There are lots of different reasons you might be motivated to learn German.
You live in Germany or hope to move there
You have family or friends who speak German
You’re planning to visit Germany or another German-speaking country
Your significant other is a German-speaker
You’re intrigued by German Culture or History
Whatever your reason, you should be excited!
German is a fascinating and rewarding language to learn. By learning even basic German, you’ll open a world of opportunities for yourself.
Perhaps you’re already motivated to learn German, but here are a few more reasons learning this beautiful language could be a life changing experience for you:
1. German Is A Popular Language
When you think of learning German, you might think you’re learning a language only 81 million people speak in some small country in Europe.
Well, you’d be wrong, because it’s spoken all over the world, often in the most unusual places.
Including foreign speakers, German has up to 220 million speakers worldwide. Opening up your networking possibilities to such a large group of people can mean new opportunities for jobs, travel, friends, personal growth, love, and much more.
Aside from Germany, German is also the main language in:
Parts of Belgium
And it’s also recognised as a minority language in:
And many others countries …
On the map below, the countries shown in bright red represent countries where German is the official primary or co-primary language. However, German is also recognised as a minority language in all of the regions marked in pink because of the large German-speaking communities who live there.
Estimates tell us that German is the native language of about 95 million people, up to 25 million speak it as their second language, and there could be as many as 100 million foreign speakers.
German is not only the most widely spoken language in the European Union, it’s also one of the most widely taught in Europe and the USA.
This means it’s a great language to learn because you’ll find opportunities to use it all over the world!
2. Learning German Can Change Your Life In Many Ways
If you love to travel, German will help you get by all across the globe. The ability to speak German while travelling opens up new experiences in all of the countries highlighted on the map above. In German-speaking countries, natives can often steer you towards insider tips and top suggestions for things to do that wouldn’t be possible if you didn’t speak the language.
Learning German can do wonders for your career. With one of the strongest economies in the world, Germans are all about efficiency, working hard, and saving money. They love to plan and organise their lives to be comfortable, sustainable, and cost-effective. Their workplace is similarly structured, with health insurance, pension plans, and long paid vacation periods being standard. Countries like Germany and Switzerland have some of the highest standards of living in the world, which makes German speaking countries attractive places to live. If you’re a professional working in an on-demand field, some German language skills might just open up new career opportunities for you.
Learning German makes it much easier to learn additional languages. Having a knowledge of one foreign language makes it much easier to grasp the concepts of others. Once you start learning about new grammatical structures, their differences, and similarities, you will have an easier time adapting and applying your learning methods to other languages. Even if you don’t continue to learn other languages after German, you’ll find that German still helps you understand some basic vocabulary in a lot of other foreign languages. Many Indo-European languages have words that are spelt similarly, or share the same roots so you’ll be able to decode simple words in related languages like Dutch or Danish.
Enjoy Authentic German Culture. Germany has a rich cultural history, and learning the language will allow you to appreciate some of its finest masterpieces in their original state. Some of the greatest philosophical and literary works in the world were written in German and some of the most famous classical music composers come from Germany. German culture has had a tremendous impact on the rest of the world.
For a deep dive into the German language, and especially its diverse dialects, check out this video:
1. What Is German? A Linguistic Background
German belongs to the West Germanic group of Indo-European languages, alongside English and Dutch. That means we have some similarities to get started and form a basic understanding.
The first recordings of the German language start with the Romans in the first century BC. From this time until the 6th century AD, there was a single Germanic language with almost no dialects. Different dialects and forms of German first appeared later on.
Nowadays, like English, German has many different dialects in different regions. Most of these dialects belong to either High German or Low German, differing by their pronunciation.
2. The German Cases
German is an inflective language, which means words differ according to their grammatical gender. There are three different possibilities:
These just have to be learned by heart, but sometimes there is a logical correlation. For example:
Not too difficult so far, right?
Nouns are then inflected based on one of the four cases:
This is one of the main differences between German and English. Learning to use the correct ending is not always easy for us English speakers, and takes time and practice to get used to. In the grammar section of this article, you’ll read about cases in more detail and learn how they work.
Don’t fear, there are clear rules for when to use each case and no strange exceptions like in English.
