Transcript S2E4: Austrians learning English

Here is the transcript of S2E4: Austrians learning English. You can read more about this episode on the episode web page.

This transcript has been edited for readability.


L = Luke
T = Tanja
S = Sophie


  • In this transcript there are some phonetic symbols. Here are the symbols used in this transcript:
    • [p] like in the English word pig
    • [d] like in the English word day
    • [t] like in the English word tell
    • [v] like in the English word vase
    • [s] like in the English word say
    • [z] like in the English word zip
    • [x] like in the German word machen
    • [θ] like in the English word think
    • [ð] like in the English word this
    • [d̪], [t̪] – the symbol below the letters means that it is made dental, so the tongue touches the teeth instead of the alveolar ridge behind the teeth.
    • [n] like in the English word nod
    • [l] like in the English word lot
    • [w] like in the English word water
    • [ɪ] like in the Engilsh word pin
    • [ɛ] like in the English word bed
    • [ɐ] like in the German word Wasser
    • [ɑ:] like in the English word father
    • [ɔ:] like in the English word born (British pronunciation)
    • [eɪ] like in the English word face
  • Where square brackets [ ] are used, I am referring to speech sounds (exception: where I add things like [laughs], then I just mean that the person laughs, or I’m adding a comment). Where pointed brackets < > are used, I am referring to spelling.
  • Where a consonant sound is transcribed on its own, it may have been pronounced with a schwa afterwards in the episode. It’s transcribed here without the schwa for simplicity and clarity.


L: Most of the episodes of this podcast deal with a topic to do with German, sometimes from the perspective of coming from an English-language background. Today we’re switching things around. We’re going to be looking at the English language this time, from the perspective of a German-language background. What’s English like as seen through the eyes of a native speaker of German? What are some things we take for granted in English that German speakers might struggle with? And what’s it like for an Austrian school student to learn English? We’re going to be finding answers to these questions and more in today’s episode. As always, the opinions you’ll hear in this episode are the opinions of those speakers only. So let’s crack on with the show.

[Theme music]

This is Yellow of the Egg, the podcast where we treat the German language, and the English language, to a spot of afternoon tea. I’m Luke Green and this is series 2 episode 4, Austrians learning English.

[Theme music]

T: I actually started learning English in Kindergarten. There were only weekly lessons and we only learned vocabulary, but still, that was my first contact with English, actually.

L: This is Tanja, a former student of mine here in Vienna who last year finished her final secondary school exams. She’s Austrian and a native speaker of German. Some of her first contact with English came as early as Kindergarten, but this contact with the language stayed mostly within educational settings, since English didn’t play much of a role in her life at home growing up.

T: It was mainly German because my whole family is from Austria, and we never really spoke English in our family because there was never a reason to do so. Contact with English on television actually just came when I was around, let’s say, 12 or 13 years old, when I spent more time on social media but also watched or started watching movies and series in English. Because that was when I was confident enough that I really thought “OK, I would now understand most of it” because before that I didn't really think I would understand enough.

L: We’re living in a time where English is, to say the least, a very dominant language all around the world, with a lot of the media coming into countries like Austria being in English, and with English being seen as an extremely important language to learn and become fluent in. And while English might not be present in every child’s home life in Austria, it is usually the first foreign language that’s offered in the school system. And it often starts with learning individual, simple words in Kindergarten.

T: it was really just vocabulary that we learned. Yeah, things like different colours or house and boy and girl. You know, those basic vocabulary.

S: So, we had this, kind of like, English sessions in the gym hall where they put, like, pictures of animals on the floor.

L: This is Sophie, another former student of mine who’s just finished school too, also Austrian and a native speaker of German. Her first real contact with English was also in Kindergarten.

S: They ask us “Oh, what is this in English?”, and then we would have to, I dunno, step on a cow when they said “cow”, and run to a pig if they said “pig”, and stuff like that.

L: Funny how farm animals feature so heavily in the early stages of language learning, whether it’s a first language or a foreign language. You have to start somewhere, I guess. But as is the case with language learning in general, you have to go through the stage of hearing the target language and only really getting individual words, without understanding what is actually being said. This can only change over some time.

T: Well, I don't really remember moments where I didn't really understand it because my family never talked in English when I was at the beginning of my journey, because there was never a reason for it, and I was barely surrounded by people that were just talking in English, at least as far as I can remember.

