Germans and Austrians are united in the sense that they both speak German. But not all variants of German are alike. As an English speaker, you presumably understand this intuitively if you’ve ever tried to put an American, Brit, Australian and Scot in one room. When it comes to Austrian vs German, many people would actually say that they’re more similar than American and British English. But they’re different enough that even a simple “hello” may leave you stumped.
Austrian vs German
Why Austrians speak German
A large chunk of Austria’s history was tied up with Germany’s, which is just another way of saying it was actually just part of Germany for most of its history. It was relatively recently — after World War I — that Austria began to establish itself as a sovereign nation. Austrian German is the official language of Austria, used in education, media and administrative communications.
Can Austrians and Germans understand each other?
Simply put, yes, for the most part. Austrian German is mutually intelligible with Standard German, which means speakers of these languages can understand each other. Most of where they differ is in the accent and vocabulary. And there are a lot of key vocabulary differences in Austrian vs German, including how to say hello, what you call a tomato and what you say when you order a coffee. For instance, you say hallo or guten tag to greet someone in Germany. In Austria, you’d say grüß gott or servus.
It gets more complicated than that, however, because there are regional dialects within both Germany and Austria that can trip people up when they visit. For instance, the Viennese dialect is more impenetrable to German speakers. And the Austrians in the rural west of the Austrian Alps sound very different than the Viennese!
How else are Austrian and German different?
Sometimes there are minor grammatical differences between Austrian vs German. For instance, the perfect tense in Austrian German sometimes uses sein (“to be”), instead of haben (“to have”) in Standard German.
Additionally, Austrian is generally much softer and more melodic. To speak Austrian German, just make everything sound cute! The diminutive form is also different, with Austrians adding -el and -erl to the end of words instead of -chen or -lein. All that said, if you learn Standard German, you’ll probably get by just fine in Austria and vice versa. Still, knowing these differences can give you a linguistic leg up in your travels.