Yes, they speak English. But as a foreign language, not as native speakers. Here the details…
- German is the national language
- Austrian and Viennese schools teach English to a high level
- So expect to have no trouble, especially in tourist areas
- Nearly all exhibitions, for example, have bilingual info displays and exhibit labels
- See also:
The Austrian language?
The national language in Austria is actually German. (For the record, there is no such thing as “Austrian.”)
However, the standard of education in the country is very high and pretty well all schoolchildren get a solid grounding in English.
For example, EF Education First ranked Austria second on their 2021 EF English proficiency index, which they based on test results in 112 countries and regions. The Netherlands came top.
So you should have no trouble at all getting by using English, particularly in hotels, stores, restaurants and other places in Vienna used to dealing with foreign tourists.
Nearly all museums and exhibitions I visit, for example, feature German-English display boards and exhibit labels, and/or make English information available through booklets, audio guides or an app.
Many cinemas show movies in English or with English subtitles and even non-English plays, operas, and musicals may come with subtitles or even translations on a screen by your seat.
Speaking to locals
The locals are also aware that most foreign visitors, for example, cannot speak German. As a result, you’re unlikely to offend anyone by addressing them in English as long as you’re not arrogant about it.
Indeed, you’ll find people eager to practice their English on you. Which means 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 in their native language. Here some simple ones (pronunciation tips based on standard British English)…
|Please||Bitte (pronounced bitter)|
|Thank you||Danke (like anchor with a d in front)|
|Hello||Grüßgott (formal, pronounced groose-got)|
Servus (informal, pronounced sair-vuss)
Auf Wiedersehen (owf-vee-duh-zane)
Tschüss (chuce; Austrogerman)
Baba (bah-bah; Viennese)
For the record, Austrian German is more or less the same as the German used by the neighbouring Germans. The differences are pronunciation and some vocabulary. We say tomato, the Germans say Tomate, and the Austrians say Paradeiser.
Think of those differences much like the case with British and American English (though Germany and Austria use the same spelling for the formal version of their language).
Having said that, our local Viennese dialect (called wienerisch) can be almost unintelligible (even to other Austrians) and many of the words or the pronunciation bear no resemblance to anything you might have learnt in German lessons.
Fortunately, the locals happily switch to standard German if need be, in case you’re having trouble understanding.