Dialectical difficulty on a Vienna year abroad

Laura Herd discusses dialectic difficulties during a year in the beautiful Vienna, Austria


It’s safe to say that my year abroad is absolutely nothing like I thought it would be. Like many other German students who came before me, I dreamt of Berlin, the promised land of Deutschland… but instead, I ended up in Vienna. Austria definitely wasn’t my first choice, Vienna is one of the best things that has happened to me. Voted the most liveable city in the world for seven years running, this beautiful little capital has the perfect combination of culture, classical architecture and coffee—the holy trinity of ‘c’s.

I live in the seventh district, just a stone’s throw (or U-bahn) away from the city centre, where there are art galleries and museums aplenty. My humble abode is a traditional Viennese apartment complete with high ceilings, a surplus of stairs and a spare room with weekly lodges. This often makes life feel like a blind date as you never know just who will come through the door next.

Given the intense nature of Oxford, I opted out of another year of university. Instead, a job in a German translation firm seemed like a step in the right direction towards some kind of fluency. To say I’m finding this easy would be a lie, but to say I’m not finding it rewarding would be another. Before, I would be speaking four hours in my language (at most) at Oxford, and now I am completely surrounded by German at home and at work. It has been an overwhelming and completely daunting change, to say the least. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had to ask “langsamer bitte”, had to sit quietly in the middle of a joke not understanding the punchline or been accidentally very rude to someone.

But the feeling you get when you realise you have, in fact, got a little bit better at German makes all those minor blunders slightly more bearable. I’m now learning not only bizarre piec- es of vocabulary you never thought you’d need, like “down arrow on a computer keyboard”…
“Pfeilunter”, but also learning to deal with the interesting yet challenging dialect of Wienerisch, where “eins, zwei, drei” becomes “eins, sway, dray”.

Amongst other things, I’ve learnt to be confident. Living in a foreign city where you know
approximately two people has posed a unique challenge. I have found myself going up to random people in coffee shops and even going out with complete strangers from Erasmus Facebook groups all in a (rather tragic) attempt at making pals. These have, however, ended up as some of the best conversations and nights so far.

Whilst another year at Oxford might have been preferable and I still don’t feel completely at ease in Austria, this is a life lesson that you can’t get from books, lectures or tutorials. There is still occasional homesickness or disappointment to miss a Thursday Night Bridge, but I am lucky enough to be having a once in a lifetime experience and wouldn’t change that for the world.


  1. Wiener Deutsch, to American ears, is a beautiful language. Rolling R’s, softer consonants. To hear it next to Northern German dialect is astonishing. But, you’re right, there is no language class or tapes that will prepare you for , what I have just to come to accept as ‘Viennese’.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here