3. German Verb Tenses
German has six verb tenses: four derived from auxiliary verbs and two tenses without. This sounds complicated but fortunately, the tenses are actually quite straightforward and have a lot in common with English.
The two finite tenses (those formed with just a single verb) are the present tense (Präsens) and the simple past tense (Imperfekt).
To use these tenses, you simply conjugate the verb you want to use, for example:
Present: ich laufe (I run/walk)
Simple Past:ich lief (I ran/walked)
The four verb tenses which use auxiliary verbs are the future (Futur), the present perfect (Perfekt), the past perfect (Plusquamperfekt), and the future perfect (Futur perfekt). They’re formed as follows:
werden + the infinitive (base form) of the main verb
Ich werde Basketball spielen – I will play basketball
present tense of haben or sein + the past participle of the main verb
Ich habe Fußball gespielt – I played football
Ich bin um 7 Uhr nach Hause gekommen – I came home at seven o’clock.
simple past tense ofhaben or sein + the past participle of the main verb
Ich hatte meine Hausaufgaben gemacht – I had done my homework.
Als ich an der Bushaltestelle ankam, war der Bus schon losgefahren. – When I arrived at the bus stop, the bus had already left.
werden + past participle of main verb + the infinitive of haben or sein
Ich werde gelaufen sein – I will have run
As you can see, each tense has a clear pattern and the structures are quite similar to English, it’s just a case of learning the German verb conjugations and participles, which is quite simple.
It will take a little time to get used to everything, but once you’ve grasped the concept, it’s easy to put into practice.
For now, don’t worry about memorising each tense and instead just focus on trying to notice and recognise them while reading and listening.
4. German Prefixes and Suffixes
Understanding prefixes and suffixes will also be an important part of learning German.
A prefix is a root or combination of letters that gets added to the beginning of the word, while a suffix is added at the end of a word.
An example of a prefix in English would be im-. By adding it to the beginning of words, you can change their meaning. For example, ‘probable’ can become ‘improbable’.
German has even more of these patterns! These prefixes and suffixes can completely change or add something to the meaning of a base word in German and even create new words.
Take the verb brechen (to break), for example.
We can add a prefix and suffix to create an adjective: zerbrechlich (fragile).
Or we can apply different changes to turn it into a person: Verbrecher (criminal).
Again, this can seem intimidating at first but it actually makes learning German vocabulary easier!
Once you know the suffixes and prefixes you’ll have hundreds of extra words at your fingertips without having to learn them all from scratch!
This is just another reason learning German vocabulary is easier than it might seem at first glance.
5. The Sounds of German
The German alphabet is almost the same as the English one, but with a few extra letters:
German uses umlauts, ä, ö, ü.
There is also an ß, or “Ess-tset”, which is just a fancy ‘s’.
Most of the sounds in the German alphabet are similar to sounds in English, with a few exceptions, like the rolled -r, or -ch ending.
The German ‘R’
There are two common pronunciations for the German ‘r’:
The consonantal ‘r’ is one of the hardest sounds to learn in German. It’s kind of like gargling without water.
Let’s take the word ‘drei’ (three), for example. The rolling sound is created at the back of the vocal tract by creating a narrow passage with the tongue.
The vocalic ‘r’, on the other hand, is spoken very softly, more like a vowel. A vocalic ‘r’ is common with ‘er’ endings, like in Schwester (sister). Here the ‘r’ is barely noticeable, as it is unstressed.
In fact, it doesn’t really sound like what we would think of as an ‘r’ sound at all, more like an ‘ah’ (Sch-ves-tah).
The German ‘-ch’
There are two possible pronunciations for the -ch sound in German.
The word ‘Drachen’ (dragon) is a good example of the first one. Following the vowels ‘a’, ‘au’, ‘o’, and ‘u’, it’s spoken like a Scotsman saying Loch Ness.
This sound comes from the back of the tongue touching the soft palate.
The other sound is created when -ch follows ‘e’, ‘ei’, ‘eu’, ‘ä’, ‘i’, ‘äu’ and ‘ö’, or after a consonant, as is ‘ich’ (I), and ‘Mädchen’ (girl).
In this case, we articulate the -ch towards the front of the mouth. It’s almost like a cross between -sh and a -ch in English.
