This is a (very) modified version of my original question, for more context regarding some of the answers you might want to see the edits below.

I am learning German for fun, and I do not feel the need to restrict myself to Standard German (the standard which is spoken in Germany). I have found that there are three standards for the German language Austrian German, Standard German, Swiss Standard German. I have been using the website TVoepdia to watch television in German. Because I only understand at this point about 30% of what I hear, it does not bother me to switch between Austrian, German, and Swiss television stations. (Even though I speak zero Italian, I can comprehend an Italian news broadcast fairly well, because I speak Spanish on a daily basis). Sometimes, I just watch and listen to German media just to listen to the way that people pronounce their \r\, \s\, \ch\ and other phonemes, it doesn't bother me that I don't understand much at all.

With that said, as my vocabulary continues to grow I will start to recognize more and more words, and I might start say things that are distinct to each country without being able to distinguish the three standards above. So, my question is as follows.

My Question: What kind of media should I be watching and hearing, if I want to understand Standard German? (For example, if I want to be able to read books like Grundzüge der Mengenlehre or die Lutherbibel 1545)? I get the impression from the Wikipedia article above, that all three standards are mutually intelligible.

Is it true that all three standard Germans are mutually intelligible? If, so then what is the harm in choosing to consume Swiss media, over German or Austrian media? Would it be a bad ideal to mix the three? In the US Spanish speakers must get used to a wide variety of dialects, some with different vocabularies and sounds (it's not "pescado" it's "pesca'o"). If I don't recognize a word the other person almost always in a matter of seconds finds a synonym which I do know. Is this similar to the situation with the three standard Germans? Are German speakers agile to adapt to other accents, as we are in the US with different Spanish accents?

  • Just curious, but why do you want to learn German if you have nobody to talk to?
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 16:43
  • @Earthling All of my favorite mathematicians are German or at least spoke German. Also, my heritage is predominately German so I figure why not. Also, I have a bit of a talent for languages I speak Spanish and Indonesian fluently, both of which I learned through immersion without much formal education. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:18
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    @CarstenSchultz: Slightly depends on what exactly you consader to be German. But Luxembourgish is nothing more but a Ausbaudialekt of High German.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 9:19
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    @Bobby: Please do not confuse various regional dialects (which exist in Germany as well, obviously) with High German (of the Austrian variety, if you will).
    – Ingmar
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 20:04
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    One more note: It's going to be very hard to read the Luther bible, because it more or less uses German the way it was spoken 1545 (hence the name) and therefore uses funny variants on almost everything. But at least it's not written in Hannover German ;) (It's more like Thüringer German, most likely.)
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:08

9 Answers 9


I am a native German speaker from Berlin and have not studied languages, so I can only speak from my own experience.

When it comes to the written language, the differences between standard German in Austria, Germany and Switzerland are small (think American and British English). I see no harm in mixing your reading material. When I go to Switzerland I may notice that some signs are worded differently than they would have been in Germany (and in some cases the meaning might not be immediately clear), but reading the Neue Zürcher Zeitung I have to look for the differences.

I am just now watching a cultural program on Austrian TV. The host and the speakers of the individual pieces could very well also be on German TV. Some even may be, the voices seem familiar to me. (There are cooperations between the public TV stations of the three countries.) In one of the pieces I could not at all have told that it has been produced in Austria had not suddenly the word „kontroversiell“ popped up at the end. One of the pieces is about the documentary „Das große Museum“. In it everyone who speaks directly to the camera has a very clear standard German pronunciation, possibly with some more southern vowels. Austrians talking to each other in it speak distinctly differently. I would think that this is typical.

I also just watched a piece from Swiss television. Again, very clear standard German pronunciation of the speakers, but the Swiss accent was more noticeable. And again there was an unexpected word that was however immediately understandable. There were two interviewees. The first spoke with a distinctly Swiss accent (the typical “ch” sounds), the second probably was not even Swiss, at least I would be surprised if he was or had not at least lived in Germany.

