Austria is a beautiful country, very popular with European but also English speaking tourists. Holiday makers planning to visit Austria may wonder whether English is widely spoken in the country and whether they will be able to get by with just English, or whether some basic German will be required.
English is very widely taught and spoken in Austria, with around 73% of the population being able to converse in English to some level. This makes it one of the most proficient countries in terms of spoken English, behind only Scandinavia and a few other countries.
Therefore you should have no problems using English in Austria, especially in larger cities like Vienna and tourist destinations. In these holiday resort regions you will also often find the road signs in English as well to help you out.
English has been widely taught in school in Austria since post World War II, with at least several years of schooling in English as standard. So basically anyone under the age of 70 in Austria will likely be able to speak English to some degree. Recent statistics place the prevalence of English in Austria very high – at around 73% of the population. So you should be fine over there.
This already high ratio of English speakers will go up even more when you visit larger cities such as Vienna and tourist destinations which will always have English speaking staff due to the high numbers of English speakers who visit Austria in the summer especially. Recent stats indicate that Austria receives well over 1.5 million tourists annually from the UK and US combined, so English will be widely spoken at any tourist destination.
As a caveat to this though, Austrians in general do not like loud, boisterous or arrogant people who just expect or feel entitled to have someone converse with them in English wherever they go. They are happy to help out tourists as long as they are polite and respectful, and of course using a few German phrases always helps – see below for some common ones.
German is the Official Language of Austria
The official language of Austria is actually German – there is no such thing as the Austrian language. However some of the grammar and pronunciation of Austrian German does differ from “German” German, in pretty much the same way as UK and US English differ, with some slightly different phrases and spelling used.
The Viennese Wienerisch dialect in particular does have some differences from standard German. with some pronunciation different. There are also some other distinct dialects in different parts of the country, such as the Alemannic dialect in the Vorarlberg area, which is closer to Swiss German.
However, these differences are pretty minor and most people will still be able to understand or switch to either standard German or English if there are any problems.
The Level of Spoken English in Major Tourist Areas of Austria
Of course different tourists visit different parts of Austria, so let’s be more specific and break down the reported levels of spoken English in some major tourist spots, as well as some other things to bear in mind for each region.
Vienna – The capital city and receives plenty of tourists each year, so the locals are well used to dealing with foreigners. Most people will speak some English, especially in shops, bars, restaurants and tourist attractions in the central areas. The transport system in Vienna is also very user friendly for tourists. Staff speak English and ticket machines have an English option.
The local Viennese dialect of Wienerisch does differ strongly from standard German, but this shouldn’t matter as the locals are always very helpful and are happy to switch to standard German to help you out, and most will speak English anyway. Always a good idea to introduce yourself in German (see phrases below), though locals will probably not be offended if you start off in English as long as you are tactful and polite.
Salzburg – Another cosmopolitan city with plenty of tourism and festivals, so English is widely spoken here as well. Does no harm to have a few key German phrases handy, since locals always appreciate the effort, but they will often respond in English straight away anyway. The Salzburg German dialect is very distinctive as well but you won’t need to understand it anway – English is very common. Ticket machines also have an English option so it’s easy to get around.
Zell am See – Technically within the Salzburg state but is a popular tourist spot in it’s own right. A much more rural area so a good idea to have some basic German phrases handy to get by. English will still be prevalent, but not as much as the bigger cities like Vienna. If you’re moving here longer term then it’s definitely worth learning some German.
Innsbruck – English also widely understood and spoken here so tourists never report any problems getting about. Most restaurants will have menus in English as well as German. If you are looking for English speaking contacts for work/accommodation then there are British/Irish theme pubs like Limerick Bills Irish Pub where you can meet up with plenty of ex-pats.
Also lots of reports of foreigners being able to work in and around Innsbruck with little or no German language. Plenty of entry level basic jobs available with no German required (restaurant/food hall work, snowboarding/ski events work, staging/crew work for festivals and so on). See here for a good job postings site in Innsbruck. Plenty of young Australians, New Zealanders and Brits come here to work and don’t need much German.
Linz – A good idea to have some German phrases here (see next section below). Young people will be able to speak English as they are taught in school, but with the older generations (70+) you may struggle to converse in English.
Learning Some Basic German Phrases
As with all trips to a foreign country it can come in handy to learn some basic phrases in the local language – in this case German. Here are some of the more common phrases you can use:
|Goodbye||Auf wiedersehen||Owf veeder zayn|
|Sorry||Es tut mir leid||Ess toor meer lite|
|My name is||Ich heisse||Ich high-ser|
|Good morning||Guten morgen||Gooten morgen|
|Good day||Guten tag||Gooten taag|
|Good evening||Guten abend||Gooten ar-bent|
|Good night||Gute nacht||Gooter Nacht|
|Thanks a lot||Bitte schön||Bitter shurn|
|No problem||Kein problem||Kaiyn problem|
|Do you speak English?||Sprechen sie Englisch?||Schprecken zee arn-glish?|
|Where is the toilet?||Wo ist toilette?||Vo ist toy-lett-ay?|
|Where is the train station?||Wo is bahnhoff?||Vo ist barn-hoff?|
|Where is the exit?||Wo ist ausgang?||Vo ist ows-gang?|
|One ticket please?||Ein fahrkarte bitte||Ein far-cart-uh bitter|
|One/Two beers please?||Ein/Zwei bier(e) bitte||Ein/Tsvye beer(e) bitter|
|The bill please||Die Rechnung bitte||Dee rech-nung bitter|
As we mentioned, the Austrian version of German does have a slightly different dialect and pronunciation, which some Austrians will by some accounts take a playful enjoyment out of correcting you on, before often switching to English anyway.
This is just their way of playing around though and the general feedback from tourists is that Austrians are always ready to help out polite tourists and converse in whichever language is more comfortable.
Language & Travel Essentials For Visiting Austria
- Essential stats on Austria:
- Population: 9 million
- Time zone: EST +6 hours; GMT +1 hours.
- Currency: Euro
- International calling code: +43 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- If you prefer verb based language learning, check out our Michel Thomas course page – there are beginner, intermediate and advanced courses in German using the Michel Thomas method.
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in euros and many different currencies and spend for free on your card, plus draw out a certain amount for free from ATMs as well.