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In Detail: Just how good are Austrians at speaking English?

Austria has ranked highly in an international ranking for English proficiency, but is the language of Shakespeare really spoken fluently across the country?

In Detail: Just how good are Austrians at speaking English?
The Austrian capital Vienna is home to a large number of immigrants. (Photo by Dan V on Unsplash)

Austrians have a very high proficiency level in English, ranking second in Europe (after the Netherlands) and third in the world, according to the 2022 EF English Proficiency Index.

The ranking is based on test results of more than two million adults in 111 countries and regions. Austria scored 628 points out of a total of 700 possible points – the Netherlands scored 661.

The global average score was 502, according to the index.

READ ALSO: Salzburg, Linz, Graz: Where are Austria’s biggest companies?

The study also looked into regional differences, and Steiermark, home to international-friendly Graz, got the highest score. Vorarlberg, Austria’s westernmost state, ranked last in the country, the only one scoring fewer than 600 points. 

The index didn’t look into either Carinthia or Burgenland, but you can check the other provincial scores on the map below:

Among the cities evaluated, Vienna was the one that scored the lowest, according to the EF EPI. Graz (662 points) led the ranking, followed by Salzburg (645), Innsbruck (638), Linz (633) and Vienna (632).

What are the local conditions for English language learning?

Austria reserves 10.72 percent of total government expenditure on education, a figure slightly below the Netherlands (12.91 percent) and Norway, which ranked fourth in the global ranking and reserves almost 16 percent of government expenditure on education.

The Alpine country also lags behind other European countries when it comes to the percentage of people with access to the Internet. For example, while more than 91.3 percent of the people in the Netherlands have internet access (and 97 percent in Norway), that number is only 87.5 percent in Austria.

READ ALSO: The seven stages of learning German every foreigner goes through

Additionally, another possible challenge for more people learning English is the local language diversity in the country. While German is the official language, spoken by more than 88 percent of the population, Turkish, Serbian, and Croatian are also relevant local languages.

As a comparison, Dutch is the official and widely spoken language in the Netherlands, with Norwegian dominating the linguistic landscape in Norway. 

All of these could present challenges for people to learn English, according to the study.

Age groups and trends

There are clear differences between age groups and their English abilities in Austria, as shown by the EF graphic below:

English proficiency in Austria by age groups - global average in grey. (2022 EF English Proficiency Index)

While Austrians perform above the global average in every age group, those older than 41 have "only" a "high" proficiency (represented by the green line). Younger generations all have a very high command (blue line), with the best English speakers in the 26 to 30 ages.

READ ALSO: Where to find English-language books in Austria

While Austria secured a spot in the top three global rankings of best English speakers, it had actually dropped a spot from last year, when it was ahead of Singapore. The Alpine country has been climbing the ranking since 2018, when it was in the 12th spot. In 2019, it reached 8th, followed by the 6th position in 2020.

Austrians rank high in English proficiency... but do they like to speak it?

Doing well on international English exams is one thing, actually wanting to speak the language on a day-to-day basis - or to those who are still not fluent in German, another thing entirely.

English is not spoken (or rarely spoken) in Austrian bureaucracy, including in its offices for immigration, as The Local reported. As a result, many readers suggest that immigrants find a German speaker to help them with things from registering their residence to working out a work permit. 

READ ALSO: ‘Insensitive and inefficient’: Your verdict on Vienna’s immigration office MA 35

In bars and restaurants, the situation varies widely. While you will almost certainly find an English-speaking service in a pub in Vienna, finding even a menu or someone willing to help you with your order in English in a small town heuriger might prove more difficult.

The same goes for every other area of life. The closer to tourist centres and larger, more international cities, the higher your chances of hearing and communicating in English. 

When it comes to your Austrian friends and family members, immigrants often say that those who do speak English may take some time to feel comfortable speaking the foreign language with you. On the other hand, it's not uncommon for locals to "tolerate" speaking English with you to a certain extent - and then swapping to German when they deem you have been in Austria "long enough".

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I take the Austrian driving licence test in English?

Of course, these experiences vary. So we want to hear from you: what has been your experience speaking English with locals in Austria?

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For members


How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

Austria is known as a country with a high standard of living, but it also comes with a high cost of living. Here’s an overview of what you can expect to earn in Austria.

How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

As with most things in Austria, the question of ‘what is a good salary?’ is difficult to answer as the cost of living (and wages) can vary between states and cities.

For example, the east of Austria is typically much cheaper than the west for housing (with the exception of Vienna). And those living in cities often have easier – and cheaper – access to public transport when compared with people living in rural areas. 

READ ALSO: ‘Bad-tempered locals’: Vienna ranked the world’s ‘unfriendliest city’

Childcare is also something to consider with huge differences between Vienna, where there is access to heavily subsidised services, and places like Tyrol where childcare costs more.

To delve a bit deeper, we looked at the data to find out the average salary in Austria and how it differs between professions and locations.

What is the average salary in Austria?

In 2021, the average gross annual salary in Austria was €44,395, according to the latest data from Statistics Austria

However, in the latest survey by online job platform Step Stone, the average gross annual salary in Austria is €49,609.

The Step Stone survey then broke it down further by industry with those working in pharma earning the most at €60,504. This was followed by energy at €60,345, medical technology at €59,106 and banking at €58,711.

The industry with the lowest average annual salary is hotels/gastronomy at €37,546, followed by agriculture at €39,779 and tourism at €43,965.

FOR MEMBERS: REVEALED: The best and worst districts to live in Vienna (as voted for by you)

Occupation also plays a part with people working in management earning the most – on average €66,768. Consulting came second at €53,721.

And like many other European countries, the gender pay gap in Austria prevails. The average annual salary for a man is €52,633 and for a woman it is €44,330.

Furthermore, the top earning city in Austria is Bregenz in Vorarlberg with an average annual salary of €54,620. When comparing the west of Austria with the east, the median salary in Vorarlberg is €46,450, whereas in Burgenland it is just €39,100.

What is the average cost of living in Austria?

Many international residents will find everyday living costs in Austria to be expensive, especially for those that come from countries with a much lower cost of living.

Inflation has also been rising steadily in Austria throughout 2022, leading to some steep rises in prices for groceries, housing costs and energy.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: 10 ways to save money on your groceries in Austria

However, the average cost of living varies across the country, depending on the location. For example, Vienna and Innsbruck in Tyrol are two of Austria’s most expensive cities, but more affordable places to live are Graz in Styria and Klagenfurt in Carinthia.

In Vienna, the average price for a one bedroom apartment in the city centre is €915, going up to €2,000 for a three bedroom apartment, according to Expat Arrivals.

Whereas in Graz, the average cost of a one bedroom city centre apartment is around €609, and a three bedroom apartment is €1,170.