What German You Need to Know Before Visiting Austria

With over 90 million native speakers dispersed throughout many countries, there are numerous regional variations of German. Besides the dialect used in Germany, the only other official German variety recognized by the EU is the one spoken in Austria.

If you have studied German and want to visit Austria, you may have some extra preparation to do! Although Austrians speak German, it is not the same variety as the dialect used in Germany, which is the one you have probably studied. You can have intermediate or advanced proficiency in the language (you can assess your level of proficiency in spoken German here), and still have problems understanding what an Austrian says.

So, if you are planning a trip to Austria and want to use your German language skills to full effect, you will have to prepare. Without further ado, let’s see which are the main differences to be aware of before travelling to Austria!

Photo by Pierre Blaché from Pexels

1. Vocabulary

a. Greetings

When entering a store in Berlin, you will probably greet the sales clerks with the typical Guten Tag (Good day) or Guten Morgen (Good morning). But in Austria (or Bavaria, Germany), you should say, Grüß Gott (May God greet you).

This greeting is very typical of these regions because of the deep-rooted Catholicism. If you use that greeting in Northern Germany, where atheism is more common, you will be understood, but will probably receive a quizzical look in return.

b. Food

Though Germans and Austrians love food equally, they do not agree on the names of even some of the most typical dishes. If someone from Germany opened a menu in Austria and saw that the Faschiertes (ground beef) comes with a side of Erdapfel (potato) and Paradeiser (tomato), he would have a hard time figuring out that this is what he calls a Hackfleisch with Kartoffel and Tomate.

Also, getting some bread rolls to go with your food may cause some confusion to your Austrian waiter if you use the German word Brötchen, instead of the local Semmel. The word Brötchen does exist in Austria, but it refers to small pieces of toast with different dips and toppings.

Photo of Austrian Brötchen by Juan Pachanga via Flickr

But if you somehow manage to order your dish amongst all this confusion, don’t expect your Austrian waiter to tell you, Guten Appetit (eat well, or more literally, good appetite)! Instead, he will probably say, Mahlzeit (Enjoy the meal).

c. Time

Making plans for the coming months can be tricky. But it is even more so if you speak High German in Austria! If you tell your Austrian friends that you want to make a trip in Januar (January) or Februar (February), they may give you an awkward look and ask you if you mean Jänner and Feber. While we are at it, you should also know that you do not make plans for dieses Jahr (this year) in Austria. Instead, you plan for heuer.

2. Pronunciation

This is the aspect that will most likely catch your attention as you are walking down the streets of Vienna. If you are used to the short and narrow sounds used in Germany, you may have to take some time to understand the cadence of Austrian German and its longer and broader vowels. And you will notice this even more as you move away from the city and into the countryside.

Some of the most common differences you are likely to notice are:

  • “Ei,” as in klein(small) and Zeit (time), is pronounced as /eye/. But while it is a short sound in northern German, it is elongated in Austria.
  • Long vowels in Austrian are longer and require more muscular tension, especially at the end of words. You can hear this difference in wissen(to know) and Minuten (minutes). In German, the –en in wissen is similar to the i in sit. In contrast, in Austrian German it sounds more similar to the /eh/ sound in mend.
  • The /a/, /e/, and /i/ sounds are more open.
  • The /o/ and /u/ sounds are more rounded.
  • The German –ig ending is pronounced with an /ich/ sound, while Austrians use /ik/, rhyming with the English word “sick.”An example of this is the word lustig (funny).

This is by no means a comprehensive list of sound differences (we could dedicate a whole separate article to that), but it should give you an idea of what to expect on your trip to Austria. If you want to hear a native speaker pronouncing the differences between these two accents, we recommend you watch this video!

3. Grammar

Though the grammar of these two varieties of German is quite similar, some minor differences exist. For example, to form the present perfect tense, Germans use sein (to be) with some verbs and haben (to have) with others. Austrians do so, as well, but which verb matches with another is not always the same. Such is the case for the verb sitzen (to sit), which takes haben in Germany, but sein in Austria.

Another typical difference is how Germans and Austrians use some contractions. An dem (to the) can be contracted to am in both varieties of German. But Austrians also use am as a contraction of auf dem (on the).

Will I Be Understood in Austria?

While it may seem like the differences are many, it is crucial to see the big picture and realize that they are not. When people discover one, they are usually surprised. So, with just a few adjustments, you should be ready for your trip to beautiful Austria! If you want to go as prepared as possible, explore our online and in-person German courses with native-speaking Austrian teachers.