I can understand Austrian better than everyone in my class. But we moved away before I could develop a dialect, so I got no Austrian dialect (sadly :’D). After that we moved to Germany, Thuringia at first (also too short to develop much), then Hesse, and now I live in Hesse. I find myself speaking a mixture of high german, Hessian and a little bit Thuringian. It’s not that much of a difference, but I even found a little bit of Austrian! Like, the northern part of Germany likes to say “Mücke” or “Möhre”, but in southern Germany and Austria we say “Schnarke” or “Karotte”. A thing I realized for hessian was my usage of “Hä?” and “Äh-äh”. They are common almost everywhere in german, but I’ve learned them in Hesse. And a little thing for my Thuringian is that it’s a 50% to 50% percentage (Hessian to Thuringian) of my pronunciation for the end of words. In Hessian you literally swallow every possible syllable or letter, but in Thuringian you pronounce them fully. Like, in Hessian, “Einen” becomes “n”, but in Thuringian it stays the way it is. I really liked your little excursion to Saarland!
Thank you so much for your insights into the Hessen and Thuringian dialect. With all dialects, it just makes more sense when someone explains what happens, how you have to move your mouth to make those funny sounds and which letters to leave out 🙂 otherwise I find it really hard to tell why they actually sound different. Good on you for keeping it up! Thank you so much for telling us about it! <3
Wow! Your article was very informative. I got so much to learn and know things I never knew before. All I speak is Hochdeutsch, but it was very interesting to know the differences in different dialects.
Glad you find it interesting. Thank you for your comment and keep up the good work with learning German! Bis bald!
Klein aber Fein!! The Saarland will always have a special place in my heart. I’m a non-native speaker but spent almost four years living in a tiny town (Türkismühle) in the Saarland. Had only spoken/learned Hochdeutsch to that point… the first time someone greeted me with “Moyer!” I was hooked. 🙂 Formed lifelong friendships and a lifelong love for the dialect and food of the region. Saugeil, vielen dank!
Hallo Alicia, that sounds amazing! Yupp, lifelong friendships sound like Saarland. Also dlad you became such a fan of my homeland 😀 Danke schön.
Nice informative post. I’ve been living in Germany for more than four years now and in two different states: Saxony and Hessen and still have troubles with accents. I’ve never been to Saarland and barely understood the examples you included of the dialect. I find it amazing that Germans themselves have trouble understanding each other and some would even go so far as quipping that Bavarians didn’t speak German . But I suppose this is true of every country given that dialects outdate modern borders. Still, it makes living in this country quite an adventure.
haha, I can imagine it might be a bit of a challenge for you if even the natives can’t understand each other but it also means that your language skills are not to blame! 😀 So happy you like the post (and the German language). Bis bald!
Wow! Thats a quite impressive guide through German dialects.
You cant imagine how much I can relate to this. Living in Baden (a part from the Bundesland Baden-Würtemberg) all I can understand is Badisch and Hochdeutsch. It would be enough to travel 50 km northwards and I couldn’t understand a word of schwäbisch. 50 km eastwards i’d have to understand Bayrisch which is even worse and 50 km southwards I’d have to understand swiss-german whih is the living hell(impossible to understand).
Glad you like the article. Ha, I feel your pain 😀 Glad you understand Badisch though, you’ve got one up on me lol Thank you for your comment!
I luege för s Läbe gärn d Familie Becker. Ou wenn i ned Saarländisch rede, verstoh-n-i die kurlige Gschechte guet! Zerscht muess me es betzeli met em Herni torne, aber denn esch es ganz loschtig. (Of mini Mondart: Hochalemannisch: Aargou)
Ich fürs Leben gern Famili Becker. Obschon ich nicht Saarländisch spreche, verschehe ich diese eigenartigen Geschichten gut! Zuerst muss man ein wenig mit dem Hirn turnen, aber dann ist es ganz lustig.
Auch Druckfehler kann ich auf Hochdeutsch oder Schriftdeutsch machen!
Ja, das kann man in jeder Sprache machen 😀 Vielleicht gibt es irgendwann einmal auch eine Autokorrektur für Dialekte. Das wäre toll!
haha, ‘mit dem Hirn turnen’ beschreibt das alles sehr gut! Freut mich, dass du die saarländische Mundart schätzt (und verstehst). Danke für die Mini Mondart, eine tolle Idee!
