How to Learn German in Vienna

In Living Abroad, Vienna by Carly32 Comments

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I thought I’d learn German in about 12 months. I figured that seen as I lived in a German-speaking city and had decent motivation (desperate need to order coffee without stumbling on my words) it would simply come to me in good time. Presumably in the night, like a lightning strike, or a giant slap to the side of the head. One year seemed, to my naive ambitious self, a perfectly reasonable amount of time to pick up the intricacies of conversation.

I’ve since discovered 3 things;

1) I’m not a patient person

2) 12 months flies by when you move to a new country

3) Learning a language is not as easy as movie montages make it appear (damn you Colin Firth in Love, Actually!)


I’m now two years into my Expat life in Vienna and still at a beginners level of German. I can follow conversation in a group of Deutsch speaking friends, thankfully coffee & brunch ordering is now possible too. But the true art of expressing myself fluently still eludes me.

Brunch at Freyung

Life priorities

I’ve tried intensive courses at IKI, which were challenging but got me the building blocks. I’ve experimented with reading children’s books with S to reach the language the same way I learned English – through a love of reading. Now I’m enrolled at the Deutschinsitut, a slightly slower paced course better suited to full-time work schedules.

The kicker in Vienna is – everybody speaks English. Including my entirely English-speaking workplace. With such a flood of tourists and International organisations in the city, you could actually get by without learning a scrap of Deutsch. But I’m pretty sure that makes you an Expat arsehole.


Never, ever, be this guy

 So here are a few ways I’m trying to force myself to speak more Deutsch everyday –  if you have any language learning tips to add please let me know in the comments!

– Talk and talk and talk at home. I wuss out of talking Deutsch at home. All. The. Time. I’m like a 1950’s housewife avoiding sex, with my standard lines of ‘I’m just so tired today’ ‘Its been a really long week’ ‘Do you really want to? Right now?’. It’s the biggest challenge, but should be one of the easiest to overcome – it just takes discipline from you and your housemates.

– Text message auf Deutsch. This is an everyday activity that will sharpen your writing skills. I can follow conversation face to face, but my spelling and conjugation when writing Deutsch isn’t great. Texting gives you some everyday practice. Just make sure you only try this with your native German-speaking friends – group Whats App messages in German with the English-speaking family don’t go down so well.

– Read the free papers & familiar magazines. The U-bahn daily metro papers are filled with small, easy to follow articles with pictures. I can’t understand every word, but the gist of the article can be pieced together with regular reading to extend your vocab. I’ve also had a go at purchasing the Deutsch version of Cosmo. Even when written in another language the articles about ‘This seasons hottest Winter Coats’ & celebrity interviews are the same format as in English, making it easier to follow along.

‘Dress Up’ & ‘Sex Appeal’ are apparently universal phrases 

– Ask for help. When you’re talking to a native speaker and they say a word you’ve never heard, ask what it is. Yes, it will be excruciating, yes it makes you feel about 10 feet tall, but if you don’t ask, your friends can’t help and you won’t learn. Suck it up and ask for help (still my biggest challenge!)

Lastly, there’s a few different language schools that offer courses at varying price levels to get you on your way to comfortably speaking. Courses aren’t for everyone – some friends have learnt German from reading comic books or spending time deep in the countryside where there is no other option – but for me, the structure of a school and deadlines keep me honest. A few of the better known ones are: – One of the most expensive. Strictly only apply if your workplace can afford to cover the costs. They have 1 to 1 sessions, small groups and private office tutoring available. – My first Deutsch Kurs experience, it’s very thorough, moves at a decent pace and they offer intensive day time courses and 8 week evening courses. Your certificate from the OIF is included in the price, which is worth keeping in mind when you compare to other cheaper schools. The current option I’m trialling, these guys are reasonably priced, in the central 6th district and use the same workbooks as IKI. Their evening courses are particularly popular. These guys are the budget conscious option in Vienna. When I first moved here and money was super tight we looked into courses here. To be honest, their offices and setup put me completely off when I went to enrol – everything felt cramped in, they were using old computers despite their location on the Ringstrasse it just seemed, well, cheap & nasty. Friends have studied there and liked the additional materials but I’m not sold on it myself.

