Category Archives: Languages

Difficult English?

Two interesting pieces. I have to admit that I’ve misused two out of the ten examples from’s misunderstood English:

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Euphemistically speaking

Road tested the attached page from ‘The Economist’ on the Austrian half of the family and a few Austrian friends. Consensus was:

  • Amusing
  • Recognisable English trait
  • “You say that a lot” to about a third of the suggestions

Based on this use of language I think we can for once say I conform to a stereotype.

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Filed under Languages, The odd thought or observation, Vienna Life

Vienna – an English speaking city?

So is Vienna an English speaking city? Well not quite but it certainly is a city in which, as an English speaker, you can feel comfortable. It’s also a city where you are likely to encounter English being used beyond the usual tourist venues.

As an English speaker with very, very little German, I can sometimes frustrate German speakers I encounter in shops, offices, as well as in social and cultural locations. However, the more common reaction – especially when they realise that I’m an ‘English’ English speaker – is that many simply switch to English. This is often driven by practicality but in equal measure can spring from a desire to engage in conversations with a native speaker. Unlike myself and many of my compatriots back in the UK, a significant proportion of Austrians in the city, and many others who make their home in Vienna, speak more than one language. Many of the people I encounter, as I wonder around the city, speak good or moderate English, but even those with only a more limited knowledge of the language will seek to make use of their English skills.

In part, of course, my experience of life here is skewed by my lack of German. I’m simply more likely to find myself channelled towards those who can and want to speak English.

If German can be said to be the language of Vienna’s main act, English would be the support band – a small but useful part of the concert that creates the city’s sound. It is also, I suspect, becoming a more significant part of day to day life, certainly more so than it was twelve years ago when I first visited the City. For instance, Vienna’s public transport is extending the use of English in public announcements and signage. English is often used in advertising and can be found in other areas of life including, of course, as a shared medium of communication between different nationalities in Vienna’s coffeehouses. English is also the working language for a range of companies and educational institutions in the city.

One notable exception, in day to day life, is to be found in the instructions and packaging for many goods. They often come with information in six or more languages’, but one of them being English is generally the exception rather than the rule. This can, in so many little ways, create real challenges in day to day living.

Alongside the growth of English in various parts of Viennese life, the language has a long tradition of usage in the city which can be encountered in some surprising places. For instance, if you go along to see a First Vienna football match you will hear a significant amount of English sung and chanted. The club were the first team to be established in Austria and were founded by English and Austrian gardeners working for the Rothschild’s in 1894. It’s a tradition of the fans to sing many of their club songs and chants in English – on occasion accompanied by the sound of bagpipes.

So traditions and increased usage all leaves the English speaker able to function and enjoy life in Vienna. However, to fully appreciate life in the city I will have to continue my German lessons each week before I can join those other Brit’s living here who can happily converse in both languages.

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As I headed for the door to the bar at the Austria Wien ground I was engaged in conversation by some fellow fans.

Consider the situation, you start chatting to someone in your team colours and it turns out they don’t speak your language. This is Austria, as soon as I confirmed my long standing support for Austria Wien the conversation switched to a mix of English and German. Immediately accepted into the fold we discussed English v Austrian football and my 10 year following of Austria Wien.

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Bilingual kids better at prioritising tasks and multitasking

From the moment H was born we have been committed to the idea that she should be brought up to be bilingual. This is in partly because of the evidence that it would beenfit her in life and also that she could engage fully with both cultures. It’s interesting to read this new evidence of the benefits of being brought up bilingual:

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Filed under Languages, Schools, Vienna Life

German and double English?

At first glance it would appear that in attending a bilingual school H has the challenge of studying in both German and English. But look more carefully……..what English is she learning?

I’m obviously a biased father when it comes to my daughter. But I am in awe of the way that H has, at the age of eight, embarrassed the change from an English school environment (plus home learning for German) to a bilingual class studying in German and English. The switch is a dramatic change and one experienced by many of her classmates. Yet H and her friends sit around the table doing their homework in German and then turn to their English assignments without as much as the batting of an eyelid.

Now let me return to the issue of learning English in Vienna. In this new environment H is expected to study in and develop both her English as well as her German. But she finds herself developing her English language through both English and American resources. This therefore creates an extra dimension to her study. As we read and write, in our native language, we often work out and/or reinforce our understanding of new words and ideas through our familiarity with the context in which they appear, as well as from our understanding of the associated text. When H reads ‘Horrid Henry’ she recognises the school and his day to day situations/surroundings. When she reads ‘Horrible Harry’ – an America equivalent – she not only has to acquire understanding and meaning of new words, as well as the story, but also learn (translate) such words as ‘Principle’ into ‘Head Teacher’ or come to grips with the concept of the children standing in class giving the ‘pledge of allegiance’.

The difference between English and American may appear small to adult native speakers. However, when put into the world of an eight year old, with deadlines for homework and exams to pass in a bilingual learning environment, it might feel more substantive. So I will have to look to my thesaurus to find the words to more adequately express my awe for the English and American speaking youngsters (for some of whom English is only their second language) using the other cultures books to develop their  ‘English’ alongside German.

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