S: So my grandparents always took me on trips. And then we went to Egypt or, like, long-distance holidays together. So when we were in a hotel I heard them speaking English and I was always so astonished by their level of English. And I was like, “Oh my God, they speak so well, and this is amazing, and I want to speak English”. And then, as- The older I got, I realised how bad their English was. And that was actually something really funny, because I was always so amazed, and then this amazement just grew down by the time. [laughs]

L: In that earlier phase where you can’t distinguish one word from the next, and you can’t decipher the meaning of what’s being said, the only thing you have to really go by when you hear spoken English is how it sounds to you, the general impression that you get from it. And there are certain impressions of English that are quite widespread among non-native speakers. For example:

T: I would probably say pretty smooth and- What always comes to a mind is, like, it's pretty round. It's not hard, it’s just very soft and smooth and flowy. Like, that's the adjectives that come into my mind when thinking of the English language.

L: English is a language where we tend to link up most of our words when we speak, so we usually end up with one long continuous stretch of speech, rather than individual words separated from each other, as is the case with standard German. So English can sound very smooth in comparison, especially to non-native speakers. Although we do have to keep in mind that there are many different Englishes which have their own features which make them sound a different way. For learners of English, there tend to be two main varieties that you can go for or that you are normally taught about in detail: American English and British English. And these two obviously sound different to each other, and come across differently to non-native speakers. Sometimes evoking funny images and stereotypes.

S: Well, American does sound to me as if someone was just chewing a gum all day long. Like, “oh my God, it’s so cool here. And you’ve got the chewy sound, and it’s just so American, and oh my God”. So that’s American for me, just, literally. [laughs] And then British can get really, really posh. You know, when you get this, “how do you do? Oh my god. It’s such an amazing day. How’s the weather today?” And you get this really, like, calm and posh sound. [laughs] And I always feel like, when I think of American English, I think of a cowboy, and when I think of British English, I feel like, probably a woman from a weather forecast or something. I feel like weather forecasts is the perfect way to describe British English.

L: I’ve literally never thought of weather forecasts as a typical representation of a standard British accent. But this is probably the famed BBC accent, the accent that’s considered the standard for British English. And that’s the point – this is just a standard accent. British English isn’t just the BBC accent, it isn’t just the weather forecast.

S: There’s not this one British English, it just doesn’t exist. And there are different, like, dialects or accents depending on where you live in England, and there is not only this one British English. For instance, there is Cockney, or, like, the London accent. I really think that, for me, English, when I was younger, it probably sounded like some foreign, confusing, cryptic, mythical thing I could not understand, and that’s why I was so astonished when hearing people talking in English. But now this illusion has kind of like popped away, and I am open for all the different kinds of English that exist. And I think you are not as aware of these accents when just starting to learn a language.

L: The resources that are available to English teachers and students are reflecting this diversity of accents and dialects more and more. Where before you would listen to and learn this standard, BBC, Received Pronunciation-style English in school, nowadays the schoolbooks include all sorts of varieties in their reading and listening exercises. Students listen to speakers of Australian English, Irish English, Indian English, speakers with a Mexican accent, a Chinese accent, and so on. So the books and resources are catching up to the reality of the English language. Still, the dominance of American and British remains, with the other varieties dotted around in the schoolbooks.

S: Well, we had a unit about Ireland in, I think, fourth grade, and also in eighth grade. But we didn’t much talk about accent. But we did talk about Australian accent for quite a while. There’s this very famous unit in “More” where you learn about the blue-ringed octopus. Then they always come up with the accent as well, I remember that.

L: The difference here though is that students tend to learn about these other varieties as chapters or units in the schoolbook, and then they move on. The general variety that the students learn themselves tends to be either British or American. And of these two, one is still seen as generally more prestigious, at least by many.

T: I think living in Europe, it's probably more important to learn British English. Yeah, and I think that's what the teachers here want, let's just say, more, or what they rather want.

S: I think they’re meant to teach British English. But I’m not sure about that. But I think most of them speak a mixture of both British and American.

T: I think the books we used at school were mostly in British English. But I remember my teacher always said, “it's OK if we want to go for American English, but if we decide for one, we have to stick with that one. We cannot switch between American English and British English all the time because then it would definitely be incorrect at some point”.