My Deutsch is still a work in progress, but I’d love to hear anyone else’s tricks to picking up a language – if only to give me hope that I will one day conquer the dreaded German Grammar!

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  1. I’m French and with an Austrian boyfriend… and we both live in Prague 🙂 We were learning Czech together, our daily communication is in English but as of course it’s not my native language, neither his, we are respectively learning French and German with a book called the Assimil method… The ideal in the future would be to speak together in our respective languages! I’m a total beginner in German and get often a bit frustrated when I cannot communicate properly with his family for example, and I’m not the patient kind of girl neither, so despite my poor budget I’ve decided to attend the course at the Goethe Institute in Prague starting next January… But I kind of look forward to practice it on live (if we move to Austria in the future) because as I experienced it with Czech, living in the country and working with native speakers doesn’t make you go faster but really set your basics and your understanding of the language… I just hope that I can be at least a bit prepared to apply for jobs there when come the time 🙂 Cheers and keep on blogging 🙂

  2. I’m 18 months in with similar ambitions but no native German speaker in my house — use that Austrian man to your advantage. I cannot follow native speaker chit chat but I can fend for myself in a restaurant. Schritt für Schritt. My 8 yr old has been in public school and is now fluent. Sigh, to have a young empty head. Lol. He’s the one who observed, in response to your earlier post about the seeming incongruity between Austrians’ love of outdoorsy fitness and smoking “Austrians are so good, they just like to be a little bit bad.” Maybe his head is not so empty!

    1. Kids will always always learn faster – have you seen Austrian kids on ski slopes, they are incredible! Your 8 year seems pretty switched on to the Austrian culture already and I definitely agree all this ‘being perfect’ that the Austrians get up to lets them be a little bit naughty now and then 🙂

  3. Hello Mrs. Hulls,

    if you want to write some german massages, just contact my on WhatsApp.
    I think you know my WhatsApp name…:-)


    1. Hahahaha Danke Mr Jannach! I think at least the WhatsApp will be better than awkward phone calls where we cannot understand each other 🙂

  4. I think it’s integral to incorporate online options as well. They are free and often still of good quality and extensive. I was impressed with, which has English explanations and offers recordings of native speakers. is entirely in German but it has a really cool exercise tool (Übungen). And last but not least: duolingo is pretty popular right now. It especially focuses on translating German/English phrases. I am learning Russian and it’s really frustrating how little is offered online for learning this language.
    By the way, I’m Austrian and I enjoy your blog very much. I love to read about your view on things. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    1. Hey Julia thanks for those links, I hadn’t heard of those websites before so that’ll definitely come in handy. I’ve had a few goes with Duolingo but can’t seem to stick with it past a certain point…must. commit. I cannot even imagine learning Russian, you’re on a whole other level to me, good luck with it!

  5. Love your blog! Suggestion: watch movies in German that you have already seen in English!

  6. I love your blog!
    Here are some more things that may help you with learning German: In case you’re not watching the Austrian News on ORF in the evening watch movies in German. Like if you watch movies online, watch the german translation. Most of them are not too bad. Start with movies that you’ve alread watched and where you know what they are about. Or classic rom-coms where you know after 5 minutes how it will end.
    Also you could change your phone and computer settings to German and your facebook too. It will only make a small difference but there might be words you wouldn’t use and therefor learn otherwise.
    Of course the main clue is talking in German as much as possible whenever you can (and feel comfortable)
    Hope I could help

    1. Thanks Vera they are all good tips – changing my computer to Deutsch might be a bit tooo frustrating haha but the Facebook settings is an excellent start point, danke!!

  7. Ich hab dazu 3 Ideen, Carly:
    1.: (Für den Fall, dass er es nicht ohnehin tut): ZWING’ deinen Liebsten, Deutsch zu sprechen. Deutsch und NUR DEUTSCH. Kein Tirolerisch, schon gar kein Englisch. Nur Deutsch. (hab das bei einem Freund und seiner Liebsten gesehen: sie hats nach Jahren zu keinem gescheiten Deutsch gebracht, weil er Englisch so sehr mochte – – – – – I would be of the smae kind, BTW :-D)
    2.: Such dir Filme – oder noch besser: TV Serien – die du wirklich magst. Also wirklich wirklich. Die du fast auswendig kannst. Und langweile dich damit, sie dir in Deutsch anzusehen.
    3.: Sprich Deutsch, wo immer du kannst (egal wie gut oder richtig – völlig wurscht – entschuldigung: völlig EGAL). Sprich Deutsch überall wo du kannst.

