Yes, they speak English. Here the details:
The national language in Austria is German. (For the record, there is no such thing as “Austrian.”)
This German is more or less the same as the one used by the Germans. The only differences are accent and some vocabulary – much like the case with British and American English (though Germany and Austria use the same spelling).
Having said that, the local Viennese dialect (wienerisch) is almost unintelligible and many of the words or the pronounciation bear no resemblance to anything you might have learnt in German lessons. “Net” instead of “nicht”, “wouse” instead of was, “hoz” instead of “hat es.”
Fortunately, they can switch to standard German if need be, in case you’re having trouble.
The standard of education in Austria is very high, so pretty well all schoolchildren get a solid grounding in English. So you should have no trouble at all getting by using English, particularly in hotels, stores, restaurants and other places used to dealing with foreign tourists.
The locals are sadly aware of the deficiencies of the UK, USA and other countries when it comes to foreign languages, so you’re unlikely to offend anyone by addressing them in English. Indeed, you’ll find people eager to practice their English on you – you may have some trouble with that if you’re actually trying to practice your German.
Nevertheless, like everyone, the Austrians appreciate it if you make an attempt to learn a few words. Here some simple ones…
|bitte (pronounced bitter)
danke (like anchor with a d in front)
Auf Wiedersehen (owf-vee-duh-zane)
Tschüss (chuce; Austrogerman) or Baba (bah-bah; Viennese) or Pfirte (p-fear-tay and leave no gap between the p and f; provinces) or Ciao (quite acceptable)
And if you want to really impress…here’s a bit of classic wienerisch for you:
Life’s a bitch, and then you die … Man hoz net laicht, oba laicht hoz an (it will sound even more impressive if you pronounce it wrong.)
(Photo credit: © Nenov Brothers / fotolia)