German: A Key Language In The European Union
We’re glad you’ve joined us as we continue our countdown journey of the world’s ten most powerful languages. This week we focus on the #7 language on the list—German. In addition to being the official language of Germany, Europe’s largest economy, German is also an official language of Switzerland and one of the most widely used languages in the European Union.
We’ll share some helpful phrases and business protocol tips below, but first, a recent example of how a common expression in English can give Germans pause.
A US business manager attending a global conference was glad to finally meet overseas colleagues in person. As conversation at a team dinner grew more relaxed, a German associate raised the issue of how English speakers begin conversations.
A common greeting is “How are you?”, with little response expected beyond “I’m fine.” or a similar short answer. For Germans at the table, that question deserved a frank answer conveying more information than US speakers expect. This is sometimes called a “false friend” phrase, in this case one that is not seeking an authentic answer. Bridging even the simplest of language differences helps make business teams more effective.
Discovering that even a common question may not make a powerful first impression is a good reason to learn customary German phrases and customs. Here are a few to get you started:
- When introductions include employees of different levels, start with the name of the lower-ranking person.
- To formally introduce yourself, say “Guten Tag mein Name ist ___________.” You’ve already got this one: “Hello, my name is ___________”.
- Business cards, exchanged regularly in Germany, are an expression of formality, business etiquette, and rank—so have a good supply on hand.
- As you offer your card, a phrase to use is “Hier ist meine Visitenkarte.” or “Here is my card.”
- In business settings, the use of last names and the formal “you” (Sie) is still most prevalent, as in “Wie heißen Sie?”, or “What is your name?”
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