    Needless to says, that I had to translate the whole comment when I discovered that I had it in English originally – discovered that when done, of course 😀

  8. Pretty good little overview. Things were much easier when I learned (started learning anyway) many years ago and almost no one spoke English. Everyone was amazed that an Ami would want to learn German. Think of German as a cross-word puzzle, with all the pieces having to fit and relate to each other. Look at endings as your friends – they give you hints regarding the role they play in the sentence – what word they relate to. Without gender and endings (like English) you are diving down the road without any sign posts. As to schools, I spent time at Alpha Sprachschul and liked it. Good teachers and good fellow students – mostly women who had lived in Vienna for decades.

  9. I’ve been in Austria for a year and a half and am now pretty much fluent. That said, I live (and work) in the counrtryside where the only person I speak English to is my Austrian husband! We tried speaking German together when we lived in Australia and I know exactly what you mean, we just never could stick to it. The first year was incredibly difficult but now I feel quite settled. Right at the beginning I did two courses at Deutschakademie and found it great and I improved really fast. Being forced to speak German every day really makes a huge difference. I have heard hooking up with a conversation buddy can also really help (ie meet for coffee with a native speaker who wants to learn English and speak German one time and English the next). Good luck!

    1. Thank you! Sometimes I think about exiling myself to the countryside for a while, its a definite sink or swim strategy…good on you for braving it!

  10. Brisbane girl with an Austrian husband here, I had my five-year Vienna anniversary this past June! With an all English-speaking work place like you have I have also found it incredibly hard. Also, my beloved speaks basically perfect English, and when you start a relationship in one language, it is very hard to switch! That said, here are my tips (I am echoing a couple of other posters but hey, they work!)

    1) If your inlaws are Austrian, use them. One thing that helped me was the fact that both the MoL and FoL speak almost not English – definitely not enough to have a good relationship with them, so even though it was awkward for like two years, I forced myself to spend a lot of time with them.

    2) If you do number 1, INSIST that people speak hochdeutsch with you when you practice. One of my biggest mistakes was not being insistent enough with my inlaw and I tainted my months of intensive IKI courses with some very slack NÖ and Wienerisch dialect. It is taking a long time to undo that damage!

    2) Watch the news every day. Both ORF and a German one. As a beginner, I found that German as Germans speak it was easier to pick up (I will be crucified if my husband ever reads this)

    3) Watch something like Tatort. A very average crime drama, but very good if you want to watch some TV in German without the distraction of dubbing. Best thing is that episodes are filmed in Switzerland, Austria and Germany so you get a variety of accents.

    4) Der Spiegel and Der Standard are always lying around at our place. I force myself to read them because they pitch the language at a higher standard than say Kronen Zeitung.

    5) Try very hard to do all of the household organisation tasks yourself – e.g. arranging a plumber, WGKK admin etc. It is a handy way to throw you in the deep end, and you will have the added advantage of hearing many different accents.

    Ok, they are my tips. I agree with you on the grammar / writing front. I am a very fluent speaker now, but tapping a simple email to a person about a chair on Willhaben still requires frequent trips to google translate and a proofread from the husband.

    1. Lauren these are WONDERFUL tips thanks so much! I think I definitely need to switch on the TV shows more often from the sound of it and I know that my ‘Tirolerish’ dialect is slipping in even now in the early stages, so will have to be vigilant. Its great to hear that it is possible though so thanks for sharing and congrats on your 5 years here 🙂

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  12. Nice post! I’d listen to Austrian radio (usually Ö3 or Ö1, depending on my mood) while doing other stuff to get used to the Austrian German accent before going to Vienna, and now to maintain my Deutsch. And because I’m lazy… I just download the mobile apps for ORF news and Der Standard to read them on the go 🙂 Alles Gute beim Deutsch lernen!

    1. Danke! I’ve been an FM4 listener so far but that’s kind of cheating cos they have English shows so radio is a good tip!