Start by making the English -sh, but then instead of allowing air to flow at the side of the tongue, push the air over the top of the tongue, which is close to the roof of your mouth.
Getting The Hang Of German Pronunciation
Although many sounds may be similar, their correlations are different and need to be learned and practised. It’s important to learn the German alphabet at the very beginning. This way you can develop the habit of correct pronunciation.
If you are just starting out learning your first foreign language, you’ll find it useful to become acquainted with the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA for short.
It’s made up of phonemes, or unique individual sounds, which help as a great aid in pronunciation. Dictionaries usually have an IPA spelling of the word.
If we want to pronounce the German word for apples, Äpfel: /ˈɛpfəl/, for example, the IPA (/ˈɛpfəl/) can be very helpful.
This is especially useful when you need to figure out which of the ‘r’ or ‘ch’ sounds a word uses.
When you think of German culture, what comes to mind?
Octoberfest? Beer? Currywurst and other meats? Giant pretzels? Punctuality and organisation? Like any country, Germany has a lot of stereotypes.
However, Germany has a rich culture that has touched many of our lives at some point. German philosophers, writers, musicians, inventors, media, and society have all been inspiring the world for centuries.
The Land of Poets and Thinkers
Germany has a literary background that goes all the way back to the middle ages.
If you’re interested in literature you may be familiar with Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll, and Herta Müller; all Germans who have won Nobel prizes for their work.
I’m sure most people have heard of the Brothers Grimm, who wrote many Folklore masterpieces, such as “Rapunzel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, “Hanzel and Gretel”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “Snow White”, just to name a few.
Schiller, Goethe, and Lessing are some of the other most famous German authors and influential thinkers of the modern era.
Those who understand German can also read the original works of some of the world’s most brilliant philosophers. Germans philosophers have been shaping the way we perceive life for centuries:
Leibniz was one of the three advocates of rationalism
Kant brought us his Critique of Pure Reason in the 18th century, which influenced German idealism in the 19th century
Schopenhauer built on Kant’s work and introduced us to philosophical pessimism
Nietzsche provided us with many important ideas including the radical critique of truth in favour of perspectivism
Of course, you can read translated versions, but having a knowledge of the German language and culture will allow you to have an even deeper understanding of the material.
Philosophy might not really be your cup of tea, but if that’s the case there are still lots of other fascinating elements of German culture to explore.
Germany’s Great Composers
Germany is home to the world’s most famous classical composers, including Beethoven, Schumann, Händel, Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Wagner, and Brahms, to name just a few.
It was also a German – Wolkenstein – who revolutionised classical music in the 14th century. He collected and shared the classical techniques he learned throughout his European journeys, which played a significant role in the development of future composers.
The Neue Deutsche Welle in the 1970s brought us a new form of German rock music. This underground movement was a mix of punk and new wave music, which introduced us to artists like Nena and Falco.
Germans were also very influential in the development of electronic music. The band Kraftwerk, for example, was one of the first bands to play only on electronic instruments. Today, Germany continues to have one of the largest electronic music scenes in the world.
Many of our Christmas songs also come from German. “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht) and “O Christmas Tree” (O Tannenbaum) are well known in their English translations.
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which Germans have had an impact on the world of music. Germany is also well known for its Schlager and folk music, synthpop, punk, heavy metal, and even hip hop.
German Innovators and Inventors
Innovative Germans have brought us a wide array of discoveries, from cell theory to jeans, and so much in between.
Gutenberg, for example, is accredited with the invention of movable type and the development of the printing press.
Albert Einstein provided us with many of our current theories in physics and Leibniz with new mathematical concepts.
Germans have played a significant role in developments in medicine, biology, chemistry, sociology, and astronomy as well.
German Media and Society
Germany may have a history of Nazism and extreme right-wing conservatism, but modern day Germany has changed tremendously.
The country is now a multicultural centre with a wide variety of lifestyles and ethnocentric backgrounds mixed together.
Today, around 20% of the population originates from outside of Germany. Civil unions, disability rights, and a high level of gender equality are the result of tolerance and cultural integration.
Germans love to travel and are some of the top spenders in the world when it comes to holidays. Six weeks of paid holiday is normal in Germany. Germans use this to see and experience the rest of the world, improving their multicultural status.