L: This is something you hear quite a lot, at least in the places of education I’ve been to here in Vienna. You should be exposed to as many different varieties of English as possible, and it’s OK to choose whatever variety of English you want to speak yourself, as long as you stick to it and remain consistent. Except you have to choose standard British or standard General American most of the time because that’s what’s examined and that’s what the teachers teach. And this mindset probably isn’t likely to change any time soon. Aside from the dominance of the US and the UK in a cultural and economic sense, at university on the teacher training programme, at least here in Vienna, students have to choose between British or American English on courses dealing with aspects such as pronunciation and phonetic transcription, there are only these two options. It’s no wonder really why these are then the two options taught and examined in schools. In her time at school, Sophie leaned more towards British English, for example, although there was influence from American English too.

S: I remember writing colour with a <u> and stuff like that. But again, I feel like it was British English, but then I was told it’s tomato [eɪ] and not tomato [ɑ:]. So, I dunno, I can’t really tell. Probably the writing or the spelling would be British, but then some pronunciation just gets missed out, like, and it’s not properly British as it should be.

L: Where there is a conscious choice to be made as to whether to go for British or American, different factors can play a role. These can be more long-term factors such as where you plan to live and work in the future, but when you’re at school, there are lots of factors that can easily influence your decision, such as what you’re exposed to more, or simply how the varieties sound to you.

T: I had a girl from America in the last year in my class, in the last year of primary school, and that time, being American was just pretty cool, and so we also want to talk American English. But after the years, and I think that was just maybe last year or the year before that, I realised, to me the British English sounds way prettier.

L: Putting aside individual accents for a moment, one aspect of English that’s especially tricky for learners is the pronunciation of words in general. It’s sometimes said that when you learn English, you actually have to learn two languages – the way it’s written, and the way it’s pronounced, since there isn’t really a clear 1:1 relationship between spelling and pronunciation in English. And what might seem the logical pronunciation of a given word, is pretty often not the case.

T: For example, the word comfortable. It took me years to realise that it's not “com-FOR-table”. It was really a long time that I really thought you'd say it like this.

S: What I remember from lower secondary is that my English teacher always told me, “it’s ‘said’ [sɛd] and not ‘sayed’ [seɪd]”. Because I always said “sayed” [seɪd]. But after some times, I heard people in films say “sayed” [seɪd], and that was really something that triggered me because I was drilled to say “said” [sɛd] instead of “sayed” [seɪd], and then I heard it afterwards and that was really annoying and sad. [laughs]

L: There are a few reasons why English spelling and pronunciation don’t seem to match up very well. One is that English spelling was fixed fairly early due to the printing press, meaning that English pronunciation naturally changed over time, while spelling stayed relatively consistent. This is why we spell words like knee with a <k>, because we used to say it with a <k>. And why we have words with silent <gh>s like night, which would have been pronounced something like [nɪxt] before. You can see the relation to the German word Nacht more clearly when you think about this. If you consider how the word light would probably have been pronounced, it would sound like [lɪxt], which is essentially German, Licht. But another reason why English pronunciation doesn’t correspond fully with the spelling is because English is essentially a giant mix of other languages, there are so many words that have come from other languages into English. They then get adapted to English pronunciation rules, which means we end up with even more silent letters. Think of tsunami from Japanese, with the silent <t>, or pneumonia from Ancient Greek, with the silent <p>. This is because <ts> and <pn> aren’t clusters that are allowed in English [*in pronunciation]. But since they are possible in German, learners of English can sometimes pronounce these letters where they should be silent.

T: Also the word psychology, and I mean, I realised that earlier when my brother always told me, “oh, stop saying ‘psychology’ [ps], it's ‘psychology’ [s]”, and I was “okay, okay, I got it”. And in general, just leaving out letters seemed a bit weird to me because I always thought that was only the French lesson, and I never thought you actually leave out letters in English as well. I thought “OK, that's just French”, but no, it's not. For example, also words like debt or something.

L: Whereby with the word debt, this is an odd case of the <b> never actually having been pronounced. It was added in spelling by scholars of the Middle Ages who noted the connection to the Latin word debitum. There was no <b> before, but because of this connection, scholars added a silent <b> to the word, even though it never had any business being there. How are learners supposed to know that? But even if you put aside the fact that English spelling and pronunciation just doesn’t seem to make much sense, at least if you don’t know the history of it, there are sounds in English that don’t exist in German and can cause some difficulties.