  13. Hello, my name is Amy Eulenstein, and I currently live in Colorado. Im a senior in high school, and for a class project we were supposed to pick a country that we would like to learn more about. And because of my Austrian heritage, I choose Austria. As a part of that project we were told to try and find a blog of someone who has/currently lived in our country. and I found you :). So I hope you wouldn’t mind taking the time to respond to the comments that I’ll be making on a couple of your posts I’d really appreciate it. Thank you! 🙂

    So here are a couple of questions I have just about the current culture in Vienna…

    1.) What is the “typical” day like in Vienna? As in do you wake up, go to work, go home, go to dinner, and then repeat the next day? Or is there a different feel or style that Vienna has?

    2.) I am a BIG foodie! So I have to ask what is your favorite Austrian food dish? And just going off the topic of food, is food a big part Austrian culture? Do many locals know how to cook and are good at it, or is it more of a cultural place, where you can get all types of food?

    I promise last question on this post!
    3.) Does Vienna honor their history? Are the buildings old and beautiful, or newer and chic? Are there traditions that everyone honors?

    1. Author

      Hey Amy! Glad you found my blog helpful sounds like a fun project. I’ll be more than happy to flick you through the answers to your questions, is there maybe an email address or some other way to contact you and send all the answers through at once? If you let me know your best contact details I’ll get my answers for everything all in one place for you. And don’t worry – I won’t publish your email address 😉

  14. I’ve gone to Alpha Sprachschule when staying in Vienna. Good teachers, good students.

    1. Author

      Nice tip! I’m on a short break from Deutsch now but will definitely check it out for the next round, thanks Rob!

  15. Hey Carly, I am not sure if these have already been said, but the four tips i can offer you are:
    1) to make weekly coffee dates to meet with your German-learning friends, and make a pact to only speak German for a solid hour before switching back to English. Of course if you can meet with Native German speakers this is by far the best option, but i find it a great way to involve your English speaking friends and it will motivate you both to step out of your comfort zone.
    2) Get Netflix in Austria, and start watching German movies with German subtitles; this has really improved my listening skills and expanded my vocabulary. I do have to pause the movie quite a bit when they speak with lightening speed, but after a while you really get the hang of it. (Top German movies: Til Schweiger Movies: Barfuß, KOKOWÄÄH 1, KOKOWÄÄH 2, Keinohrhasen 1, Keinohrhasen 2; these are the cutest, most entertaining German movies i have watched and Til Schweiger’s kids also have roles in the movies making them voll lieb 😉
    3) Designate a day during the week to only speak German with your man. I can fully relate to how difficult and unappealing it can be but once you start making it a routine, it becomes a lot easier 🙂 Like many, my boyfriend and I met in English and he speaks English fluently, so it took a really long time for us to start switching to German, but now we designate every Sunday to speaking only the Deutsch.. Once you get over the initial headaches and frustrations, your weekly dates will become second nature.
    4) This tip, i only just started doing myself, but every morning when i wake up, I now turn on the TV and watch the news in German with breakfast. I prefer the TV so that i have a visual aid as well, and although I dont understand every word, I think the mere fact that you are waking up and starting your day in German is what matters most. Also you begin picking up on certain phrases and words that help you understand what is going on. This isn’t the most exciting tip i have, but it is one more thing i am trying to integrate into my daily German learning life 😉

    Anyways i hope these tips help you, i too work everyday in English as Native English Teacher in a Gymnasium, so I am faced with the difficulty of finding/creating opportunities to speak German/improve my German speaking skills. Sadly ordering Wurst at the Spar meat counter, or ordering schnitzel at a Wiener Heurigen can only take one’s vocabulary so far. All the best and enjoy the warm weather 🙂

    1. Author

      Oh wow Alynn that’s an amazing set of tips! My mister actually loves Til Schweiger movies so might have to try that out this weekend. The Deutsch for a Day is a good rule cos we always get lazy about an hour into speaking so that’s a nice way to stay accountable! Thanks heaps!

  16. Thanks for the tips, they are very helpful!
    On your recommendation, I started to watch movies and read magazines but lacked the development of spoken language.
    I found an excellent free conversational German course in the IFU, a very good conversation practice, found a lot of friends who also learn German.

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