Most people have heard of the Tower of Babel story in the Bible. According to this story, long ago all people spoke the same language. Later, however, they were punished by speaking a great number of different tongues. Today, there are literally thousands of different languages (defined as mutually unintelligible tongues) around the world, though many are related to one another. Indeed, the two largest language families, the Indo-European (the language family with the largest number of speakers) and Sino-Tibetan (containing the Chinese languages, Thai, Vietnamese, and Tibetan) include hundreds of languages with over half the world's population.
Because there are so many languages within the above two super-categories of language families, linguists have further divided these linguistically rich and geographically diverse families into sub-groups, one of which, the Germanic language group, has the second-largest number of speakers (Chinese being first). Within this group of over 500,000,000 speakers is the world's foremost international language, English, foremost in terms of its geographic spread and number of second-language users. German, spoken by just over 100,000,000 people, is one of the world's ten-largest languages in terms of population. As English and German speakers constitute the majorities in several of the world's most economically, militarily, and technologically developed countries, it is important to be familiar with this particular language grouping.
Linguists further divide the Germanic languages into three groups, two extant and one extinct. East Germanic languages are no longer spoken; Gothic is an example of this small and historic grouping. Afrikaans, Dutch, English, Flemish, and German are the more important languages within the West Germanic grouping. The Scandinavian languages of Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish comprise the North Germanic grouping. Though these languages cannot be easily understood among their different speakers, the similarities in vocabulary are striking.
Take for example the two largest languages with this group, English and German. The word Haus in German is house in English, with nearly the same pronunciation. Some names of German family members are instantly recognizable to English listeners and readers: Mutter, Bruder, and Onkel for the English mother, brother, and uncle (all German nouns are capitalized in print). Other German family members are easily learned: Vater, Schwester, and Tante for the English father, sister, and aunt. Thus, those who know English and want to study German find their first year of learning vocabulary to be relatively easy. The same is true, of course, for those who want to learn Dutch or Danish from an English or German background; these many similarities are due to the single common parent language of all the Germanic tongues, even though this "grandfather" language no longer exists.
Speakers and writers of the Germanic languages account for a great deal of the world's output in everything from economics to literature to military to science and technology. Hardly an aspect of modern life does not benefit from the contributions made by those using these languages, as in the Internet, Hollywood entertainment, Dutch (Phillips) and Scandinavian consumer goods design (Ericsson, maker of cellular phones, is a Swedish company, as are Volvo and Saab), and even the Nobel prizes (awarded by both Norwegian and Swedish institutes). More than one-third of the world's economic production originates in these countries, too.
For any speaker of a language outside the Germanic language group preparing to choose a useful second language for the future, English is probably the best bet. German, too, is very useful in the fields of medicine, economics, military, and science and technology. Being able to communicate with others in this far-reaching linguistic group will offer the user immeasurable benefits.
就拿日耳曼语系中英语及德语两大语言来说吧，德文的 Haus 就是英文的 house，发音几乎完全相同。一些德语家庭成员的称呼如：Mutter, Bruder 和 Onkel，懂英语的人很快地就知道这些字指的就是 mother, brother 和 uncle（德文的名词一律大写）。其它有关家庭成员名称的德语说法也很容易学：像 Vater, Schwester 和 Tante 在英文里指的就 father, sister 和 aunt。因此懂英语而想学德语的人，会发现初学词汇的第一年是很容易的一件事。当然，具有英语和德语背景的人要学丹麦语和荷兰语也同样是件易事。这些相似处乃因所有日耳曼语系皆源自共同的母语，尽管这个“爷爷级”的语言已不复存。