When most people think of Austria, they hear that funny yodeling sound, and their childhood memories recall the Von Trapps speaking (mostly) English — so what are the Austria languages anyway? If you’re reading this, you’ve already likely heard that German is in fact the official language of Austria. This nation connecting Central Europe to the Balkans is a groß (big) alternative to traditional Hochdeutsch lernen (High German learning) in Germany! With a unique accent and different phrases, an intensive German language program in Austria will take your skills out of the textbook and add the cultural flair of the second-largest population of German-speakers!
Although a smaller country on the European map, German Austria is diverse with language varieties, distinguishing every state and region. Stepping outside of Berlin and your traditional German classroom, you’ll encounter the nuances of Dialekt (German dialect) that persist even in Austria’s biggest, yet relatively small, cities. As a result, you’ll waltz away with the ability to speak somewhere between the more rigid Hochdeutsch and flexible Dialekt that is as unique as your German-learning journey.
Centering the country is the grandeur of its capital city, Vienna. With the highest concentration of both Austrians and foreigners, Vienna is a haven for intensive German language classes. Although programs will emphasize High German or Hochdeutsch teaching, your adventures both within and outside of the Ringstraße (Ring Road) will expose your language skills to the Bavarian dialect of Viennese. At the previous crossroads of the Habsburg Empire, Viennese German has adopted vocabulary from languages with origins as geographically close as Czech and as far as Arabic.
Head South towards the Slovenian border to learn German in the sixth-largest Austrian city of Klagenfurt. With the international University of Klagenfurt, the city has a student culture and offers a friendly balance between traditional Austrian towns and larger European metropolises. The “Capital of the Austrian South,” will draw you in with rich experiences to complement your language studies all year-round — from summers basking in the sun on Lake Wörthersee to the quintessential Austrian Christmas markets in Neuer Platz. Stick around for the annual Festival of German-Language Literature to see the award of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and to pick up some new ideas for your German reading list as you learn Austrian German.
Intensive German language study in the Tyrol state of Austria presents the opportunity to learn surrounded by a distinct regional culture and the gorgeous Alpine mountains. Outside of the classroom, when not skiing or binging on gröstl (a dish of potatoes and bacon), kaaspressknedl (fried cheese dumplings), or kaiserschmarrn (the old Emperor’s favorite pancake and fruit dessert), you’ll catch many of the South Bavarian idiosyncrasies that will leave a lasting impact on your German-language street cred. Scope out German language programs in the winter sports hub of Kitzbühel to study in this magically quaint Tyrolean town. Practice your pronunciation of oachkatzlschwoaf — the tail of a squirrel and the test of true Tyrolean pronunciation — and pack your dirndl or lederhosen to continue your language studies in this traditional Austrian state.
German Language Courses in Austria
In the same linguistic family as English, German is a familiar language with many similar words and just a handful of differing grammatical concepts to wrap your head around. Depending on your experience and abilities learning past languages, learning German in Austria might be a piece of Sacher cake or might just crack the surface of the Stubai glacier.
European language learning is typically guided by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), so try to gauge your current and target levels when choosing the duration of your course. For example, the Deutsche Welle broadcasting company estimates that achieving a B1 intermediate level of German takes approximately 300 hours of cumulative study. If this is your goal and you’re currently a beginner, look for a 50-day course with six-hours of instruction per day to reach that B1 level in one intensive shot!
Before waltzing over to Austria to begin, take the time to consider your personal learning style and the course that best fits. From one-on-one tutoring to both small and large-scale group classes, there are viele (lots) options for how to hike the steep slope to speaking like a native. When researching, also pay attention to class size and the institution that is offering your intensiv kurs (intensive course). Austria’s universities have many strong options that will immerse you in the community of the school and its international students. However, a number of private language schools are capturing students’ increased interest programs to learn Austria German as well. They’re tailored to students just like you who want intensive results with a sharp sense of Austrian punctuality.
The perfekt program for you should also account for accommodation and extracurricular activities that will support your German language skills. Beware of getting a flat with other foreigners, and search for other immersive options in favor of sharing a quaint Alpine or village house with a host family or private tutor. With the extra effort to intensify your intensive studies, your German will be as smooth as Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 in A Major, and you’ll be spinning with joy on the top of the hills like Fräulein Maria.
Austria’s German Subtleties & Nuances
Like the difference between British English and Scottish English or Spanish in Spain and Spanish in Colombia, Austrian German maintains some notable distinctions from the more traditionally studied High German. Even with a quick auditory sample, Austrians speak with more lilting or sing-song accent than proper German speakers. As a result, Austrians are sometimes perceived as quainter and cuter by German speakers of German. In the reverse, Austrians hear Hochdeutsch with an air of proper arrogance.
Vocabulary is the part of the language with the most difference between Austrian German and High German. While this might not present a problem every day, watch out in restaurants and grocery stores for different words, like for the commonly eaten potatoes and tomatoes. Otherwise, it might surprise some that the most distinguishing words between a speaker of Austrian German or Hochdeutsch are front and center in the most basic phrases of the language. For example, greet shopkeepers with grüß gott instead of guten tag and start your meals with mahlzeit instead of guten appetit. No fear though, prost to toast your schnapps or beer is the same — whoever said learning Austrian German is all work and no play?!
Benefits & Challenges
Explore Austria. Austria is a somewhat underrated country whose inferiority complex is starting to break in recognition of the linguistic, natural, and urban strengths of this smaller nation. Through an intensive German course in Austria, you will be in the heart of Europe, and you’ll have easy access to travel the diverse regions of Austria as well as the surrounding nations of Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany (of course), and even Liechtenstein. Let your interest in German guide you to a location that will both give your life and linguistic experiences a sense of depth. Languages were never meant to exist in a textbook, so give your German some Austrian flair!
Authenticity vs. Detour. Of course, there will always be the traditionalists that favor learning languages in their most standardized form. In German, this can be a big distinction, and your decision to attend immersive German language programs in Austria might distract from the more proper 360-experience that you would get in Germany. However, many courses to learn Austrian German still teach Hochdeutsch in the classroom and Austrian vocabulary will only complement your studies on cultural excursions or in your experiences outside of the classroom. Millions of people around the world learn German, but your Austrian German skills will set you apart and add an authenticity to your language abilities that can only learn through an intensive experience abroad.
Just like an Austrian, you’re right on time to steer your German language studies in a new and exciting direction. Take it from the great Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger who once said, “The worst thing I can be is the same as everybody else. I hate that.” Continue your German language adventure in Austria for the chance to explore this beautiful country and to develop authentic language skills that will start to set you apart from “everybody else.”