Hey Anja, gerade mal Moselfränkisch gegoogled und thegermanz popped up. Schoener Artikel und gute Zusammenfassung. Heute sind wir dabei, Dialekt wieder schreiben zu lernen, und zwar auf Facebook – who’d thunk it? In unserer FB Gruppe “Historisches Koblenz” bekommt jeder extra Points, wenn er “off Kowellenzer” antworten kann. Ich habe 38 Jahre in den USA gewohnt, kann es aber noch ohne Zucken. Hochdeutsch natürlich auch. Man muß aber doch die Liebe für die Sprache und das Gehör mitbringen. Das können nicht so viele.
Hallo Wolfgang, das ist ja wirklich toll, dass ihr auf eurem Dialekt schreibt! Die Gruppe schaue ich mir auf jeden Fall an. Vielleicht finde ich sogar was fürs Saarländische! Danke für deinen Kommentar! <3
Hey great article! I started to learn German a couple weeks ago and I was wondering.. are there dialects all over Germany or are there specific areas where only standard is spoken? I’ve been told that northern Germany lost their dialects so it called my attention how you mention they are still spoken. Thanks in advance!.
Hi Matt, Yes, the dialects can be found all over Germany but more people seem to speak their dialect in the south these days. In the north of Germany around Düsseldorf and up towards Hamburg and further north, more standard German is spoken. Their dialect is still alive up there but not as much cultivated and spoken by as many people as it might be in the south of Germany. In the south it’s pretty normal to find someone who still speaks their dialect while in the north you might have to look a bit harder. Hope that helps 🙂 Danke für deinen Kommentar!
We saw yesterday a very interesting short clip about German dialects on one of the German TV channels. (ZDF or One)
The professor interviewed projects that the about 20 different German dialects will continue to disappear. It started with the advent of Radio, then TV and is accelerating with the influx of other languages and the increased dominance of “Hochdeutsch”.
Oh, that would be really sad! I find dialects absolutely adorable, let’s hope they don’t disappear too quickly. Danke schön für deinen Kommentar!
I left Germany (Burgdorf bei Hannover) in 1958 but I can still speak and write German quite well. My grandparents spoke Plattdeutsch and I understood them reasonably well. Here in Canada I still have German and Austrian friends and I have trouble understanding the Austrians when they speak their Austrian dialect. Once one of them insisted on using it because he wanted to practice it with me but, unfortunately, I had to ask him to switch to high German since I simply could not understand 70% of what he was saying. I also know some Swiss Canadians and when they speak in their Swiss German I can’t understand anything. Once, on a trip to Switzerland I saw a book in Swiss German and I began to read it. To my delight I understood a lot more of that and was able to relate many of the words to German words. Ich bin nun 60 Jahre in Kanada aber spreche immer noch Deutsch mit meinen Brüdern und Deutsch-Kanadische Freunde. Auch arbeite ich noch mit einer Deutschen Firma die ihre Produkte ins Ausland verkaufen und deswegen alle möglichen Broschüre, Anweisungen, und ihre Webseite ins Englische übersetzt haben müssen.
Thank you very much for your article.
Hallo Ulrich, so glad you still speak German after all those years! Yea, Swiss German, if you’re not used to it (like with any dialect), it can be a bit tough. I’m sure my Bavarian friends wouldn’t understand a thing if I spoke Saarländisch with them 🙂 Thank you so much for your comment, really enjoyed reading it!
Love this article. Even for those who just want a laugh. In my case being born in Saarbigge un in Klarenthal gewohnt… just for those moments when some homesickness takes over.
Hahaha, that’s pretty funny, the homesickness is what made me write this article. Grüße aus ehemals Merzig (jetzt Australien) 🙂 merci!
Great Article! My family came from Jena and spoke with a Thuringian accent.
When the wall came down some visited us in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Mennonites and Amish here speak a type of Palantine German. My relatives could not understand them.
Hallo Richard, it’s so fascinating how language evolves in different areas of the planet, isn’t it? I wonder if the Palantine German your relatives speak is an older form of it, very interesting. I’d say the Jena and Thüringen accent can be hard to understand if you don’t have an ear for it, even for Germans, like any other dialect. Danke für deinen Kommentar 🙂
Have you ever been ‘Oben am jungen Rhein’ to Liechtenstein?
I believe that even tiny Liechtenstein has at least three dialect varieties of German, excluding the official Hochdeutsch.