And as others have mentioned, Swiss German is completely different from Swiss standard German. I very much enjoyed the film “Der Freund”, but I was also grateful for German subtitles. Related to that I also suggest examples of Sophie Hunger singing in standard German and Swiss German. (I probably do not have to tell you that the beginning of the second video is neither ;) )

Regarding spoken dialects of German there is a wide variation. I think that it is comparable to the many English dialects spoken in Great Britain and Ireland. Many speakers are hard for me to understand, although they can switch to a pronunciation that I can understand.

When you previously learned languages, you were immersed in that language and had a good experience with using the dialect that was around you. I assume that was at least partly so because it also meant that you learned the spoken language and not just the written language. Now your situation is different. If you want to be able to speak German well you should also try to learn the constructions which are used in spoken German. However I would suggest that you stick closely to some standard German pronunciation. One reason is that German has the advantage of having a pronunciation that is closely related to the orthography, and there is no reason to give up that advantage. On the other hand I would see no harm in you for example choosing a pronunciation of “r” that is easier for you.

By the way, I have also had a look at the Hausdorff you mention. This is of course completely modern German, but the style differs from how mathematics texts are written today. The sentences are more elaborate. So you will learn the right German, but these texts are harder to read than modern textbooks. One would probably read Hausdorff only out of historical interest, but I actually use van der Waerden for its content, and that is written in a similar style.

  • Danke schön für diese Antwort! There are a lot of great links here, and thanks for taking the time to look at the Hausdorff book (Grundzüge der Mengenlehre) that I mentioned. I like mathematics for a lot of reasons, but mostly for its beauty. So, I think i will try to get through Hausdorff's book even if it is not very practical. Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 15:52
  • @JimmyJackson, you are welcome. I, too, sometimes enjoy reading older mathematical texts, even though I have not extensively studied any. But for example I found it interesting to read this German translation of this classical work.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 10:59
  • And I should add that the relationship of the Swiss to standard German is more complicated than I realised, Wikipedia has some interesting information.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 11:04
  • Don't worry about the differences between the varieties of standard German. They are on roughly the same level as the differences between British, American, Canadian, Australian English etc. Local dialects are the real challenge, just like in English.
    – user2183
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 22:55

When talking about "standard German" you should know that there are three standard variations of German:

  • German German (yes, sounds funny, but this is its official name)
  • Austrian German
  • Swiss German

You can think of the differences between this variation like the differences between american and british english. This means:

  • the three variations are very similar, but NOT equal!
  • they have different grammar
  • they have different vocabulary

Most native speakers in Germany are not aware of those differences, because when they get in contact with Austrian or Swiss native speakers, they think they are speaking some kind of funny dialect. Speakers in Austria and Switzerland are more aware of those differences, because there so many printed magazines that are imported from Germany into other german spoken countries, and you can watch TV from Germany in Austria and Switzerland too. But when you live in Germany, you rarely get a chance to listen to any of the other variations.

Most movies for cinema are synchronized in German German. But some animation movies for kids are also synchronized in Austrian German too, and this is also true for many ads in TV. Many commercials are produced in German German and then synchronized in Austrian German for Austrian TV. I bet most people in Germany didn't know this.

Some examples for differences:

The handle of a door is:

  • in German German: Türklinke
  • in Austrian German: Türschnalle
  • in Swiss German: Türfalle

Chicken (as food) is:

  • in German German: Hühnchen
  • in Austrian German: Händl
  • in Swiss German: Poulet (a french loan word)

next examples without Swiss German because as living in Austria I am firm with Austrian and German German, but not with Swiss German.

