Opinion and Analysis For Members

'To completely integrate in Austrian life you need German, but it takes time'

Julia Hjelm Jakobsson
Julia Hjelm Jakobsson - [email protected]
'To completely integrate in Austrian life you need German, but it takes time'
Two friends enjoy the view at the Dobratsch mountains in Austria. Integration and learning German can be tough in Austria. Photo by Cornelia Steinwender on Unsplash

Knowing German can help you integrate in Austria, but to what extent depends on where you want to live in the country and what you define as being integrated, writes Vienna-based journalist Julia Jakobsson.


The worst possible place to integrate with Austrians must be at a local festival in the middle of nowhere, outside a city with a name you have no idea how to pronounce.

People are probably drunk, speak their own local dialect, and connect over songs you have never heard before.

I have always been eager to experience Austrian culture, so I decided to take my chances. Surprisingly, it didn't work out as I had hoped. I spent the evening working out my neck muscles by fiercely nodding my head at whatever was being said. If people reacted in a confused way to my nods, I would change the direction from vertical to horizontal and hope for a better response.

I moved to Austria for the first time in 2019 to study a master’s degree in Klagenfurt, the capital of the Carinthian region.

My German was very limited and when I tried to hang out with the locals outside of university, I often had similar experiences to the one at the festival. I met friendly people making their best efforts to adapt to my language limitations, but while hanging out with groups of only Austrians, the language of conversation logically ended up being German. I struggled to take part in the conversation and show my true personality.

READ ALSO: Why do foreigners find Austria such a difficult country to settle in?


Vienna is different to rural Austria

In other aspects, being able to speak German felt like a necessity in Carinthia. While dealing with daily tasks like grocery shopping or going to the doctor, my international friends and I experienced that at least basic German was often necessary to be understood and receive proper help.

A person studying

Learning languages can be tricky. Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

After finishing my studies at the university, I tried to find a job in English to be able to stay in the region. I looked for a job in communications but realised very quickly that it was not going to be easy.

My international friends with similar language limitations experienced the same issue, and we all started searching for options in other places. That is how I ended up in Vienna. Given the Austrian capital is far more international with 42 percent of the inhabitants being of foreign origin, I felt like it was more acceptable and easier to get by with my limited German language skills. I found a job in English at an international company and gained friends from all over the globe.


What does integration in Austria mean?

As foreigners in Austria we all have different perspectives on what integration means and what we need to feel integrated.

One friend first felt properly integrated after learning the language fluently, obtaining a full-time job in German, and having an Austrian partner. For me, I feel somewhere in between feeling integrated and still being kind of an outsider. I have Austrian friends, I studied here, and I worked here, and I can get by with my German. But sometimes I feel left out, I still struggle in groups of Austrians, especially with the different dialects. While sorting out bureaucratic matters I sometimes feel like I get negative reactions to my accent and incorrect grammar.

READ ALSO: 'Brutal' - what it's really like to learn German in Austria

One example of my struggles is when dealing with governmental offices, which is unavoidable if you want to live in Austria given it is where you do the official registration of your address and other tasks.

Every time I call them about something a little complicated, I ask if it is possible to have the conversation in English to ensure I don't  miss out on essential information. The answer is most of the time a simple and rather unfriendly "no." One time, the person on the other end of the line pointed out that the official governmental language in Austria was German and that I should have been aware of that.


In the long run, learning German is necessary

To sum it all up, if you intend to get by mainly with English in Austria then a bigger city is a better option in my experience. But if you want to live in a smaller place, taking time to work on your German is a good idea.

In the long run, I believe that learning German is essential for complete integration. To feel a sense of belonging in a new country, understanding its culture, inside jokes, and common references is essential.

But moving here, having a full-time job and other obligations, means that learning German and its grammar might be a challenge.

So, give yourselves a break, or cut your international friends and colleagues some slack; it is all a process, and most of us will improve our language skills with time.

It took me a few months to remember how to say that I am going to the toilet (Ich gehe auf die Toilette) and not inside of it (in die Toilette). And maybe in a few years, I will not be the person awkwardly nodding during local festivals anymore.

Do you agree with Julia's views? Share your own thoughts and experience of learning German and integrating in Austria in the comments section below. Or alternatively if you'd like to offer your own thoughts for publication emails us at [email protected]


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also