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Shannon Ness is a senior marketing major at the University of Iowa from Sioux City, IA. She is currently studying abroad in Vienna, Austria on the Vienna Business Exchange program.


Brushing up on those German language skills

By Shannon Ness

When choosing to study in Vienna, Austria, I assumed that I would not need to know German since all of my classes are in English. However, that has not been the case. Although many people in Europe know English, especially in the cities, they are not always willing to speak it.

During my first week in Vienna, Austria, I learned this the hard way. Austrians learn English in school, but don’t use it very often. Because of this, they sometimes feel inadequate when asked to respond in a language other than their own. To me this is understandable, because I feel uncomfortable speaking Spanish even though I took it for four years. However, it didn’t occur to me that this would be a problem on a daily basis.

I had one rough day in particular. In Vienna, everyone must register with the city so that they can keep track of the population. To do this you must get a Meldezettel form. Considering the fact that I can barely pronounce the name, I should have known that this would be a challenge. The lady who worked at the office asked me one question after another in German. I kept telling her that I don’t understand and finally she stamped a piece of paper and handed it to me.

I was about to take in a sigh of relief, when I noticed that the address on the form was not my own. I tried to tell her this, but she told me just to leave. Hopefully, this doesn’t cause problems later. Before going home, I decided to go grocery shopping for the first time in Vienna. When checking out, I was yelled at in German for my second time within the hour. There were about 10 people behind me in line, but no one translated for me. I’m still not sure what I did wrong, but at least I went home with a bag full of groceries.

These two incidents lead me to advise others to consider learning the language before choosing a country. However, I do not regret my decision to study in Vienna and for the most part I can make it by just fine without knowing German.

My University also offers plenty of ways to improve your language skills. They offer pre-semester language courses, Business German courses, and tandem buddies. In which you can be paired with other students to teach each other your language. This is a good option for students who already know some German, but want to improve.

The worst part about not knowing German is definitely trying to order food. I never know what I’m going to get for dinner! Also grocery shopping can be a challenge. For example, when there are twenty brands of butter, it’s hard to distinguish which one is the best when you have no idea what the difference is. Hopefully, this post helps you to prepare for the country you have chosen to study in, by giving you an extra incentive to work on your language skills.

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