Coke is:

  • in German German: Die Cola (feminin)
  • in Austrian German: Das Cola (neuter)

»to go to school« is:

  • in German German: zur Schule gehen
  • in Austrian German: in die Schule gehen

The digit 1 is:

  • in German German: Die Eins (female)
  • in Austrian German: Der Einser (male)

8:45 (time of day) is:

  • in German German: Viertel vor Neun
  • in Austrian German: Dreiviertel Neun

9:15 (time of day) is:

  • in German German: Viertel nach Neun
  • in Austrian German: Viertel Zehn

»I missed you« is:

  • in German German: Du hast mir gefehlt
  • in Austrian German: Du bist mir abgegangen

It is true, that there are differences in the accent between those three countries, but the main differences are No.1: vocabulary and No.2: grammar. Differences in pronunciation are at No.3.

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    Please do not confuse "swiss german" with "swiss standard german". These are two entirely different things. What you're talking about here is "swiss standard german", which is the formal written language in Switzerland. "Swiss german" is a alemanic dialect which would not be understood by many germans.
    – PMF
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 11:01
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    I think that for all of the examples of Austrian German that you give you would also find an area in Germany where that expression is used.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 11:26
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    In particular, I can guarantee that in Berlin it als also „dreiviertel neun“ and „viertel zehn“.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 13:53
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    I agree with Carsten here. Most of your examples for Austrian and Swiss German are more general regional varieties and often used in Germany as well.
    – jarnbjo
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 20:19
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    Careful with the time versions. My girlfriend is from Linz (in Upper Austria) and was very confused by "dreiviertel neun" for the longest time after moving to Vienna. So not only are these "Austrian German" expressions used in parts of Germany, there are parts of Austria that don't use them. Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 7:03

I would recommend the following public broadcasting resources for listening to standard German as you called it:

A lot of their shows come along with a text version.

Please see also resources for learning German.

Diving into German accents is certainly not a good idea for an average learner. It is difficult and has no practical consequence. You will be understood everywhere with standard German, with a certain accent it can be challenging to be understood elsewhere, even for native speakers.

  • Thanks for these resources! I just found that if I speak Spanish with an accent, like I learned it, then it is easier for me to pronounce things; sometimes when I force myself to use a neutral accent (closer to how I speak English) then I might struggle with some words. The same is true for me when I speak Indonesian. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:53

Everything going out via the huge media outlets, be it Swiss, Austrian or German, is more or less the same "high German" except maybe for a few vocabulary differences ("heuer" / "dieses Jahr"). As a German, when I'm watching Swiss news, I can certainly hear that the speakers are from Switzerland, but I can tell they're trying very hard to speak without a dialect. The same goes for written publications.

If you only consume mainstream media recources that focus on relying serious information to their customers, I don't think you'll be able to tell the difference / get confused between different dialects for another few years.

Now if you watch some funny shows on TV or, of course, speak to natives, that's when you'll really get a dose of some dialect. Except for all things Hanover. Hanovarians are known to have no dialect at all. Just in case you ever want to come visit Germany.

  • „heuer“ means „this year“, „heute“ means „this day“.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 14:36
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    Whoops. Just demonstrating the pitfalls! : )
    – 949
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 15:01
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    "The same goes for written publications" — In my experience if Swiss written texts are written well and diligently, they often render a "better" German than texts written Germany, and Austria. One main reason for this is that Swiss writers are most aware of the gap between their local dialect and the written standard, while Germans tend to take their spoken habits for a writing standard as well, their dialects in fact being closer to the written language. Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 6:57
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    People from Hannover do have a Northern German accent, immediately recognisable for some Southerners. Plus their local variant is actually Platt. There is no German in Germany who speaks without being pinnable to their region. Fun fact: In the early 20th century, Prague German was deemed the 'best high German', not Hannover German.
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:03

As already stated, "swiss standard german" is in many ways different from the german standard language. It generally might be easier to understand for foreign people, because it is not directly influenced by the dialect of the person speaking and therefore quite uniform across Switzerland.

Unlike in Germany, there's no so called "dialektkontinuum" in Switzerland, meaning that one can mix the formal language with ones dialect and move between them arbitrarily during talking. The swiss german dialect is so much different from standard german, that one can either talk swiss german or swiss standard german, but not something in between.

