German is not an international language in the same way as English or French is, but it is surprising just how many people actually speak it, either as a first language or a second language, most commonly because of being born into a German-speaking family.
German Speaking Countries Around the World
How many countries speak German can be divided into two natural categories. The first consists of those countries where German is the major language or an important language of that country. The second category consists of countries where German is not the official or national language, but where there are a significant number of German speakers.
The list of countries that speak German is significantly less than that of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. The reason is that Germany never became an important colonial power. Its colonial reach was limited to two countries in Africa (Tanganyika and South West Africa, now Namibia) and two more in the Pacific (New Guinea and Samoa). These colonies were removed from German control during or at the end of the First World War, and in the interim German as a language has lost its former importance.
German-speaking countries around the world, other than the principal German-speaking nations of Europe, are not former colonies, but the countries to which German speakers emigrated over the years in relatively large numbers. Like many immigrants, these scattered communities have retained what they can of their cultural heritage, including their language.
The list of countries that speak German as an official language includes Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Luxembourg. Around 80 million people in Europe speak German as a first language, making it the most widely spoken language in that continent. There are smaller communities of German speakers in France, Holland, Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic. German speakers from all of these countries have made their home right around Europe as workers, spouses, tourists, and retirees.
How many countries speak German outside Europe reflects the history of migration. Much of this migration occurred either towards the end of the nineteenth century or in the first half of the twentieth century in a series of waves. Each wave of migration reflected the balance of pull/push factors that encouraged movement as it did for any other group of people.
The list of countries that speak German in a relatively minor way includes the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and Australia. Of the former German colonies, only Namibia can claim to have a relatively large German-speaking population.