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Speaking the Language

Austria - Speaking the Language


Like the nearby countries of Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Austria’s official language is German. It is spoken by almost 97% of the country’s population.

There are differences between standard German and Austrian German, and there are several distinct Austrian dialects across the country. The most distinctive dialect is Alemannic; it is similar to Swiss German and is spoken in the Vorarlberg area. In Vienna, the German dialect spoken there is called “Wienerisch”, which essentially means Viennese German. All the distinct dialects just have a different pronunciation from standard German and some words specific to the area they are spoken in, but since the grammar is essentially the same then anyone with a firm grasp of German will be able to communicate effectively with those around them.

English is understood to some extent by a large portion of the population, since it is taught in schools from an early stage. In major tourist areas, many of the signs will be in both German and English. However, elderly people and those living in less cosmopolitan areas may possess little knowledge of the English language. Unless you are working in a company with many expats from English speaking countries, or for an international organisation, you are unlikely to succeed in the workplace without a good grasp of German.

Your English skills will be highly valued if you wish to work in some sort of language teaching capacity. Good hourly rates of pay are possible for working 1:1 in a language school, and Austria’s state schools require many English language assistants to support the learning of schoolchildren. However, you must be prepared to work as a freelancer and be prepared for significant variation across the year; full time employed positions are difficult to come by. September and January are the key times for hiring new language teachers in Austria, and employers will usually expect you to attend an interview at your own cost, so it does help if you are already in the country. Make sure you dress formally and conservatively for job interviews, with no tattoos or piercings on display, and do not arrive late.

The lack of a teaching degree will not stand in your way if you wish to teach English in Austria, but you will find an internationally recognised TEFL certificate invaluable. It takes 100 hours of training and six hours of teaching to earn the certificate, and will significantly improve your effectiveness as a language teacher.

Some universities frequently require native English speakers to proofread research papers and other documents due to be published, though again this will be on a freelance basis.

Several other languages are spoken in Austria by communities who have settled there. The use of Italian, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Serbian, Burgenland Croatian and Turkish reflect Austria’s long history as a destination for immigrants. The Slavic communities live mainly in the south and east of the country.

If you wish to watch TV in English whilst living in Austria it is easy to set up satellite connections if you can afford the monthly fees. It is possible to stream some content legally on the internet; Netflix launched a service in Austria in 2014. Everyone with equipment capable of receiving broadcast material - radios and TVs for example - must buy a license. The money is used to fund the state television and radio stations, which until 1996 were the only Austrian broadcasters. Today a range of public, commercial, non commercial, local, Pay TV and German-affiliate stations provide entertainment using DVB-T broadcast technology. These stations will show content made in Austria or made elsewhere and dubbed into German.

If you would like to learn German whilst living in Austria, there are many options, including:

• Inlingua Saltzburg is on Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse 8, 5020, Saltzburg. The class sizes are fairly small, and the staff are well qualified.
• IKI is tailored for those living and working in Vienna, offering both daytime and evening courses. They are located at Opernring 7 1010 Vienna, Austria, and their website can be found here.
• The Alpha Sprachinstitut Austria is located at Schwarzenbergplatz 16, A-1010, Vienna. This is a busy language school particularly popular with students from the US.
• In the Alps can be found DIT, offering intensive and one to one classes. Located on Jochberger Str. 120 A-6370 Kitzbühel they also have a website here.

Reading local free newspapers, making sure you speak German when shopping or greeting neighbours, and listening to the radio may reinforce your classroom learning.

The cultural expectation in Austria is that everyone should be friendly, polite and well behaved. Respectful and ethical behaviour is expected both at home and in the workplace.

There is a distinct separation between the workplace and home. The workplace is normally a formal environment. At home, people are more relaxed with their friends and family, but there will be little interaction with work colleagues in a typical Austrian home. Talking about someone’s family should not be one of the first topics of conversation as it would be in the UK or US, but is something that is discussed when you are getting to know someone.

The standards of Austrian education are high, with a business focus for those undertaking vocational focused education. There is an expectation that people coming from outside the country should strive to work hard and integrate.

The cultural norms for Austria are similar to other Western countries. However, there are a number of important taboos which anyone moving to Austria should be aware of.

• Austrians are fiercely proud of their national identity. They are not German. They do not speak standard German and do not see themselves as the same community.
• Do not criticise Austria or you will cause real offence.
• Never mention World War II. You will not be aware of anyone’s personal family history, of their political views, and you will cause insult for events that they were not personally involved with.
• Talking about salary, house prices and finances are likely to cause offense. Do not ask someone about how much they are paid, as this is a violation of privacy.

Respect issues mean that you should stand up when someone who is of a higher authority than you, or is elderly, enters the room. Never be late for anything as punctuality shows respect for the person you are meeting. Do not talk with your hands in your pockets, or chew gum whilst in someone’s company. Feet do not belong on furniture.

Being rude, aggressive or angry will cause permanent damage to your reputation. Austrians view these negative traits as signs that a person is uncouth and lacking intelligence. Conversely, Austrians are not comfortable accepting compliments so these should be given sparingly.


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