There are countless different „Dialekte“ dialects in Germany. Even more if you count the local dialects in other German speaking countries like “Schweiz” (Switzerland), “Österreich” (Austria), Lichtenstein or Luxembourg.
This section was designed to give you an overview about the most common dialects in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It's also meant to reduce the frustration and confusion of people who have learned standard German, when they realize that not all Germans actually speak like they should!
There are a vast number of local dialects in Germany. Some of them are, if spoken in their purest form, hardly understandable for someone who only speaks standard German. Luckily pretty much nobody does this nowadays.
However they can still be confusing at times. A few years ago, a friend of mine moved from the small German state Saarland to “Bayern” (Bavaria). In Bayern he went to a bakery and ordered a “Brötchen” (standard German for bread roll). The vendor didn't know what he wanted because my friend used the word “Weck”, which only exists in the Saarland area. When he realized his mistake he clarified that he wanted a “Brötchen”. Strangely enough, the vendor still didn't know what he was talking about. He had to point on the bread rolls and the vendor finally said: “Oh, Sie wollen a Semmeln!” Semmeln is the bavarian word for it. Don't be afraid though, usually people do understand standard German! And while we're at it, in Berlin they call those bread rolls “Schrippen”.
While every bigger city has it's own dialect, you'll probably encounter them more in rural areas.
This article should give you an overview about the most common dialects.
Here are the German main dialects. Note that all of them are divided in even more sub-dialects, and those do not necessarily sound very similar.
Niederfränkisch (Low Franconian)
This is mainly spoken in the lower Rhine region (“Niederrhein”).
„Hej dütt die eikes ömmer sonder salt än pääper ääte.“
“I always eat my eggs without salt and pepper.”
Niederdeutsch (Low German)
In standard German it's usually referred to as: “Plattdeutsch”. It's mainly spoken in the northern parts of Germany.
“For Geld kann’n den Du.vel danzen loten.”
“For money you can have the devil dance.”
Mitteldeutsch (Central German)
This is spoken in the central part of Germany, including some of the biggest cities in Germany. Namely Berlin, Köln (Cologne) and Frankfurt, but also in German's former capital Bonn.
As stated before, keep in mind that while all dialects in that area are considered “Mitteldeutsch”, the dialect in Köln sounds totally different to the one in Berlin.
Example (from Berlin):
“Nur kieken oder och koofen?”
“(Are you) just looking, or (are you going to) buy (something)?”
Oberdeutsch (Upper German)
This family of German dialects is mainly spoken in southern Germany.
“I wois net.”
“I don't know.”
This should give you an overview about German dialects. Since there are so many of them, we can't really talk about every sub-dialect. I hope you'll understand that. But that shouldn't be a problem anyway, Germans don't learn their dialects in school (schools in Germany only teach standard German), they learn it while talking to other people from their area. So if you move to “Köln” you too will be able to speak “Kölsch” (cologne's local dialect) in no time!
Switzerland consists of three main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, and Italian. The German speaking part is by far the biggest part of the country. And while people will certainly understand you, when you speak standard German, you'll might have some problem understanding the locals. This guide was designed to help you with this problem.
Swiss-German consists of a number of Alemannic dialects spoken mainly in Switzerland but also in some Alpine communities in Northern Italy.
In Switzerland people like add the final syllable -li to many common words. So the German word “Rübe” (turnip) becomes “Rübli” in Swiss-German. The German word “Hund” (dog) becomes “Hündli”.
Don't be confused by that. You'll get used to it very easily.
Common words and expressions:
The most common complimentary close in Switzerland is “grüezi”. However you should use „hoi“ when greeting people that are close to you, like your friends. When in doubt, use the more formal „grüezi“!
And since we already covered the Swiss-German word for dog, we might as well write about cats. The German word for a female cat is “Katze” but the Swiss-German word is “Busi” or “Busle”. The male cat is called „Mäudi“ or „Mauder“ in Switzerland.
