Austria’s an easy one. About eight million people live in Austria, and they all speak a variety of German known as Austrian German which differs only slightly from mainstream German. Austria and Germany were once linked very closely culturally and politically, so it’s little wonder they share a language.
Some folks mistakenly think there is such a thing as a Swiss language – but there isn’t. Of the seven million people living in Switzerland, about two-thirds speak German. The rest speak French and Italian – although a very small number speak a language called Rhaeto-Romansh. Switzerland is the only German-speaking country in Europe to not apply for membership in the European Union.
An ancient principality, Liechtenstein is now a very rich, very tiny constitutional monarchy nestled between Switzerland and Austria. It’s 35,000 inhabitants speak German. The princes of Liechtenstein have ruled this area since the 12th century, and are today one of the richest families in the world as their tiny country has prospered since the latter half of the 20th century.
Although the official government business of Luxembourg is conducted in French, the population of about half a million people predominantly speak German in their daily lives – all the newspapers, for example, are in German. Specifically, they speak a dialect of German called Lëtztebuergesch, but are officially considered a German-speaking country.
Only about 1 percent of Belgium’s population speaks German (about 100,000 people), mainly along the border with Germany. But German is one that small country’s official languages, and since Belgians speak a wide variety of languages it isn’t unusual to have a section of the population speaking a different tongue than everybody else!
German speakers survive in enclaves all over the world. Poland, Romania, and Russia all have significant German-speaking populations, and Italy has regions that speak German as a regional official language. Some of the former German colonies also continue to foster German-speaking populations, such as Namibia, Ruanda, Burundi.
There remain German-speaking outposts in the United States, as well, in region such as Pennsylvania and Central Texas. Prior to World War I, when anti-German sentiment swept the USA, German was a language you could hear or read on a daily basis in many areas of the country.
German, of course, remains a vital and important language today. If you’ll be travelling through Europe, learning some German will serve you well!