S: Yes. [laughs] The [θ] sound. Because in Austria, or like in German in general, it’s like, “you must not put your tongue between your teeth”, and it’s actually something bad to do. So, when I was in kindergarten I did it, and I used to call myself “Thophie”. And, yeah, I had to go to a speech therapist to not put my tongue between my teeth. And then, when I started learning English, I was told, “put your tongue between your teeth”, and I was like, “no, I’m not going to do that. I was forced with gummy bears and a lot of work not to do that, and I will not do it”. So, it took me a very long time to do it again and feel comfortable with putting my tongue between my teeth.

L: For German speakers who haven’t trained or re-trained the sounds [θ] and [ð], how are they likely to pronounce <th> when speaking English?

S: [s], [d̪]? Simply a <t>, maybe? [t], [t̪], and [z]. I think [z] is the most common one. And I still don’t get why, because there’s no reason to pronounce a <z> instead of a [ð] or <t>. Even <t> would be more reasonable to me than [z]. I dunno. But when I think of my grandparents or, like, the older generation that learned English, it’s really a thing they do.

L: When there’s a sound we can’t pronounce properly, we usually resort to a sound from our own language that either resembles the target sound, or that’s produced in a similar way. The <th> sounds are dental sounds, meaning that we produce them with our tongue against our teeth. If we’re not used to doing that, the closest options would be with the tongue a little bit behind our teeth, which is where we produce sounds like [d], [t], [s], [z], and so on, so it stands to reason why these are frequent substitutes.

T: And another thing was the pronunciation of <v> and <w>. So that the <v> is actually more sharp, like very, and <w> was like the smoother one, like wardrobe.

L: This is an interesting one. In German, there is only the fricative [v], there is no [w] in standard German. So where there is a <w>, it’s pronounced like an English <v>, like in words such as Wasser or Walnuss. You would think then that a common mistake would be to pronounce all words with <w> with [v]. And this is the case with some people. You hear sometimes hear the stereotypical German accent pronouncing things like water as [ˈvɔ:tɐ], or what as [vɔt]. Something that you might not expect would be the opposite, and this is actually happens a lot.

T: I think the most common mistake is just pronouncing a <v> like a <w>. So that people might say things like “a big variation [w] of something”. Or, I don't know, “going to varsity [w] college”, or something like this, just pronouncing a <v> like a <w>. I think pronouncing a <w> like a <v> is a less common mistake. I mean, it does happen, but not as often, I think.

L: This might be a case of overgeneralisation. Learners of English learn the <w> sound [w], and know that there is potential for confusion with <v> and <w>, and then apply the [w] sound to words with <v> as well, giving us “wideo”, “willage”, and “waccine”. This is something I also hear quite a lot. But, of course, it’s not just the pronunciation that learners can struggle with. While German does seem to hold the title of having one of the most complicated and illogical grammar systems, English isn’t without its difficulties. One such difficulty for German speakers might be the distinction between adjectives and adverbs, so when to use the -ly ending like in quietly and when to leave it out, like in quiet. There’s a good reason why this can be tricky.

T: Adverbs in German are pronounced and written exactly like adjectives. You cannot see a difference there, and that also made the use of adverbs hard for me to understand. Because in German I couldn't really see a difference there.

L: In English we have -ly for a lot of our adverbs. Not all, but you can see it in words like quickly or suddenly. In German, there are a few adverb suffixes too, like -weise in words like teilweise or schrittweise, but this ending isn’t used to derive adverbs from adjectives, like the -ly does in English. Usually, adjectives and adverbs just look the same in German.

T: By the time I got the hang of it, but still, it's something I think that German does that many other languages don't do. They all have an obvious difference between adjectives and adverbs, and in German you just don't see any.

L: Not at first glance at least. You can tell if a word is an adjective or an adverb in German by the way it’s used in a sentence, or by the context, or if an adjective comes before a noun, it’s usually inflected, whereas adverbs are not. But if you just see a word like langsam without context, it could be slow, it could be slowly. This is why you get a lot of learner mistakes like “the slowly man” or “the sound was loudly”. It doesn’t make it any easier that there are adjectives in English that end in -ly, like friendly or lovely. It’s things like this that make you feel that languages are just trolling you. But it goes to show that it’s not just German that has confusing grammar. English grammar is said to be relatively easy starting out, it doesn’t have the cases and the genders and everything, but once you’ve got the basics down, the real work begins. Just look at things like tenses, or generally how to grammatically refer to time. German has a few ways, but English… well, you’ve got your present, your present continuous, past tense, [starts to echo] present perfect, past continuous, present perfect continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, will future, will future continuous, be going to future, future in the past, past in the future, conditional… [ECHO] It’s enough to give learners a headache.