“Einen trinken gehen h (go have a drink) is geis ga/go zieh“ in Swiss-German. As usual, if you had too much, you might not remember everything that happened. It that case you might want to say: „Ich mag mi nümm bsinne/erinnere“ (I can't remember). In case you don't want that to happen you should let your Swiss drinking buddies now that you don't want to drink anymore, and say: „Ich mag nümme“ (I don't want anymore/I'm buggered/I'm full).
If you wanted to express that something is fun, you'd say: „es fägt“.
While in Germany „Ich studiere“ means „I'm studying“, it also means „to reflect“ or „to consider something“ in Swiss.
If something is messy the Swiss say it's a “Mischmasch“.
Another thing that might confuse you, is that in the Swiss-German language they use the plural of “Ei” (egg), even if they're talking about one single egg! So it's “Eier” not “Ei”!
I hope this gives you an idea on what to expect when visiting Switzerland.
“Österreich” (Austria) is a beautiful small country in central Europe. While standard German is the country's official language, the people there actually speak a local Austro-Bavarian dialect that might be confusing for someone who has only learned how to speak standard German. But don't worry, we wrote this guide to give you some tips on how to look a little bit less like a tourist!
- The simple past tense is virtually non-existent. You usually use the perfect to express past time.
- The local dialect in Austria features case inflection in the article only. There are a few exceptions but nouns are usually not inflected for case.
Words and expressions:
The typical Austrian greeting is “Zeawas” (in German: Servus).
While “Ananas” means pineapple in German, it also means strawberry in Austria! Another confusing word is: “Blaukraut” (literal translation: blue cabbage). It means the same as the German word for red cabbage, “Rotkraut” (literal translation: red cabbage). And what is commonly referred to as “Wiener Würstchen” (literal translation: Vienna sausages) in Germany, is called “Frankfurter” (named after the German city) in Austria. Peanuts are called “Aschanti”. Chicken is called “Hendl”.
To play means “spielen” in Germany but in Austria they say “possln”. Corn (in German: “Mais”) is called “Kukuruz”.
God forbid you'll ever have to use it but a slap to the face is called a “Watschen” (German: Ohrfeige).
Here's a list of the most common Austrian expressions:
“Der Gscheitere gibt noch, der Dumme foit indn Boch.”
Translation: “The cleverer give in, the stupid falls into the bush.”
English equivalent: The cleverer give in
“Die Technik is a Hund.”
Translation: “The Technology is a dog”
English equivalent: The Devil's in the detail.
“Scheiss di net ån.”
Translation: “Don't shit yourself.”
“Ghupft wia ghatscht.”
Translation: “Hopped just as jumped.”
English equivalent: Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
“Wos da Baua ned kennd, frissta a ned.”
Translation: “What the farmer doesn't know, he doesn't eat.”
Meaning: Used when someone refuses to try something new.
“Liaba an Bauch vom Saufen, ois an Buckel vom Orbeiten.”
Translation: “Better have a belly from drinking than a hunch from working.”
“Wer fü pforzt, der braucht koan Orzt.”
Translation: “He who farts a lot, doesn't need a Doctor.”
“Das Glück ist ein Vogerl.”
Translation: “Luck is a bird.”
Meaning: Luck is unsteady.
“Wos liegt, des pickt.”
Translation: ”What lies, stays.”
Meaning: If something has been done, it should stay like that.
“Besser a woklada Staumtisch, ois a festa Orbeitsplotz.”
Translation: “Better a shaky crackerbarrel than a steady work.”
“Wer long sudert wird net pudert.”
Translation: “Who complains a lot, wont get laid.”
“Schaffa, schaffa, Hüsle baua.”
Translation: “Work, work, build a house.”
Meaning: To be hardworking.
I hope we could shed some light on the Austrian dialect for you. Enjoy you stay in this beautiful country!