Austria is a landlocked alpine country, and when thinking about Austria, the first thing that comes to mind is the mountains and German beer. Other than a dreamy vacation for skiing and mountain lovers, Austria has many other cultural landmarks, museums, and baroque streetscapes, and imperial palaces.
Austria’s population is about 8.4 million people. Out of the total population about 73% or 6.2 million Austrians speak English. This is a significant number of people. These people tend to be concentrated in rich, urban and young areas as well as often working in the tourist industry. English is taught in schools across Austria and the local language German shares a lot of similar vocabulary.
So, let’s now take some time to look into this topic in some more detail.
English Use in Major Cities in Austria
- Vienna – With approximately 1.9 million inhabitants, Vienna is Austria’s most populous city, and the city is Austria’s cultural, economic, and political center. It is the sixth-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna was the largest German speaking city in the world, and prior to the split of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna had about 2 million residents. Today, it is the second largest German speaking city after Berlin. Vienna is home to many international organizations such as the United Nations, OPEC, and OSCE. Since Vienna has as residents the famous composers Beethoven and Mozart, Vienna is sometimes regarded as the “City of Music.” In addition to the “City of Music,” Vienna is regarded as the “City of Dreams” because it is the home to famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. While a large percentage of Viennese people will speak English, it is probably better to learn some introductory phrases to introduce yourself, then later in the conversation you can switch to English.
- Graz – The oldest settlement at the current location of Graz dates back to the Copper Age. However, there is no historical continuity of the site that predates the Middle Ages. Graz is Austria second largest city after Vienna. Graz’s historic city center was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site because of the coexistence of traditional buildings from various historical periods and different architectural styles. Located in a cultural borderland between Central Europe, Italy, and the Balkan States, Graz absorbed various influences from neighboring regions and thus earned its exceptional cityscape. Today, the cityscape consists of over 1,000 buildings that range from Gothic to a contemporary style. Graz was declared the European Capital of Culture in 2003, and in 2008 it became a City of Culinary Delights
- Linz – Located in the northern part of Austria and located on the Danube, Linz is Austria’s third-largest city. From 1945 to 1955, Linz was a divided city, with the north part of the city occupied by the Soviets, and the Americans occupied the south. In 2009, Linz became a European Capital of Culture, and is a member of the Creative Cities Network of UNESCO. Due to strong support by the Austrian government, Linz hosts a lively arts and music scene. Linz is home to a famous opera house called the Brucknerhaus. It is only 200 meters from the Lentos Art Museum. Between the Lentos Art Museum and the Brucknerhaus, the city has the Donaulände, known as the Kulturmeile, which is a riverside park. With an older population in Linz, it might be best to have a collection of German phrases prepared.
- Salzburg – Salzburg is located on the site of the former Roman settlement Iuvavum. Founded as an episcopal see in 696, Salzburg became an archbishop seat in 798. The city’s main revenue sources come from salt extraction and trade, and sometimes gold mining. Hohensalzburg castle, one of Europe’s largest medieval fortresses, dates from the 11th century. Salzburg became a center of the Counter Reformation during the 17th century, where monasteries and numerous baroque churches were built. The city has around 27 churches, and it is known for it Baroque architecture, and it is regarded as one of the best preserved towns north of the Alps. There are three universities in the city, so there is a significant student population. In 1996, the city listed as World Heritage site by UNESCO. Salzburg features many tourist destinations and cultural heritage sites, so you there should be no problem using English.
- Innsbruck – Innsbruck is an internationally recognized winter sports center located in a wide valley between mountains, the so-called North Chain in the Karwendel Alps to the north and the Patscherkofel and Serles to the south. In 1964 and 1976, the town hosted the Olympic Winter Games, and the Winter Paralympics in 1984 and 1988. Innbsbruck also hosted the Youth Olympics in 2012. Other notable sporting events include the 1994, 1999, and 2008 Air & Style Snowboard Contest, and the 2005 Ice Hockey World Championship. In 2005, Innsbruck hosted the Winter Universiade. Innsbruck’s ski-jumping facility Bergiselschanze is one of the sites of the famous Four Hills Tournament. A good amount of English speakers travel to Innsbruck for work, so there should be no problem.
What Languages are Spoken in Austria?
- German – Austria’s official language is German, and in fact there is no such thing as the Austrian language. Of course there are regional variants between German spoken in Germany and German spoken in Austria. Some of Austria German’s grammar and pronunciation vary. Other differences include slightly different phrases and spellings, much in a way that the United Kingdom and United States have differences. The Viennese dialect does have some differences from standard German. There are also distinct dialect differences in different parts of the country like the Alemannic dialect in the Vorarlberg area, which is closer to Swiss German. It’s important to remember that these differences are minor differences, and that the differences do not impede on understanding.
