German is now widely spoken across the European Union and is the official language of Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein, as well as being an official language of Switzerland and Luxembourg. Learning german has many benefits and most secondary schools in England offer German as one of their Modern Foreign Languages, dividing groups of learners into sets based upon their proficiency in the subject.

Research shows, however, that children are most susceptible to learning a second language between the ages of two and three, when their vocabulary is increasing at a very fast rate. Contrary to what you might think though, toddlers are still able to differentiate between two languages as they begin to understand the different sounds associated with the two dialects.

Therefore, if you have had the opportunity to spend time in a German-speaking land, to live with a bilingual German speaker or to have been taken to language classes as a child (such franchises are increasingly popular nowadays), you may find that you pick up the German language much faster and with ease.

Many of us, however, are completely new to second languages as we enter secondary school, so for those who have no experience of German or the country's history, here is a brief overview of modern Germany's history.

Experts suggest that a certain level of knowledge of the country in which the language is spoken accelerates understanding of culture and consequently their ability to speak the language in a more fluent manner.

A Brief History Of Modern Germany

When you learn a language at school, like German GCSE or A-level for instance, you don’t get the opportunity to learn much in the way of the country’s history or culture. However, should we be learning more about the territories in which the language is spoken, and explore how life and language have developed as a result of external influences?

Although the the history of Germany dates back to Roman times, the Federal Republic of Germany was not founded until 1949. Taking this into consideration, I will concentrate on the country’s last 100 years and discover how, during this time, the nation came to be the popular European country it is in this 21st century.

The Weimar Republic, 1918-1933

As a result of military defeat which in turn caused a social revolution, The Weimar Republic was born. The coalition comprised the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the German Democratic Party (DDP), the Centre Party and a distant member of the Progressive Party. With more than 75% voting in favour of this set up, Friedrich Ebert was later elected as the assembly’s first president.

Following the constitution of the new Weimar Republic, the government gradually developed a truly democratic parliamentary system, however the leader still had the power to dismiss cabinet members and veto legislation.

Following years of the population not believing the republic’s legitimacy, the Weimar Republic became an unstable coalition and President Ebert thus called on Gustav Stresemann, head of the German People's Party (DVP), to form a new government.

Stresemann’s successes were the Locarno treaties, the Treaty of Berlin and the country’s membership in the League of Nations.

After The Great Depression hit, Germans were ready to adopt extreme measures and the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), or Nazi party, knew it. The programme targeted voters with intense media campaigns and convinced many with at least some aspects of their right-wing visions.

Promising national order and a newfound national pride, Hitler was appointed as chancellor in 1933 and the Nazis increased their delegation seats, making the NSDAP the largest party of the Reichstag. Before long, thanks to his ruthless drive, Hitler had doctoral control over the nation.

If you find a tutor who's interested in history, a German language course London or Winchester can also teach you some of the finer points of pre-Nazi Germany.

The Third Reich, 1933-1945

In September 1939, German troops invaded Poland, meanwhile France and Britain declared war on Germany. In 1940, Germany had conquered Denmark and Norway and set its sights on the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France with a large number of French and British soldiers fighting on. A year later, Hitler haphazardly led his troops to invade the Soviet Union but he hadn’t expected their strong resistance.

Hitler made no secret of his belief that the Jews were a threat to the German race, and he pushed his anti-Semitic notions by removing many of their rights and ‘cleansed’ the country by moving and subsequently exterminating these individuals.

The genocide became a factory-like mass murder scheme of men, women and even children. Around 6 million European Jews were assassinated in the Holocaust before Hitler was faced with certain defeat and committed suicide.

Celebrations erupted throughout Germany and Europe and the 9 May 1945 was named Victory Day.

Members of the government were arrested and charged with war crimes while democratic political parties were reintroduced.

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The holocaust led to millions of Jewish people in Germany being assassinated.
The genocide devastated many across Europe and beyond. Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 98M Views via Visual Hun

In December 1945, the Christian Democratic Union was formed and then, within just a few years after the conclusion of the war, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) were founded.

The Ulbricht Era, 1949-1971

The Berlin Wall: A Divided City

Having experienced significant economical difficulties during the decade that followed World War II, the GDR discovered that young easterners were fleeing to the west. By consequence, they ordered that a wall be built along the border between east and west Berlin, but that didn’t stop many Germans from trying to escape. The fall of this wall in 1989, almost 30 years after it was built, was a huge step towards the reunification of Germany.

The Berlin Wall divided the east from the west for almost 30 years.
The fall of the Berlin in 1989 was a big step towards the reunification of Germany. Photo via VisualHunt

The So-Called Fourth Reich, 1945-present

Today’s Germany

Despite its own financial difficulties over the years, Germany is one of Europe’s dominant powers having led the European Union (EU) out of global financial crisis. In 2002, the Euro replaced the Deutsche Mark, with this new currency becoming very important to the country as it later decides to bail out Greece in a bid to protect the Euro.

In 2005, Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel became the first female chancellor in Germany, and despite her position coming under fire in the United States, she is now on her fourth term of office as chancellor.

Merkel will be up against politician and current leader of the SDP Martin Schulz in the upcoming national election later this month.

Education In Germany

Public education in Germany is quite different from that in other European countries, with a system that makes it possible for children and young adults to study up to degree level without compromise, in spite of their family’s financial situation. As a result, the country is known for producing high-performing pupils.

Although public schools are often the preferred choice, there are private schools too. Starting off in Kindergarten aged between three and six, children move up to Grade 1, or Grundschule. When they reach Grade 4, they are divided into sets according to their academic ability and the choices made by their parents. They can choose to either attend Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium, three different types of education.

The term Kindergarten has become widely used, particularly in America.
The German education system starts with Kindergarten. Photo credit: Pascal Volk via VisualHunt

Hauptschule teaches the same subjects as the other two but at a slower pace and with more focus on vocational aspects. It often leads students on to part-school/part-training with combined apprenticeships.

Realschule allows pupils to enter part-time and higher vocational schools, and many can transfer to a Gymnasium upon graduating.

Gymnasium, by contrast, is a form of education that concludes with a diploma (the Abitur) and prepares students for university or other higher level credentials. Most courses will include a broad range of subjects like the study of foreign languages, German, Mathematics, Computer Science, Live Sciences, Philosophy, History and Music.

Classes across all types of public schools normally begin between 7.30am and 8.15am and end between noon and 1.30pm with classes lasting 45 minutes. With no school lunches and a weighty load of homework, students are required to do more independent study at home than in UK schools.

The school year consists of just two semesters and the pupils normally go back to school mid-end August. They have longer Christmas and Summer breaks, with shorter holidays around Easter and in Autumn.

There exist several dozen international schools across Germany which usually offer courses in English and lead onto diplomas like the International Baccalaureate, which makes the move from their educational structure in Germany towards further education or employment in Britain relatively straightforward.

Learn about the best German revision guides and past papers to get the best results possible.

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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.