S: So, I got the hang of not putting if with a will form and stuff like that. But, then again, it’s so much to think about, you know? I mean, I would say in general English is more straightforward than German because there are no cases, no real genders and stuff like that. But I feel like the tenses, also with the -ing form, we don’t have a[n] -ing form in German. That’s something really specific for English. And I feel like German people or German speakers learning English often struggle with the tenses.

L: There is a sort-of -ing form in German. So for laughing you could say lachend with a -d at the end, but this isn’t used in the sense of “she is laughing” like we would say in English. You could say “die lachende Frau”, the laughing woman, but for “she is laughing”, you would just use the present simple and say “sie lacht” or “sie lacht gerade”.

S: I mean, like, the normal -ing form of, like, the continuous form, it was just like “OK, it’s happening right now, I have to write ‘ing’”. So when I was speaking, the -ing form mostly came naturally. But when I was writing, I really had to think about it. When to use it, when it was all right. And then I always taught myself “OK. Am I doing it right now? Or is it something I do regularly?” And I just really had to remind myself of these rules.

L: The -ing form isn’t the only bit of grammar that is particularly tricky for speakers of German.

S: Oh, there’s the present perfect! That always confuses me! The present perfect! Because why would you have a perfect tense for the present? It’s just something that doesn’t really exist in German, I feel, because there is either present tense or perfect tense, which would be the past tense. So why would you mix present and past? It just doesn’t work. [laughs] Yes, I get really emotional on this. [laughs]

L: The present perfect can be especially infuriating for German speakers because German has a perfect construction itself, but it can be used relatively interchangeably with the preterite, the Präteritum, also called the Mitvergangenheit. If you say “ich las das Buch” or “ich habe das Buch gelesen”, both mean ‘I read the book’.

S: In some German-speaking environments, you would use the perfect in the spoken language, but in others you wouldn’t, you would use the Präteritum. But there’s not a real rule to it, it just depends on who you’re talking to and, like, how you prefer it, but it’s not wrong to use the other one. And I think that’s much more, like, strict in English.

L: Absolutely. Although this is also a bit of a fuzzy area. There are dialects of English, particularly in America, where you can use the past simple in places where learners would be taught the present perfect. For instance, students are usually taught that the word yet triggers the present perfect, so for example, Have you been to the shops yet? But many native speakers would say, “did you go to the shops yet?”, which would often be marked as incorrect in schools here. In general, though, the way the past simple and the present perfect are used in German is different to how they are used in English. When you’re learning English as a German speaker, it can be fun to compare the two languages and discover such differences. Let’s hear about some other differences that have stood out to Tanja and Sophie.

T: A difference I find very interesting are the gender assignments. Because in English you just have the for anything. For a male person, for a woman, but also for an object like a table. And in German you have die for female things, or at least for female people. You have der for male people. And you have das for objects. You could say it like that, but the thing is, there are so many exceptions. For example, you say der Tisch, which means ‘the table’, which is obviously an object, but has the male gender grammatically speaking. So that's a bit confusing, I find, especially if you learn German coming from England or from America and not really understanding why it's der Tisch, because it's actually an object.

L: I have heard many a learner of English calling a ball “he” or a snake “she” because of the grammatical gender in German. And while you might hear some people refer to a child or a baby as it in English, it can sound jarring and derogatory, we tend to use the gendered pronouns he or she. In German it would be fine to say es, since it’s das Kind and das Baby. So I’ve also heard learners of English calling children “it” a lot. Speaking of pronouns, another difference that catches learners’ attention concerns the second person pronouns.

S: One difference, though I’m not sure if it’s really a difference, is that in English, there’s no real polite you form. So in German you have this capitalised Sie form, and it’s used as a plural form, and you use that to be polite or when talking to people of greater authority.