Although it might not seem obvious, Germany is also home to some of the largest media conglomerates in the world.
It has Europe’s largest television market and best-selling newspapers.
It’s no wonder that Germany holds one of the world’s most significant book fairs given that German publishers release nearly 60,000 new publications each year.
As a German learner, you certainly won’t find yourself short of reading material!
Compared with some other European languages, German seems to have a developed a reputation for being notoriously difficult to learn.
But in fact, once you overcome the unfamiliarity, you’ll find that German isn’t as hard as you might think.
German Isn’t As Hard As You Might Think
English is a Germanic language, and both English and German come from the Indo-European language family.
This means our languages aren’t actually as different as they seem.
Old English had a grammar very similar to German
Our alphabets are almost the same, with a few small differences
We share many of the same words (e.g. ‘House’/’Haus‘)
At first glance, German might seem like an intimidating language. But once you break it down into its components, you realise it’s actually very logical.
German has adopted a lot of words from the English language, making a lot of vocabulary self-explanatory for English speakers.
English is believed to have the largest vocabulary of all languages, with over one million words in the dictionary, and counting. German has at least 140 thousand words, but not nearly as many as English, making it much easier to learn.
Even though there are lots of very long words in German, these are always just a combination of shorter, simpler ones, which makes them easy to learn. Not to mention all the words German and English share in common.
Misconceptions About German
If we look at some of the most common misconceptions about German, you’ll see just why this wonderful language isn’t as a tricky as it might seem.
1. It’s Full of Long Words
Some people might see long German words full of consonants and feel too frightened to even attempt pronouncing them.
However, most German words aren’t that long. The most common words are pretty short, and even the long words that look confusing can be broken down into short easy words.
Long words in German are mostly compound words created by combining two or more shorter words together. This is something we have in English as well, just not to the same extent as German.
English words like ‘swimsuit’ (swim suit) and ‘bedroom’ (bed room) are examples of a similar phenomenon.
As you’ll soon see, long words in German are nothing to be overly worried about!
2. It’s A Harsh Sounding Language
Another misconception is that German is a harsh language.
Many people have the impression that German is a rough language, spoken from the throat, but it isn’t actually like that.
The sounds don’t all come from the throat, rather from certain lip and tongue movements.
Once you start to practice speaking German, you’ll realise that it’s actually quite simple to pronounce.
3. The Grammar Is Difficult
German grammar actually has a lot more in common with English than some other languages.
The cases may seem confusing at first, but there are only 4 of them. In comparison, Finnish has 26!
German also shares an alphabet with English, unlike Greek, Russian, Chinese and many other languages.
Since German and English both come from the same language family, the similarities are greater than the differences.
What Do German and English Have In Common?
Many of the most common words in English are of Germanic descent.
I have and ich habe, for example, are very similar, which makes these types of word combinations easy to remember.
Learning simple German sentences will be encouraging in the beginning. Take a look at these phrases:
Ich bin ein Amerikaner (I am American
Ich wohne in Deutschland (I live in Germany)
They’re not so different from English, right? The word order is the same and even some of the words are quite similar. Phrases like this take almost no effort to learn and will have you practising the German language in no time.
There are hundreds of words that are spelt the same and have the same meaning in both German and English. Here are some great examples of words shared by both languages:
This makes it easy to start learning German vocabulary quickly.
You can instantly grow your German vocabulary, just by making or finding a list of all the common words.
There are also “false friends”, or words that are spelt similarly but have different meanings.
Take ‘fabric’ and ‘fabrik‘, for example.
Both words sound the same but have different meanings. Fabrik in German means factory, whereas the word for ‘fabric’ is actually Stoff.
That said, a few simple memory tricks can make these correlations fun and easy to learn. Create an image in your mind of a fabric factory, for example. That way, whenever you see the word ‘Fabrik’, you’ll also think of a factory.
There are also similarities in German and English grammar.
The past tense forms of the English word ‘drink’, for example, are:
We see that the German version follows almost the same pattern and gives us:
Many German verbs follow patterns that we are used to in English, making the grammar that much easier.
German is an inflected language. That means every noun is associated with a masculine, feminine, or neutral gender article.
