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Next fall I am going to Austria for exchange, around half a year. I think it would be respectful (and useful of course) to learn to communicate in German, even though I have heard Austrians generally are very good at English. Around 5 years ago I studied German (Hochdeutsch) in middle school, but I don't remember very much. I basically need to learn from around CEFR A1-A2. My question is: should I try to learn Austrian German from the beginning, or should I study Hochdeutsch, which has more learning resources? Also, if I were to study Hochdeutsch, how hard of a time would I have understanding someone speaking Austrian German?

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    Not exactly the same situation but similar: german.stackexchange.com/questions/41682/…
    – Carsten S
    Mar 19, 2023 at 19:35
  • Strictly opinion based: I would learn standard Hochdeutsch as a basis (it will be difficult enough), then learn the Austrian particularities by simply interacting with the locals while you're there. Everyone will be able to understand you and you will learn the Austrian dialect naturally.
    – mrzool
    Mar 20, 2023 at 13:45

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Short answer:

It is very friendly that you think about learning our variant of German, but it is absolutely not necessary. No one else who comes to us makes this effort, not even the German immigrants who would actually have the easiest time learning our variation of German.

Every single Austrian also understands German German, and by now many of us already speak it as their native language. (Austrian German is becoming extinct as it is displaced by German German.)

Maybe you just have difficulties understanding some Austrian natives, but this is also true for German immigrants.


Long answer:

First of all: The German that we in Austria speak, IS Hochdeutsch. There are more reasons to call the Austria variation of German »Hochdeutsch« than the German variation of German. (More about this topic at the end of my Answer.)

Austria has 9.1 million inhabitants, but only about 80% of them have German as their native language. Vienna has 1.9 million residents, and only 1.1 million of them speak German as their first language. The dominant other languages are Serbian, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi and in the last year a lot of people speaking Ukrainian came to us.

Of the 7.3 million German-speaking people in Austria, 225,000 have German passports, and even more German immigrants have now become Austrian citizens, so they no longer count as Germans but as Austrians in the statistics, but many of them still speak the German variety of German.

Most of us native Austrian people speak these dialects/languages:

  1. A Bavarian Dialect
    People from Vorarlberg (400.000 inhabitants), which is the west-most state of Austria, speak an Allemannic dialect instead. This dialect (may it be Bavarian or Allemannic) is the true first language of most Austrian people. The chances to have a dialect as first language is higher for older people and for people growing up in rural regions. The number of dialect speakers among young people living in Vienna is very low.
    We do not write anything in this dialect, except poems and lyrics of dialect songs.
  2. Austria Standard German
    This is the language that we learn in school and that is used to teach students in any other subject. It is the language that we use to write our laws and regulations and in which we print our newspapers. Professional speakers in Austrian TV and radio speak this language.
  3. German Standard German
    When we watch TV, we see Austrian stations and stations from Germany. And so almost every day we hear the variant of German that is spoken in Germany. When our children watch videos of German-speaking influencers on the Internet, they hear only the German variant of German. When you upload a video and speak Austrian German in it, it will not be accepted by the consumers in Germany.
    More than 99% of all books printed in German language are printed in the German variant of German, even those published in Austria. The reason is simple: we Austrians understand German German very well, but Germans have problems with Austrian vocabulary and grammar. Many of them mistakenly believe it is wrong and complain to the publisher. And they are 9 or 10 times more than we Austrians, so they are the ones who buy the vast majority of German books.
  4. English
    Almost everyone over the age of 65 learned English in school, and in many professions, communicating with others in English is part of the daily business. And since the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s, English has also been used in private life, so I would say that almost everyone younger than 30 is now fairly fluent in English.

Hochdeutsch

Do not use this term. It is ambiguous. It has two meanings:

  1. Hochdeutsch as synonym for standard German
    This is the most frequent usage. A standard language is a language that is standardized. This means: There is a defined orthography, a defined grammar and defined vocabulary, where vocabulary and even grammar are subject of evolution, so they constantly change, which makes it hard to nail down the concrete definition of them.
    The other levels are colloquial speech and dialects. Dialects evolved from the historic roots of German. (There never was one German language, only a cluster of germanic dialects, but this answer is not the right place to dig deeper into this topic.) And colloquial speech is a level between dialects and standard language.
    But standardization is different in German, Austria and Switzerland. The German in which Austrian Newspapers are printed, would be considered wrong when published in Germany or Switzerland. But still all three variations of German are standardized and therefore standard German or Hochdeutsch if you prefer that term.