So what does Herr Lafontaine usually speak?
Hi Mark, I’ve never been to Lichtenstein but it’s definitely on my list of places to go visit! haha, what does Herr Lafontaine speak? He tries to speak Hochdeutsch but I sure I’ve heard him speak Saarländisch! LOL Danke für deinen Kommentar 🙂
Very interesting article! Apologies for the slight digression, but your mention of holen vs. nehmen reminded me of when I read Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Instead of making a distinction between “get” and “fetch”, Twain just uses “fetch” for everything. e.g. – “Go and fetch a pail of water”, “It’s late, I should go home before I fetch trouble”. It was disorienting at first, but eventually I figured out the pattern.
That’s very interesting, thank you for pointing it out. Coming from the Saarland dialect I totally understand where Mark Twain was coming from, it’s just so much easier to just say ‘fetch’ for everything 🙂 Danke schön!
At last! Someone who recognizes German “dialects” for what they really are: languages. Congrats! I am tired of the brain washing political notion of a “German language” -with some dialects deriving from it (fictional history). Hopefully you could one day share information about how Hoch Deutch comes from the so called dialects .. and not the other way around! Again. Congrats!
Ah yea, I like the idea of writing something about that. Thank you for the inspriation and for pointing it out, I’m sure a lot of people don’t know how Hochdeutsch has come about 🙂 Danke schön!
If you want some fun, add in the Pennsylvania German dialects and variants of the US and Canada.
haha, yupp I should totally do that! Worth it’s own article I guess 🙂
Excellent article! Although I was born in the United States, my German paternal family is from Schwaben. As such, the German I have been exposed to is the Swabian dialect since we have deep roots in the rural Ostalbkreis region, and as my family immigrated here before the large influx of other Germans into Wurttemberg have made Hochdeutsch the norm nowadays. Your article gives me an even-greater appreciation of the richness of my ancestral dialect. Danke Schon!
Hi Sean, glad you like the article. I agree, knowing a dialect is almost like a gift that has been passed down from our generations of generations. I totally understand how proud you must feel, especially after being able to preserve it in the US. Thank you so much for your comment. Danke schön!
Have visited family in Saarland for years. Just beginning to understand a bit of the dialect, very interesting.
The first time I was in Germany, I attended a family reunion. Most of the family spoke/speaks a dialect from the Rheinland Pfalz, it was fun to listen to that dialect even though I couldn’t comprehend any of it. Of note, I was sitting with a cousin from Westerwald who remarked ‘what are they saying?’.
Love the Saarland, a beautiful part of Germany.
haha, love your little story! Saarländisch can indeed sound a little foreign when you don’t have developed an ear for it yet haha! Saarland is a beautiful part of Germany, I agree. Thank you for your comment 🙂 Danke schön!
Greatly enjoyed your article. I read it from the viewpoint of an Ami who lived and worked in Germany in the Mannheim/Heidelberg and later in the Koblenz areas for nine years and began that period with very little German language ability. By the time I left Germany, I could speak the language well enough that Germans still recognized that I was a foreigner but could not identify me as an American. I certainly had my encounters with dialects like the first time the Schornsteinfeger paid us a visit. He came to the door when he was finished and said “siebemagatchi”. It took pencil and paper to clarify that he was asking me or sieben Mark achtzig.
I am surprised that no one has mentioned the availability of German television, including many dialect programs on the internet. http://WWW.ARD.DE and http://WWW.ZDF.DE provide a wide range of current German TV programming. Live TV is generally prevented due to German laws but nearly every program is recorded and available for playback. Wirtshausmusikanten and Dahoam is Dahoam are a couple of examples of Bavarian dialect programs on the ARD. Both senders provide an alphabetical (A bis Z) listing of available programs under the heading “Mediathek”. News programs provide great examples of standard German (Tageshau (ARD) and Heute Journal (ZDF). There are many programs from regional stations. My wife and I are actually watching Küchenschlacht right now from Arkansas.
Hahaha, I love the story about the Schornsteinfeger! Dialects can be confusing lol Thank you for mentioning the tv programs, those are awesome resources indeed, they really help you get into dialects of a certain region and also teaches you about their customs too, win win! Danke schön für deinen Kommentar! 🙂
Have only just subscribed, so don’t know whether you have dealt with the fine points of Alemannisch as spoken in the Markgraeflerland. ( Sadly, I now live 5,000 miles away.)
