Austrians’ Excellent English Makes Life Easier for Non-Natives

Sprechen Sie Englisch? In the most recent English Proficiency Index, Austria ranks second best in Europe. For those not yet fluent in German, it makes adapting to Austrian life that little bit easier.

Hand drawing "Do you speak English?" on green chalkboard.
Photo: iStock.com / Yakobchuk

The data from Education First is based on test results of over two million adults across 111 countries and claims to be the world’s largest ranking of countries and regions by English skills. For expats living amongst Austria’s ‘very high proficiency’ population, it’s a welcome discovery – at least for those who speak English themselves. This makes the process of completing bureaucratic processes and general life-admin go a little bit more smoothly. Expats are, of course, encouraged to learn the local language; those who reach A2 level are granted a refund of several hundred euros on money spent on German courses. Though those living in rural areas may find proficient English speakers less common than in larger cities, anecdotal evidence supports that even in small Austrian towns, there is a high level of English, especially amongst the younger generation and in tourism and administrative roles.

A double-edged sword for expats

David, an American now living in Carinthia, one of Austria’s more rural regions, commented on his experience: “I have found most Austrians – especially those under thirty – speak English very well, even in the smaller towns. When I went to arrange my marriage documents at the local city hall, everyone spoke excellent English, which made things go very smoothly. I recently bought a new pair of hiking boots, and the shop assistant was able to advise me in near-perfect English, even when talking about the technical aspects of shoe construction. It certainly makes life easier, although it does mean I don’t always get to practice speaking German as much as I should.” Indeed, expats often find that Austrians would rather practice speaking English than converse in German. Whilst this can make life easier, it can also reduce opportunities to speak in the local language.

Austria’s English-speaking abilities were only topped by the Netherlands and Singapore (although, seeing as English is one of Singapore’s four official languages, it’s little wonder they scored so highly). Scandinavian countries also performed well.

Top 10 Highest English Proficiency Countries:
1. Netherlands
2. Singapore
3. Austria
4. Norway
5. Denmark
6. Belgium
7. Sweden
8. Finland
9. Portugal
10. Germany

* Data according to Education First, 2022

A Nation of Lingo Learners?

How did Austria become so well-spoken when it comes to English? Children begin formal English lessons while in primary school. By the time they’ve graduated from high school, most will have had seven to ten years of English classes. But perhaps even more powerful learning tools come from outside of the classroom; social media, online gaming, and streaming British and American film and TV series are where Austrians gain experience in real-life English, aiding their fluency and understanding.

It’s worth noting that the subjects used to gather the data for EF Index are biased toward those interested in learning English, so they are not necessarily representative of the general population. Noticeably absent from the rankings was Austria’s southern neighbor and fellow 3Seas partner – Slovenia – which visitors and foreign residents attest to having an extremely high level of fluency in English. Nevertheless, both the data and experiences of foreign residents living in Austria support that Austrians – on the whole – are excellent when it comes to their English skills.

Sam Baldwin

is the author of For Fukui’s Sake; Two years in rural Japan, and founder of BregDesign.com – Slovenia-inspired designs. He has written for The Guardian, The Times, Men's Health, and numerous guidebooks and websites. He currently lives in Austria’s Deep South.

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