You may be surprised to learn German is spoken all over South Tyrol. We’re here to help with some basic terminology and useful German phrases for common situations you’ll likely come across on your trip.
BEFORE TRAVELING TO ANY COUNTRY, learning a bit of the local tongue is well worth the time invested. Locals appreciate the effort even if you mangle their language.
Many young people speak English in South Tyrol as it is now taught along with German and Italian; however, road signs, menus, historical markers and tourist placards will be almost entirely in German and Italian, as well as an ancient language known as Ladin in valleys such as Val Gardena.
Personally, we like that the use of English is limited. We have always found traveling to a place where it is not the primary language to be culturally invigorating and a good excuse to flex our mental muscles.
Helpful Tip: You can access a PDF of the Key German Phrases Guide in our South Tyrol Travel Resources Library. We made it handy to print out or keep on your tablet or phone while traveling.
First Things First – German Pronunciation
Before you go any further, we need to point out that Tyrolean German is different than the dialect spoken in other Germanic regions of Europe. Do not let this worry you if you already know a little German. The basic phrases we cover here will allow you to communicate with most German speakers in South Tyrol.
Knowing how letters are pronounced is always a good thing to commit to memory. Then, when you encounter an unfamiliar term, on a menu, for example, you will be able to better guess its pronunciation and sound a teaspoon less ridiculous. Below you’ll find the alphabet (only for letters that vary in sound from English) along with German pronunciation of each letter.
“A” is pronounced “Ah”. The “A” is always long.
“ä” is pronounced like “ay” as in the word “say”.
“Ch” is pronounced like a hard “K”.
“e” at the end of a word is pronounced “ah”.
“ei” is pronounced as a long “I” as in “eye”.
“ie” is pronounced as “ee” as in “see”.
“J” is pronounced as “Y”.
“I” is pronounced as “leh” as in “letter”.
“ö” is pronounced as “er” as in the end of the word “better”.
“Sch” is pronounced as “sh” as in “shower”.
“ü” is pronounced as “ee” as in “see” but while saying the sound, round your lips (it really works!).
“U” is pronounced as “oo” as in “boot”.
“V” is as “F” as in the beginning of “fish”.
“W” is pronounced as “V”. For example, the German word for wine is “wein”, which is pronounced “vine”.
“Z” is pronounced as “ts” like you would hear at the end the word “hats”.
German Greetings & Other Handy Phrases
Similar to English, German greetings vary by time of day. In the morning, “Guten Morgen” is used, which many German speakers shorten to simply “Morgen”. Grüß Gott is a more popular greeting in South Tyrol that we heard frequently when greeting other hikers on the waalwegs. Other more casual greetings are “Hallo” or even “Hi”. To introduce yourself, you can add “Ich heisse _(your name)_”.
Now that you’ve begun a conversation, you’ll need to know:
- Ja = Yes
- Nein = No
- Sprechen Sie Englisch? = Do you speak English?
- Ich spreche kein Deutsch = I don’t speak German
- Bitte = Please
- Danke = Thank you
- Bitteschön = You’re welcome
- Entschuldigung = Excuse me/sorry
You’ll hear a variety of goodbyes including “Auf wiedersehen” (or shortened to “Wiedersehen”), “Ciao”, “Tschüss”, “Servus”, and “Bis bald”, among others. Auf wiedersehen is the most formal and Tschüss is used in more informal situations. Bis bald is the same as “see you soon”, so is more properly used when you will likely see the individual again. Tschüss and Servus are a couple more informal farewells. In general, we followed the lead of whoever we were meeting and used the same greeting.
Let’s Eat & Drink! Ordering in German
Knowing some German is most handy when ordering at restaurants, bars and cafes. You can ask for a table with your party size by stating “Tisch für (zwei) bitte.” In this example, you’re asking for a table for two (zwei). With any of these statements, don’t forget please (bitte) and thank you (danke).
When ordering, begin with “Ich möchte” for “I would like”. Below are some common drinks and food you may be ordering.
- Rotwein = red wine
- Weisswein = white wine
- Bier = beer
- Wasser = water
- Kaffee = coffee
- Nudeln = pasta
- Pizza = pizza
- Brezel = pretzel
- Salat = salad
- Kuchen = cake
- Eis = ice cream
When hiking in South Tyrol, we’ve found that not all restaurants along the paths will have a kitchen or it will only be open at specific hours. So these questions may be helpful before and during your meal:
- Das Menu? = Do you have a menu?
- Ist die Küche geöffnet? = Is the kitchen open?
- Wo ist die Badezimmer? = Where is the bathroom?
- Wieviel kostet das? = How much does this cost?
- Können Sie das bitte aufschreiben? = Can you please write that down?
If you are an American reading this, keep in mind that dining in many European countries is an experience, so the service is much slower. Europeans tend to take their time much more so than Americans while eating, so you’ll likely need to ask for your bill at the end of the meal with “Rechnung bitte” if the Yankee in you is ready to ramble on.
Read More: Not sure what South Tyrol cuisine is all about? You’ll love it! Check out these highlights on what you’ll encounter while on a South Tyrolean culinary adventure:
Our Favorite German Language Resources
There are so many free resources to help you learn as much German as you would like before your trip. Here are a few of our preferred tools:
- Coffee Break German Podcast: This podcast has free and members-only versions. While there are additional bonus materials available to members, the free podcast is incredibly valuable. Out of the three resources we mention here, this is the most beneficial for travel in a German-speaking region. Another advantage to this podcast is that the hosts provide details on grammar, cultural nuggets, review past lessons and break down the language. We would recommend starting with season 1 to learn the very basics.
- Duolingo App: There is an online version of Duolingo also, but we prefer the app version for both Android and iPhone. The app not only allows you to take lessons, but you can engage in short, situational chats to practice responses. As you progress, Duolingo provides you a percentage fluency in the language that you can brag about on LinkedIn if you’re so inclined.
- Pimsleur German Language Program: Older versions of the audiobooks are usually available at public libraries and are a great way to learn a language during your commute. Depending on your skill level, there are a variety of programs you can select.
- How to Learn a Language for Travelers: This great post walks through a comprehensive list of helpful apps, as well as additional learning tips that are both unique and fun.