My Alemannisch has extraordinary wrinkles: vocabulary left behind by the Romans who farmed and grew wine there for several centuries.
kaie – “to fall” – is just one. I’ll leave you to guess the Latin root.
Thank you so much for your comment. I actually googled Markgräflerland even though I’ve been to the Breisgau region so many times, a beautiful piece of land! I can confirm that the dialect spoken in this region is so different again, you really need to get used to it but I love it especially the intonation 🙂 Danke schön für den Kommentar!
Lat. : Cadere
I saw a bunch of people in the comments wondering about PA Dutch (actually I came here in hopes of learning about dialects so I could figure out exactly where it comes from haha) and I think I can help! I’m half Pennsylvania Dutch, with my mom’s family all coming from York, Pa. York and Lancaster are the main settling grounds in America, and there it’s still spoken greatly. I can one hundred percent say it is not Swiss-German. I’m part of the first generation to live outside PA Dutch area, and my next door neighbors come from the border of Switzerland and Germany. When they have family over my mom will try to speak with them, but they are definitely two different languages, Usually my neighbors have to translate through English because it’s impossible otherwise. The Amish are German, though most PA Dutch are Evangelical Lutheran (like me). We all came from Rheinland-Plaatz area. PA Dutch is a dialect of south-western Germany mixed with the English influence of other immigrants who lived in PA at the time (the Quakers, who also gave us the name Dutch. They couldn’t pronounced Deutsch.)
I actually am trying to find what towns we may have come from currently. I’m studying German and English in college and plan to travel there after school. I know some common slang phrases are like “Es ist allest.” (It’s empty.) “Wilkom.” (Welcome) “Otten the lights.” (Turn off the lights.)
Actually here’s a good example of two stanzaa from well known PA Dutch poem from our history book, “Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook.”
“You can’t redd up the world and make
All the people talk the same.
The Pennsylvania Deitsch is ourn,
And yourn is what you name.
Du konnst net mocha, sie geh net glieh,
Olla bleiwa so, gel net?
Die gaul geh zu die scheira hin,
Und ich zu Deitsch, you bet.”
If anyone can actually tell like what specific area of Rheinland we could from, that would be super awesome! Also, just so you guys know, never, EVER tell a full PA Dutch person you think they speak Swiss-Dutch/Swiss-German. We get that a lot and it’s probably the fastest way to insult them haha. ^^; Also don’t believe anything you read on wiki. I’m constantly rewriting that page because bad information from outsiders keeps being put into! I’ve given up. The idiots out number me. *shrug*
Hopefully some of this will help teach someone something they didn’t know about us. 🙂
^^this^^ 😀 Thank you so much for your comment! I can’t believe we finally have someone commenting who actually speaks it! I’m amazed, thank you so much for commenting and enlightening all of us <3 Danke schön!
Nice Blog !
“Duuu, ich kann’s ned heewe!” / “Isch konn’s ned heewe” =
I can’t help it / do anything about it / Whatever …
The intonation of this sentence when spoken in Central Baden (Rastatt/Offenburg) is quite different from the intonation of this sentece in Northern Baden (Mannheim).
hahaha, I’ve notice the differences as well. I’m quite often in Mannheim as I have family there and just a few kms down the road it’s like it’s a different world (in terms of language!) Thank you for commenting, lightened up my day 😀
My parents emigrated from Moenchengladbach and Eschweiler, both NRW towns in the 1930s. They thought it was important to hand down their dialect to me, a US born child. I didn’t speak English yet in kindergarten, but, children learn quickly. It was quite a complement to my deceased parents when a distant cousin called me “an echte NRW Westphalerin”, a native speaker of my parents dialect on a recent trip to Germany.
That’s so nice! Glad you got to successfully put your parents’ dialect to the test (but wouldn’t it also be your dialect I wonder?). Thank you for commenting 🙂
Hello Anja.Thank you for writing this informative article.I liked it very much.May i ask you a question about Saarland?The city is called Saarbrücke.Had ıt named because of a bridge on Saar?I heard that brücke means bridge in Standard German.Thank you for sparing time for this marvellous article.