- Alemmanic – Alemmanic is spoken in Vorarlberg. Vorarlberg uses a High Alemmanic, the same group of dialects as spoken in northern Switzerland (outside of Basel) and parts of Alsace, France. This is very difficult for most Germans and Austrians outside Vorarlberg to understand, as it is more similar to Swiss German with many variations in grammar and pronunciation.
- Austro-Bavarian – Outside of Vorarlberg, the main indigenous language is Austro-Bavarian, whose many regional dialects are spoken. The northeastern parts of Austria (with the capital Vienna) speak Central Austro-Bavarian dialects of the southern regions. Austro-Bavarian differs greatly from Standard German, making understanding of the native population very difficult for German speakers from different regions.
- English – In Vienna and Salzburg, the city receives numerous tourists each year, so residents are used to interacting with foreigners. Most other tourist towns and destinations in Austria are highly accommodating for English speakers. While English competencies in those places is high. It is helpful to learn some German phrases especially if you plan to reside in Austria long-term.
- Other minority languages – Numerous other minority languages are spoken in Austria, some of which have official status. The minority languages include Turkish, Serbian, Burgenland Croatian, Hungarian, and Slovene. Turkish is the most widely spoken of these languages, as the Turkish speaking population mirrors Germany Turkish speaking population. About 2.3% of Austrians speak Turkish. Serbian is the second largest spoken with about 2.2% of the total population. Burgenland Croatian is an official language in Burgenland, and spoken by about 2.5% of the population. Hungarian might be the least spoken language in Austria, but due to the deep historical ties between Austria and Hungary, the language is spoken by around 1,000 people in Burgenland. Slovene is an official language in Carinthia, and can be spoken by 0.3% of Austrians.
Is English necessary in Austria?
As a tourist there should be no problem using English in Austria. With about three-quarters of the population being able to speak English, there will be no problem especially in larger cities like Vienna and other tourist destinations. Since World War II, English has been taught throughout the country, so it is likely that anyone under the age of 70 should possess an English competency.
As a local, most locals are happy to switch to English. Austria’s standard of education is very high, so most schoolchildren should have a good foundation in English. Most locals should be accustomed to English speaking tourists particularly workers in hotels, stores, restaurants, and similar places in Austria should be accustomed to dealing with English speakers. Maybe you will even find people who are eager to speak English, and especially if locals find that you are having trouble practicing your German.
English Teaching in Austria
Austria’s ESL market can be difficult to enter for non-European Union citizens unless teachers participate through the American Fulbright Assistant Program, or the Canadian Foreign Exchange SWAP program. There are opportunities for non-EU and EU citizens to teach children at summer camps throughout Austria.
For those legally able to work in Austria, face-to-face interviews with private language schools occur during the peak hiring months of September and January. It is also not unusual to work freelance for several schools to fill your schedule, as the cost of living is quite high in Vienna and Salzburg. Austrian schools have similar criteria to Germany; many schools are looking for teachers with a certain experience in teaching Business English. Ideally, teachers who are seeking employment should have a Bachelor’s degree and an internationally recognized TEFL certificate in order to have the best chance to obtain an English teaching job.
In the Land of Mozart
Austria’s history as a European power and its cultural climate created a large contribution to different art forms, most notably music. Austria was the birthplace of Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn, Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner, as well as members of the Second Viennese School including Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, then an autonomous Holy Roman Empire Church Principality that later became part of Austria, and most of Mozart’s career was spent in Vienna.
In the early 16th century, the prestige of Vienna started to grow as a cultural center and centered on instruments, including the lute. Ludwig van Beethoven spent most of his career in Vienna. Austria’s national anthem, ascribed to Mozart, was chosen after World War II to replace Joseph Haydn’s original Austrian anthem.
Besides it’s relevance for classical music, due to its alpine landscape, alpine skiing is a very popular sport in Austria, and it is extremely valuable in the promotion and economic growth of the country. Similar sports such as snowboarding and ski-jumping is also extremely popular. Other prominent events are bobsled and luge as there is a permanent track located in Igls.
Sports have helped developed strong national consciousness and boosted confidence in the early years after the Second Republic which formed after World War II.
Austria is a fantastic place with a significant number of English speakers. You can certainly travel extensively across the country and almost always find someone with which to strike up a conversation.