Instead of just having one word for ‘a’ or ‘the’, Germans have multiple possibilities.
This can be one of the most confusing parts of learning German when you’re just getting started. How do you know whether to use der, die, or das?
The grammatical gender of each word is best learned with the word itself.
Although many correlations are obvious, most genders have to be learned together with the new vocabulary.
The cases, on the other hand, follow specific rules. The table below shows how the article ‘the’ changes for each of the genders, as well as for each case.
As we can see, the nominative and accusative cases are almost the same, with the exception of der becoming den‘.
The dative case is slightly more different, with the masculine and neutral articles becoming dem, feminine becoming der, and plural den‘.
In a German sentence:
The subject of the sentence (i.e. the person doing the action) is in the nominative case
The direct object, or object receiving the action, takes on the accusative case
An indirect object, which is passively affected by the action in the sentence takes on the dative case
The genitive is used to show possession, for example, where we would use the word of in English
If you’re new to cases, this probably sounds very difficult but you’ll find that once you start practising it’s quite straightforward.
The more exposure you get to the language, the better you’ll become at choosing the right genders and cases to use.
2. Prepositions and Word Endings
In German, certain prepositions are associated with the accusative and dative cases. As your German improves you’ll come across more and more of these.
Dual prepositions can take either the accusative or dative case. These include:
vor (in front)
zwischen (in between)
For static, non-moving subjects, the dative case is used, for example:
“Dein Essen steht auf dem Tisch” (Your food is on the table).
In this instance:
Dein Essen (your food) is the subject, in the nominative case
Der Tisch (the table), takes the dative form, in this case, dem, because it is stationary and not moving
Let’s look at another example:
“Ich habe dein Essenauf den Tisch gestellt” (I put your food on the table)
We now have:
ich (I) as the subject
dein Essen (your food) as the direct object
den Tisch as the indirect object.
Since this sentence involves a motion, your food being put somewhere, the table takes on the accusative form.
There are also some special dative prepositions, which always take on the dative case, regardless of motion. These are:
The best way to learn these is to pay attention to how they’re used when you see them in sentences.
Instead of trying to memorise rules, focus on noticing the patterns of the cases and prepositions in sentences you read and hear.
Then try to copy these patterns when you’re creating your own sentences!
Of course, you’ll make lots of mistakes in the beginning but that’s ok. Just keep learning from your mistakes and the structures will become more natural the more you practice.
3. Compound Words And How They’re Formed
It’s easy to get intimidated by long German words. They seem to take up half the page and at first glance, you think ‘I’ll never be able to pronounce that.’
But actually, pronouncing such words is quite simple. It’s just a case of knowing how to approach it.
Let’s look at one of the longer words in German – Freundschaftsbeweis, which means ‘a demonstration of friendship’.
It might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s actually not.
If we break this word up into its individual elements, we see that it’s made up of small words, which would look like this:
None of the individual words is particularly difficult to pronounce. Think of such words as sentences written without spaces, and approach them by breaking them up into pieces.
4. Conjugating German Verbs
In English, we conjugate verbs by adding an ending for regular verbs or changing the word for irregular verbs.
For example, in English we conjugate the verb ‘to be’ as follows:
You (plural) are
German also conjugates verbs, and the word sein (to be) is conjugated similarly:
Ich bin (I am)
Du bist (you are)
Er/sie/es ist (he/she/it is)
Wir sind (we are)
Ihr seid (you plural are)
Sie sind (they are)
As we can see, both the English and German equivalents follow very similar patterns.
English and German both conjugate verbs in the past tense as well. Although German conjugates verbs to a further extent than English, the conjugations often follow rules and are easy to learn.
Get a good book with clear explanations and exercises, then practice the conjugations a lot. Try to identify the conjugations when you’re listening or reading and when you speak, try your best to use them.
This kind of constant exposure to the language will help you memorise them in time.
5. German Grammar Is Easier Than English Grammar
Believe it of not, there are some things about German that are easier than English!
In German, for example, there are no continuous tenses.
In English, we have the present tense, as well as the present continuous. For example:
I eat meat (present simple)
I am eating meat (present continuous)
The first sentence is a generalisation, whereas the second sentence describes a one-time event happening at the moment.