Hi Emre, you’re right, there are several bridges across the River Saar, in fact you’ll find about 4 or 5 very close to each other. They are so significant that locals will use them to describe where a particular place is located: “It’s just off the “Westspange” (one of the first bridges coming from the north) and then right…” Glad you liked the article and thank you so much for commenting 🙂 Danke schön!
since we’ve recently discussed variations of English and English as a world language in my English class, we found your blog while doing some research. Here are my students’ comments on your blog.
we talked about dialects and variations of English at school and we think that your page is really interesting. You gave some funny examples and videos on the Saarland dialect, which we grew up with and speak. Since there are so few of us, we appreciate that you teach other people about our tradition and language.
We often do not realize how many things are typical for our region only, e.g. words like schnäkes which means candy.
Keep going with your blog, our beautiful little home deserves more attention!
Have a nice day un machs gudd 🙂
Your website shows that being German does not always mean understanding every German word. We’re currently discussing dialects in our English class and that’s how we found your website.
In Germany there are lots of different dialects within the language. You can find Bavarian, which isn’t similar to the northern dialects or specific dialects only spoken in one city, like in Berlin or Cologne. There is also Saarländisch, which is spoken only in the south western part of Germany, in Saarland. We totally agree on the bullet points mentioned about the different dialect spoken in the Saarland. Saarländisch is one of many German dialects, but it’s very special to the population of the Saarland. The vocabulary we use really differs from words other Germans use, so it can be difficult to understand us. So, other people could struggle understanding us, even if we’re just asking how they feel (Unn?) or where something is (Lo hinnen). Here are some words and phrases we consider as
important vocabulary for a vacation in Saarland:
When in need of a pen ask for a Dauerschreiver instead of a Kugelschreiber, and if you have problem, tell the people you have Huddel (even better, for advanced learners, isch han Huddel). In addition to this, there is a big French influence which can also be explained by the history of our small state. Because of this, we also use more words of French origin than any other Germans. You cleary can see the French influence of a Saarländer by hearing him say that he has cold instead of saying it the correct German way (he is cold).
To conclude, Saarländisch is a very lovely dialect.
as you may have noticed while reading this we are from Saarland like you. Before reading your blog entry we always thought that we were speaking standard German quite well but we must admit that we were wrong. It seems like “Saarländisch” is part of our everyday language! 😉
We can totally say that your blog entry is very entertaining and those different audios and pictures showed vividly how different accents in Germany are. We would love to read another blog entry like this about English accents and dialects. *_*
Keep it up Anja! 🙂
Your website shows that being German does not always mean understanding every German word. The map of Germany showing which dialect is spoken in which region is very well done. We come from Saarland and we did not know exactly where which dialect is spoken. We’re currently discussing dialects in our English class and that’s how we found your website.
We’re also “Saarländer” and we can totally relate to what you’re saying on your website and we think it’s a great representation of what life and more importantly the dialect in Saarland is like. We grew up mostly talking standard German so we learned “saarländisch” while growing up and for us it’s always funny to see that there are still some words we don’t know.
Even funnier to us is that most “Saarländer” don’t even realize that they are not talking standard German, for example when they’re cold.
Our opinion about this page is that we find it really good how you present the different dialects in different states like Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, etc.. The individual reports are classified in different complex of themes which all have a different heading. We realized that we talk more “saarländisch” than we thought and how odd it must sound to a “non-Saarländer”☺
Hello Anja Müller,
in our English class we talked about dialects and read parts of your blog. We enjoyed reading through your web entry. We especially liked the pictures and the sound files. More over we are from Saarland, so we could relate to the facts you mentioned in the text. We also think that saarländisch is a very special dialect which is hard to understand for people who are not from Saarland. The other dialects you mentioned in the text sounded kind of funny to us, because we are not used to them. But all in all, your article provided a great overview about the German dialects.
Hallo Pas, this is so amazing! I can’t believe your class wrote so much about the Saarland dialect, that’s absolutely beautiful! <3 What I love about your students' stories is that they mention how it's sometimes difficult to know where the Saarland dialect ends and standard German starts. When I first moved to Munich after growing up in Saarland people would just look at me funny not knowing what I meant when I was talking about having "die Freck" (Saarland dialect for having a cold) for example 🙂 It really took a while to get accustomed to speaking standard German all day every day 😀 Vielen Dank für die Texte, es hat mich total gefreut! Viele Grüße an deine Schüler, gudd gemacht! 🙂
as ex-Saarlaenner, born and raised in the Saarland, but immigrated into the United States more than 3 years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed your post and subsequent comments, making me travel down memory lane. A few additional fun facts y’all might enjoy:
In my family (from Sulzbach), “butter” was referred to as “DE(R) budder”, i.e., masculine gender as in French (LE beurre) rather than feminine as in High German “DIE Butter”. Furthermore, we used “es chaiselongue” to refer to a sofa, and used words such as “Schinoos” (“Chinois”), Filou, Barras etc. very commonly – all French words that non-Saarlander (AKA Reichsdeutsche ) would not understand.