L: In English we can use you regardless of whether we’re chatting to a close friend, speaking to a stranger, or talking up to somebody, such as someone in a position of relative authority like a teacher or a judge. This pronoun you doesn’t change. We can use this one pronoun in the singular and in the plural, and for informal and for formal interactions, and we often don’t think twice about it. For someone with a first language where there is a distinction between the casual and polite forms of you, such as German, this distinction can still be strongly perceived, even if it’s not explicitly marked, like in English. This can lead to interesting ways of perceiving the pronoun you.

S: When I was in England, I experienced that there actually is a kind of like polite form in English as well. So there was a great difference when I was talking to Dr Jones, Miss Minyos, Madame Ishidu, Ma’am, Sir. And when I said “you” after that, for me, in my head, it has always been a plural you and not a singular you. But then again, when I was talking to my house mother, and we called her “Tanya” all the time, and then she was just Tanya, she was just you, a singular you. And I feel like most people think there is no difference in English, but I feel like there is. I feel it just gets lost because in English you in singular and you in plural is just exactly the same as it’s spelled. But in the end, maybe you use the plural you without even noticing it.

L: And how would we know. It’s the same pronoun nowadays. Although it wasn’t always this way. The pronoun you that we use today used to be the plural form, which was also used as the polite form, similar to how vous is used in French. The form equivalent to the German du used to be thou. So in a way, if we go by old standards, we’re actually using the plural form whenever we speak to anyone. We’re actually saying Sie to everyone. No one is du anymore. It’s also interesting that many people now see thou, thee and thy in pop culture as pronouns to speak up to people, when actually it used to be the opposite. So while it might not exist as such in English anymore, we certainly used to have an explicit du/Sie distinction, and it’s interesting that Sophie, and probably some other German speakers too, still perceive this distinction in English as a result of their German-language background. Though just because something is perceived to be a certain way, it doesn’t mean it necessarily is that way. Just as is the case with stereotypes. There are certain images of British and American people that Austrians might have, and they may or may not reflect the truth.

S: Ok, so I think that British people are often seen as very posh because people think of the royal family and are like, “oh, we’re just sitting there in our dresses, um, I dunno, drinking tea”.

T: Yeah, that they’re always drinking tea for any occasion because it's just, why not.

S: Also these typical sounds like “water bottle” or stuff like that. That’s just something that I feel like, yeah. I think British is just like this posh style. And I don’t know, there’s this series, Bridgerton. And I think Bridgeton really puts it on a point because- Or Downton Abbey as well. It’s just like this royal and high society, but in an old-fashioned way.

T: Or what I often think of are pretty cars. Pretty, old cars. And I don't even know why. But like an old, black, shiny car is something I often think of.

S: And that it’s raining all the time. Though I have to say, it’s not. Like, whenever I was in England, it was not raining that much. So, I was lucky concerning that.

L: OK, so we Brits seem to be seen as posh, high-class, old-fashioned people drinking tea and driving pretty, old, black shiny cars in the rain. I guess I can confirm the obsession with drinking tea. In general, our British stereotypes are alright. America doesn’t seem to come out of this quite as well, though.

S: American people, yeah, well, probably obese. I feel that’s a stereotype of American people, though of course it’s not really true. Well, maybe sometimes, but not in general, you know? [laughs] Not when talking about all of America.

T: I often think of eating fast food and spending all the time in T-shirts and jeans.

S: Yeah, also like- I feel like America always seems to be this more like dirty place, and like, while Britain is this fancy and like everything’s really clean and stuff, and I feel like America is the complete opposite in most of people’s heads. So, where it gets like dirty and there’s these suburbs. Though in the end, of course, all these stereotypes are not necessarily true. There are not-really-nice places in London as well. And there might be the fanciest places in New York, or what do I know. [laughs] So, yeah, of course, they are stereotypes in the end. [laughs]

L: Let’s turn the tables now. What do you think non-Austrians think about Austrians?

T: That we spend all our time in Dirndl and Lederhose, which is absolutely wrong because I think I don't even have a Dirndl and I've worn one, I think, twice in my lifetime, and these were not mine.

S: That’s something I get to hear quite often. So: “Oh yeah, are you going to wear a Dirndl?”. And I’m like, “no, I only wear it like-” I mean, I wear it too rarely. Like, I would love to wear it more often, but it just doesn’t happen.

L: If you don’t know what a Dirndl is, I’ll put a picture on the website. You might hear some people talking about wearing Tracht, which is generally this more traditional attire which can include Dirndl and Lederhosen, worn more so at celebrations than just every day.