In German, however, both sentences are the same:
Ich esse Fleisch
The meaning is then determined by the context in which the sentence appears.
German grammar may seem scary at first but this is because it’s unfamiliar.
While it may take you some time to get a handle on German grammar, it’s reassuring to know that it’s very regular and there are very few exceptions to the rules, unlike in English which is full of them!
6 Steps to Learn How to Speak German as a Beginner
Step 1: Enrol In German Uncovered To Learn The Fundamentals Of The Language (And Much More!)
One important thing about learning a language is that it must come from the learner, not the teacher. The teacher’s job is to guide you – but you must do the learning.
This means you will need the necessary tools to learn, and a good beginner course is indispensable.
You’re going to need lots of input via reading and listening in order to move beyond beginners German and grow your vocabulary. That’s why I’ve created my online German course – German Uncovered – to teach you through the power of story.
You’ll listen to and read your first book in German, and our expert German teacher Kerstin, will help uncover the grammar and vocabulary in the story, chapter by chapter.
By the time you’ve finished, you’ll be a confident and well-rounded German speaker, ready to use your German in the real world!
Grammar is important and you will need to focus on it more as you progress.
But as a beginner, you shouldn’t spend inordinate amounts of time studying grammar books. Don’t worry if you make grammatical mistakes.
Instead, focus on exposing yourself to German as much as possible and paying careful attention to the patterns you start to recognise.
If you do this, you’ll soon start to notice the main grammatical structures becoming clear.
Try and pick up the grammar through context and use these patterns you identify as clues.
Of course, you will make mistakes in grammar. Even native speakers mess up their grammar sometimes.
Just try to stay focused on continuing to practice what you’re able to understand and build up your language knowledge on the basis you already have.
Step 5: Speak German From The Beginning
There’s no better way to learn a language than exposure and practice!
Try to find native speakers, fellow learners or friends who you can speak German with.
Look for German events in your community, such as a Stammtisch (a type of informal German meet-up), that can offer an opportunity for language practice. The Goethe Institutecan be another great place to meet German speakers and fellow learners.
Now that you’re ready to start learning German, these are my recommended resources to learn as quickly as possible.
German Courses Online
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Learn to Read German
German Short Stories for Beginners – One of the best ways to improve your German and expand your vocabulary is to read German books. I wrote a series of short stories designed especially for beginners. If you enjoy reading, you’ll love these stories, which are packed with special features to help you understand and – above all – enjoy reading German! Available on Amazon Kindle and paperback: CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE
Learn to Speak German
italki – This is my favourite website for finding teachers and affordable tutors to help practise my German. I use iTalki literally every day to get that all-important speaking practice that helps me stay fluent.
German Audio Materials for Listening Practice
Conversations – Do you struggle to understand fast, spoken German? Conversations helps you understand real German & transform your listening skills in less than 90 days.
Master German Grammar Through Story
German Grammar Hero – Want to master German grammar without translating in your head or pouring over grammar books? Discover my method for learning the essentials of German grammar the natural way through story.
Now You’re Ready To Start Learning German!
Follow these tips and you’ll be speaking German in no time!
Start with the basics and find native speakers to practice with. If you put in the time and effort, your fluency will gradually improve.
Remember that learning a new language takes time, and practice and exposure are the best ways to improve your skills. Have patience with the learning process and try not to get hung up on difficult grammatical concepts in the beginning.
With the ability to speak German, you’ll be able to get around effortlessly, not only in Germany but many other countries. There are entire German-speaking communities in many places you wouldn’t expect all around the world!
Learning German will allow you to better understand the original works of some of the world’s greatest philosophers, scientists, authors, artists, and musicians. You’ll have a better understanding of German culture and gain new insight into your own.
When you learn German, you’re learning more than just a new language.
You’re learning to think about the world in a new way, you’re learning how culture plays an important role in the development of a language, and you’re opening up your mind to new possibilities.
Whether you’re interested in travel or work opportunities, expanding your networking options, learning about culture and society, or just language in general, the German language has something to offer everyone.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful!
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I know this is a long post and it’s difficult to take everything in all at once. That’s why I’ve created a special PDF version which you can download and refer to any time you need it! And if you download the PDF, I’ll send you even more tips to help you as you continue learning German.