  • Wrong. Switzerland is part of the German Dialektkontinuum. People coming from different parts of Switzerland will have different flavours to their standard Swiss German, much like someone from Tyrol will sound differently in standard Austrian German from someone from Vienna or someone from Hamburg sounding differently speaking standard German German from someone from Berlin.
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 15:07
  • I didn't say there's no difference, but the differences are minor. Usually, you cannot derive a persons origin from his or her swiss standard german, while you can derive it from the dialect she or he is talking.
    – PMF
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 8:26

Forget to learn any specific dialect. At least in Austria every valley has its own. If you want to learn German watch the news anchors on ORF (the Austrian PSB - IMHO the speakers with the least amount of accent).


I think you're off to a good start if you already know you get to pick an accent as a learner. It's very important, and it seems you're aware of this, to be consistent with the dialect you speak, or else you're just going to sound very silly and some, sensitive, natives might even think you're making fun of a specific dialect.

When it comes to German, I'd suggest learning a northern dialect (maybe Berlin's or dialects that are spoken in parts of Niedersachsen or NRW), since they're definitely closer to Standard German than some dialects from the south. Every German speaker is able to understand the Standard German variant, even if they're not able to replicate it correctly. So, I'd say it's a good compromise to have everyone understand you and still having a dialect filled with subtleties.

As for the media you should be consuming... I'd say it's great that you're consuming all kinds of media and that will help you a lot when you deal with people from different regions. You do run the risk of starting to mix dialects, though. I'd probably suggest consuming mainly media that's in the dialect you wish to learn, at least at first while you're still forming your basic active vocabulary.

You could obviously still go for a southern dialect, but if you really get into it, be prepared to not be understood all the time. Swiss and Austrian German, their dialects, and some southern German dialects aren't too close to the standard and native speakers actually have to "change" their dialect when communicating with people from other regions.

In short: I'd suggest picking a dialect that's not too far from the standard, but if you do be prepared to hear weird constructions if you talk to people from different regions!

  • Thanks! I have actually listen to some stuff from Berlin, I kind of liked their accent. But, I kinda of thought that Austrian TV used a very clear accent, that would be easy for me to pick up. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:39
  • Well, the kind of German you hear on Austrian news is actually Standard Austrian German and is actually close to Standard German, but people don't talk like that on the streets of Austria. You could go for that dialect and you'll be understood by everyone, but it might sound weird to people who aren't from Austria.
    – clinch
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 18:22
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    The dialect spoken by natives from the Berlin area is very different from dialects spoken by people from Lower Saxony. I would be amused to hear it from a foreigner. Da kiekste, wa?
    – lejonet
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 18:32
  • I wonder what Berlin dialect you refer to.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 10:14

Just my two cents, but I'd not "learn" any accent at all. I'd learn "high German" (standard German), as this will be understood in all German speaking regions.

Trying to understand dialects may sound like a good idea - but actually I don't see the point. You'll struggle enough with standard German anyway.


For those of you who don’t know the difference between the three German languages: Germany, Austria and Switzerland, just listen to Arnold from Austria, very similar to Germany, however Switzerland accent is different, they all understand each other, like American English, British English, Australia, Scotland and Ireland, all English but their own accents.

For the Spanish, there’s Latin America, many varieties, and Spain, Castilian, Catalan, Basque, Galician, Andalusia and some others. North and Central Spain is Castilian; other areas are their own dialects.

Best example: Penelope Cruz, Madrid, and Antonio Banderas, Andalusia, southern Spain, different dialect.

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    I do not agree at all. Basque is a language completely different from and unrelated to Spanish, French, or any other known language. Also, not all "German" speakers will understand each other. I am from central Germany and everybody will understand me (if I don't speak too fast), but I will be completely lost in a Swabian, Bavarian, Austrian or Swiss village. Similarly, I doubt that New Englanders will (easily) understand thick central English or Scottish accents. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 9:03

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