T: Second of all, people might think we always eat Wiener Schnitzel, which is definitely not the case. It's more like a festival food, for example, if you- or if you go to a restaurant for someone's birthday, you could be like, “oh, maybe I get myself some Wiener Schnitzel”. But you're not, “ohh it's Tuesday evening and I'm in the mood for Schnitzel”, that’s not that much the case, I think. Also, that we all live in the mountains. That might also be a stereotype many people think, but that's not true because the eastern part of Europe doesn't even have proper mountains, so that would not be possible.

L: Some the stereotypes that exist are just plain bizarre.

S: What I read in a English magazine was about how people greet each other when seeing them on the street. And then they were like, “OK, in French you get, like, kisses on the cheek, and in England we shake our hands”. And then there was like, “in Austria, people greet each other with a hand kiss”. And I was like, “well, no”. [laughs] I have never done that. I mean, I would do it when I go to, like, dance school and then we have to do it, but it’s not a daily thing I do. [laughs] I mean there are like phrases you say, it’s like, “küss die Hand, schöne Frau”. But like, when someone says that to me, I’d be creeped out. [laughs]

L: Learning a new language is about more than just learning how people speak. You eventually come to realise that a lot of the stereotypes and preconceptions people have of a certain group of speakers are simply not true, or at least not as prevalent as people may think before getting to know the culture. At least I’ve never been kissed on the hand in Austria. I always find it interesting to see what learners of English think about English-speaking countries and cultures, what they like about the language, what they struggle with. And it’s fascinating to see your own language through a learner’s eyes. It shines a light on some funny things that we take for granted. Like certain words or phrases that we might not necessarily think twice about.

S: I really like it’s raining cats and dogs. Because why on earth would it rain cats and dogs? Like, there is just no reason for it. I mean, I get that it means that it’s raining a lot, but how do you come up with cats and dogs? Yeah. There is no explanation for this. And I also like fair enough, because I feel there is no German equivalent to it. I say “fair enough” all the time, so yeah. Whenever I agree, I’m just like, “hm, fair enough”. [laughs] And there’s no German equivalent. But I also like stuff like, “oh, that’s not my cup of tea”, or like, “spill the tea! Spill the beans!” And, like, when I say, “spill the beans”, I’m just like, “oh my God, it’s just so British, because British people just eat beans all day long, and then they want to spill the beans”. It’s just something that works really well. So like, I can get why British people would say “spill the beans”, but I do not get why they would say “it’s raining cats and dogs”. That’s just a connection I cannot make in my brain.

L: There are some things that just don’t make sense. And for language learners, this can be pretty frustrating. But this is also part of the fun. We strive to understand the target language, the people who speak that language, the culture that surrounds it, but sometimes we just have to take it for what it is. And on the road to achieving proficiency in the language and understanding of the culture, there can be bumps along the way. But it’s important not to get disheartened by the setbacks, when things don’t make sense, or if you can’t get the hang of something. German has this reputation for being tricky to learn, but as we’ve heard, English has its own difficulties and peculiarities too. Learners of English don’t have it as easy as you might think. There are resources, tips and tricks to help you get as good as possible, but is there a secret to reaching fluency in English?

S: I don’t really know. I mean, English was the first language I really had to speak, apart from German. So, it was my first second language. So, I had to get out of this habit of wanting to be perfect and, like, say everything correctly. And I just had to put myself out there. Because if you do not speak a new language, you will never really be able to and you will never be perfect at it. So, you have to work to this ‘perfectness’ in the end. And, yeah, it was something I had to learn that I could not do everything correctly in the first try. [laughs] And that I had to fail in order to become better.

[Theme music]

L: Thank you so much to Sophie and Tanja for joining me for this episode. I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate them on their final school exams last year and to wish them the very best for the future, I really enjoyed the lessons with them. Thank you both.

As always, you can find me on Instagram @yotepodcast, that’s Y-O-T-E-podcast, Facebook @yellowoftheegg, or you can email me at I’d really appreciate you telling people about the podcast and giving it a nice 5-star rating and review.

So with all that being said, thank you so much for listening. Playing us out this series are Euphoniques, this time with Listen. Check them out on Spotify, links in the shownotes. Enjoy the song and I’ll see you in the next episode. Machts es gut, servus aus Wien.

[Music: “Listen” by Euphoniques]

Scroll to Top