In elementary school, I had to learn my first foreign language, High German, which we were required to speak in class. The biggest problem most of us students had was with relative pronouns, where in Saarlandish we’d say “der wo”, “die wo” and “das wo” instead of “der, die, das”. Deutsch was my least favorite subject in school…
I also remember a family vacation at the North Sea/Schleswig Holstein in the sixties, where the locals referred to us as “Saarfranzosen” and complimented us for our German language skills. I am sure by now that this attitude has changed…
Lastly, Saarlandish (unlike Luxembourgish) is a spoken, not written language, and most of us (ex-)Saarlaenders have to make up the spelling rules as we type!
One of my favorite saying about the savoir-vivre in the little borderlands between Germany, France and Luxembourg, called Saarland, has been and still is “De Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt, de Saarlaenner schwenkt”
hahaha, thank you so much for your insights on the Saarländisch dialect! Totally forgot about the “der wo”, “die wo” and “das wo”, so so good! No wonder no other German can understand us Saarländers! But then they shouldn’t compliment us on our German language skills… but they probably think “ah well, not quite right but good enough for a non native speaker”… who knows 🙂 Thank you for your comment!
No different with English, French, Spanish.
There are 6 different “Cockney” accents in a =n area of just a few sq. miles.
Try understanding English in the USA!!! Good luck.
In Spain, there is Castilian, Andalusian, Catalan and more.
Spanish in any country in South America differs from every other country.
The French in Alsace, Paris, Marseilles, Arles, Luberon, Alps etc are all different.
In Brittany, the language is not even French.
Oil”, it is related to Cornish spoken across the Channel in Cornwall.
French in Switzerland, Belgium, Aosta in italy and Quebec canada are all very different.
In fact, there are at least 6 different French dialects in Quebec, another in New Brunswick, Ontario and Mantoba.
China has possibly hundreds of separate languages, most are incomprehensible with the others.
Out west in China the language of the Uighurs is of Turkic origin, and Taiwanese is distinct too.
Ah jupp, it’s not uncommon I bet! Thank you for mentioning this as well, Joseph
I learned German from my Oma. My natural dialect is East Prussian. In 2013, I was invited to a Christmas party held at a local German Restaurant. I got passed around like a glass of water. “Hans, kommt heir du muss dies Mann horhren.” Many said they hadn’t heard the dialect since the War.
Lovely article !
I learned Swabian from my grandfather, who came to New York in 1955 from Schwäbisch Gmünd. He always said Grommbeera (potatoes), Trottwar (sidewalk), Abort (toilet) and Kukommer (cucumber) instead of the Hochdeutsche Worte. He also used many other words which were clearly of French origin. It appears that much of southwestern Germany was clearly French influenced from Napoleonic times.
Hi Samuel, yes it’s really intriguing how all these French words are still part of certain dialects. Glad to hear it’s not only the Saarländisch dialect but also in Schwäbisch. Thank you for commenting!
Also, I’d like to clarify that Pennsylvania Dutch is actually Pennsylvania German, and specifically Pfälzisch in origin. This is an official advisory from my healthcare provider here in Pittsburgh, PA directed at people in the Pennsylvania Dutch community. It’s definitely Pfälzisch:
Geb Acht: Wann du Deitsch schwetzscht, kannscht du en Dolmetscher griege, un iss die Hilf Koschdefrei. Kannscht du die Nummer an deinre ID Kard dahinner uffrufe.”
Not Dutch, not Swiss-German, but definitely a form of southwestern German.
Hi Samuel, it really does sound/reads like Pfälzisch! Love the dialect, it makes everyone sound super friendly! Thank you for commenting!
Dear Anja, A BIG Hello from New York City! I have a question regarding the additional languages spoken by people who lived in Saarbrucken during the years it was under The League of Nations- 1920-1935. For example, were British English and French taught in schools during that time period? Thanks, Lisa