  2. Hochdeutsch is the name of a group of dialects
    It is spoken in the south of Germany as well as in Austria and Switzerland. This group is called Hoch-Deutsch (High German) because it is spoken high up in the mountains of the Alps. The German dialects spoken in the flat and low regions in the north are called Nieder-Deutsch (Low German) and Platt-Deutsch (literally, Flat German). Also Niederländisch (literally: Lowlandic, but actually Dutch, which is closely related to German) gets its name from the fact that it is spoken in low and flat regions.
    And because Austria is fully inside the area where High German dialects are spoken, while only the south of Germany is in this area, it is also correct to call the Austrian dialects Hochdeutsch while this is not true for most of the dialects spoken in Germany.

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  • A list of a few dozen words, only used in Austria, would be helpful to learn, from Traffik to Heuriger, Kasten to Sessel, leiwand zu Piefke und Paradeiser, Obers, Kren und vielen andere Lebensmitteln. Mar 21, 2023 at 3:26
  • @userunknown: Austrian German also differs from German German in the grammar of tenses of the past. The tense Perfekt (»Ich bin gestanden«) which in Germany also has the name Vorgegenwart (pre-present) is taught in Austrian schools under the name Vergangenheit (past) because it is the preferred tense to describe anything that happened in the past. The tense Präteritum (»Ich stand«) is Mitvergangenheit (co-past) in Austrian German, and as you might have noticed from my example, some verbs use other auxiliary verbs in Perfekt: Austr.: »Ich bin gestanden« Germ: »Ich habe gestanden« Mar 21, 2023 at 10:26
  • @userunknown: I once saw a shelf in a large Austrian bookstore that was about 60 cm wide and 2 meters high, and in it were exclusively books dealing with the differences between German German and Austrian German. So "a few dozen words" is not enough. There is also a good Wikipedia Article about Österreichisches Deutsch. Mar 21, 2023 at 10:34
  • Hm. Ich meine, dass einige Dutzend Wörter, die man häufig benötigt, zu Beginn hilfreich sind, a) um Einlassung auf die fremde Kultur zu demonstrieren, b) um sich beim Einkaufen etc. zurechtzufinden. Elaboriertere Sachen, wie unterschiedliche Behandlung der Vergangenheit, würde ich aufschieben und drauf warten, dass sich das bei mir von selbst einschleift, durch's häufige Hören. Mar 22, 2023 at 6:10
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    @userunknown: Das Adjektiv leiwand (super, toll, spitze) ist kein standarddeutsches Wort und hat daher auf deiner Liste allein schon aus diesem Grund nichts zu suchen. Es ist ein Wort aus dem Wiener Arbeiterdialekt und ist außerhalb Wiens nur im Lied Schifoan vom Wiener Wolfgang Ambros zu hören. Nicht mal im Bundesland Niederösterreich, das Wien vollständig umschließt und in dem ich seit nunmehr 7 Jahren lebe, wurde dieses Wort verwendet, und mittlerweile ist es auch in Wien schon beinahe ausgestorben weil der Wiener Arbeiterdialekt sich mit den Dialekten anderer sozialer ... Mar 22, 2023 at 7:23
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I think the link given in comment by Carsten S pretty much answers the question. The only thing I'd add is that there are very few resources for learning German dialects, any class is going cover standard German, the DW learning materials are for standard German, etc. You might find the occasional video with people speaking in a given dialect, but that's not really something you can learn a language from. The only thing I can think of would be to hire a native Austrian as a tutor, but even then you'd need to make sure it's the same flavor of Austrian as the place you're going, since there are regional variations within Austria as well.

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    Austrian High German is as much a "dialect" as "British English" is. We have been over that for umpteenth times.
    – bakunin
    Mar 20, 2023 at 7:52
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    @bakunin: Peter was not asking about learning Austrian dialects (Österreichische Dialekte). He asked about learning Austrian German (Österreichisches Deutsch), which is one of the three standard variations of German. Mar 20, 2023 at 10:13
  • @bakunin - I wasn't talking about Austrian High German. Anyway, British English has a lot of regional variants as well. They usually kind of tone it down for movies and whatnot so Americans can understand what they're saying.
    – RDBury
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:20
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    You were talking about "German dialects" and either this is off-topic (because the question was about "Austrian German", which is not a dialect) OR you think that "Austrian German" indeed refers to a dialect and this is why i said this is not the case. British English may have regional variants, but "British English" - or "American English", for that matter - is not a dialect but a standard variety. Using e.g. "lorry" instead of "truck" (or vice versa) is not dialect and using e.g. "Obers" instead of "Sahne" isn't either.
    – bakunin
    Mar 20, 2023 at 23:34
  • @bakunin - One of us misunderstood the question. Per Wikipedia: "In less formal situations, Austrians use Bavarian and Alemannic dialects, which are traditionally spoken but rarely written in Austria." I understood the question to be asking about that.
    – RDBury
    Mar 21, 2023 at 7:19

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