French vs German? 5 key factors to decide which you should learn

November 10, 2023

If you’re deciding whether you should learn German or French, then you’re in the right place.

Choosing what language to learn is exciting, but it can be tricky. That’s why we’ve compiled all the things you should think about in deciding which language – French or German – to take up next.

Here are the top 5 factors you need to think about when choosing whether to learn French or German

1. Reason for learning

This is, perhaps, the single most important thing you need to consider. Why are you learning a language? Having a personal reason for learning is a great driver on the road to fluency.

Whether you have family in Germany or a great love of French wines, a new French neighbour or a passion for knackwurst, if one language has more of a personal appeal for you, that’s the one to go with. 

Got the drive to learn but need a little boost? Our app, Busuu, can help

Our Study Plan feature can help you put together a plan so you can stay on track, whichever language you choose. 

2. Technical challenges

Broadly speaking, both of these languages are fairly easy for English speakers to learn – especially relative to other harder languages to learn, such as Hindi. 

Like German, English is a Germanic language, so they share a lot in terms of sentence structure and vocabulary. That said, there are many French words used in English, thanks to The Norman Conquest of England that began in 1066. Both of these languages have plenty of words that’ll make you say, “Oh! That’s… pretty much the same”. 

Beyond that, if you speak another Romance language, French will come easier. If you speak another Germanic language like Yiddish or Dutch – or even a further off cousin like Swedish ­– German may not seem quite so hard.

That said, thanks to some tricky grammar rules, both can involve a bit of an uphill climb, particularly if you’re not already bilingual. The biggest hurdle is getting used to new grammatical rules and structures that we don’t have in English. 

German grammar, as we all know, is notoriously tricky. For example, German has three genders for nouns – masculine, feminine and neuter. Meanwhile, French has just two – masculine and feminine. 

German also uses something called declensions, where a word’s function in a sentence changes it slightly. Just to put it into context for you: German has roughly six variations on the word “the”, and French has three. Nitty-gritty things like these can make getting started a bit of a challenge – but between the two, French will be a little easier, with (slightly) fewer endings to learn. 

That said, experts largely agree that the more German you learn, the easier it gets, while French gets more complicated the deeper you dive in. 

And German pronunciation is definitely easier. German words are spelled blessedly similar to how they’re pronounced, while French spelling is based on twelfth-century pronunciations no longer in use.

The moral of the story? Whether it’s German or French, learning a language always involves some stumbling blocks. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t become fluent in either French or German (or both, one after the other, if that floats your boat). It’ll just take a bit of elbow grease.

3. Cultural appeal

Another thing to bear in mind when deciding whether to learn French or German? The cultures tied to each language. But whichever you pick, you won’t be disappointed.

Let’s start with French: if it’s art, architecture and food you’re looking for, French simply has the edge. French greats include Molière, Descartes, Proust, Monet. What’s more, French cinema, with filmmaking maestros like Jean Luc Godard, has a stellar reputation (just check out some of our top picks for French movies on Netflix to find out why!).  

If you want to explore scientific theory, engineering, and analytical thinking, however, German could be right for you.The German language gave us Einstein, Marx, Nietzsche, and Kant – plus Milli Vanilli, Kraftwerk, and Werner Herzog.  

4. General ‘usefulness’

Another important consideration is how you’re hoping to use the language. If you want a language that’s great for travel, French is an excellent choice. 

There are native French speakers all over the globe, from Belgium to Canada to French Guiana. French is spoken in 31 different countries in Africa alone, where it is, in many places, the lingua franca for business and communication.

That said, Germany has the largest economy in Europe, with over 80 million native speakers in and around Germany. German is used and spoken as a first or second language in many Eastern European countries, and is an important language in scientific writings. 

Engineers, in particular, are encouraged to learn German because of its place in historical scientific primary sources and modern journals. 

So, if you’re scientifically minded, looking for a language business, or are planning a trip around Germany and further East, German is an excellent choice.

5. Your location

Lastly, something you may want to consider is the world around you right now. Learning a language to boost your career or live life to the fullest on your travels is great. But, if you have people around you today who speak one language or the other, you can and should weigh that in your decision making. 

This factor varies greatly based on your location. For example, if you’re an American in North Dakota, you’ll have access to a large German-speaking population, while someone in Louisiana will be surrounded by French speakers, French signage and French history. 

Similarly, those in Canada will have tons of exposure to French language, whereas someone in Hungary will likely find German much more common and useful.

In the end, it all comes down to you.

And there you have it. Those are our top five tips on what you should consider when deciding which language to learn: French or German. Have you made up your mind?

The time has come. Don’t worry, just listen to your gut. 

When you’re ready, click.

We’re Busuu, by the way – a language-learning app where you can connect with native speakers and take online language lessons. Select your language to get started today.

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