Imagine you learn English from a native speaker from New York. You think you’re ready to move to an English speaking country and you find yourself in the Scottish countryside. Suddenly English doesn’t sound like the English you know anymore and you wonder if you’ll be able to ever understand it. I’ve been told that’s what it feels like to learn German – with resources from Germany, as you do – and then end up in Austria. So here are three short cuts to understanding Austrian German, which will hopefully help you understand our accent better.
Disclaimer: Julia, The Wine, is from the Weinviertel (hence the name) close to Vienna. Other regional varieties of Austrian German might be quite different further South or West.
1) To be or not to be
You probably recognize this table below since the conjugation of to be is usually one of the first things you learn in a new language. But in Austrian dialect to be turns into quite different words. But once you know this one verb well, it should already unlock quite a bit of sentences you were perhaps confused by before.
Disclaimer: There’s no official spelling, so I tried to go for as close to what it sounds like as possible.
I bi im Garten. – I am in the Garten.
Du bist im Wohnzimmer. – You are in the living room.
Er, sie und es san im Kino. – He, she and it are at the cinema.
Mia san in der Schule. – We are in school.
Eis seits net in der Schule. – You aren’t in school.
Sie san auf Urlaub. – They are on holiday.
2) Not bad
It’s a common joke that Austrian people don’t show enthusiasm easily. It’s true that if an Austrian tells you “not bad” that is actually high, genuine praise. So it’s also important for you to know the words no, not and none.
3) Austrian German’s Pronunciation
Austrian’s pronunciation of certain letters might be what confuses people the most, when they try to listen for familiar vocabulary. Generally, our pronunciation is much softer than Germans and we tend more to swallow parts of a word. But it’s particularly noticeable with words the usually have a soft and a harter pronunciation, like das weiche B und das harte B. We pronounce them pretty much the same. So, backen – to bake – and packen – to pack – can sound like the same word. Funnily, enough that can even confuse Germans. For example, one time I told German friends, “Ich muss jetzt meinen Koffer packen” and they were like what do you mean you’re going to bake your suitcase? Are you going to put in the oven?
I was a little bit annoyed with them then because based on context it was very clear I was not going to try to shove my suitcase into an oven. But I can understand that for a non-native speaker this might be confusing at first. So here are sounds that sound similar:
Depending on the dialect this can also happen with G and K.