Yes, they speak English. But as a foreign language, not as native speakers. Here the details…
- German is the national language
- But 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: Common visitor questions
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.
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, or make English information available through booklets or an app.
Many cinemas show movies in English or with English subtitles and even German-language plays and musicals may come with subtitles or translations at 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 – 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…
|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)
And if you want to really impress…here’s a bit of classic Viennese dialect 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.)
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. The English 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.