October 2016 marks my 2nd full year residing in Austria 🇦🇹
Before moving to Austria I was already bilingual as a result of language immersion school in Mexico during my undergrad university years, so I wasn’t afraid to take on a 3rd language. It’s almost laughable looking back after 2 years in Austria to reflect on my optimism left over from my youth when I had fewer responsibilities.
I should explain what I mean. I’m a gainfully employed consultant at a global market research consultantcy. We have over 40 offices in countries around the world and when I emigrated from the USA to Austria, I was fortunate to take my job with me. The catch is that it’s a company with English as the official business language. When I speak to colleagues in France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Israel, China, Brazil, Argentina, etc., we all speak in English. Added to the mix is my remote office office. I work from a home office and don’t have co-workers by the proverbial water cooler speaking German, work hours can be long, and the main dose of High German I get is when I’m in German class 2x a week.
One unfamiliar with Austria might think that when I go out to a restaurant or a store that I’d have an opportunity to be immersed in High German, but it doesn’t work like that. In Austria there are various dialects that are related to German, but have distinctly different words and grammar. The dialect in my region is Pinzgauerisch. A couple of valleys to the southeast, they speak Pongauerisch. Everyone here can read and speak German, but they say that it feels “unnatural” and they prefer to speak in dialect. To put this into perspective, German tourists that come here can’t understand the locals speaking dialect. However, if I were to live in Germany, the situation wouldn’t be any better because they have various dialects throughout Germany that pose the same problem for German learners.
The solution? Watching television, listening to radio, and trying to occasionally read a small part of an newspaper and of course speaking some German with my Austrian spouse even though her English is perfect and it’s easier most of the time to speak English.
All of this means that my German language skills will take a lot longer to develop than they did as a university student studying in Mexico. The silver lining around the challenge is that I’ve already passed the first 2 government mandated proctored German exams for immigrants and I have 3 more years to pass the next one. As a working professional in my prime earning years, I’ve begun to make peace with the concept of baby steps in my integration process.
In the end however, the move was the right one to make, particularly considering the state of the USA and California. That’s a good realization to have since it’s a permanent move, but it doesn’t ease my cravings for good Mexican food which is almost nonexistent across Europe.