Before traveling to any country, learning some of the local tongue is well worth the time invested. Locals appreciate the effort even if you make a complete mess of their language. We’ve brushed up on Italian for trips to South Tyrol, but found it minimally helpful since the majority of the people you meet will speak German. In this post, we discuss some basic terminology and helpful German phrases for common situations you’ll likely come across on your trip to South Tyrol. In general though, you can get by just fine on very little German.
Just like any other trip abroad, don’t be afraid to ask a South Tyrolean to repeat their statement, write down the price, or find out if they speak English. You’ll find that many German speakers are just as self-conscious and apologetic for their own English speaking skills as you will be for your German speaking skills. Personally, we’ve always found traveling to a place where English is not the primary language to be invigorating and a good excuse to flex our mental muscle.
First Things First – Pronunciation
Before learning the local lingo, it’s important to understand how letters are pronounced. Then, when you encounter an unfamiliar term, on a menu, for example, you will be able to better guess its pronunciation. Below you’ll find the alphabet (only for letters that vary in sound from English) along with German pronunciation of each letter.
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.
- Wasser = water
- Rotwein = red wine
- Weisswein = white wine
- Bier = beer
- 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?
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.
Not sure what South Tyrol cuisine is all about? Check out our highlights on what you’ll encounter on your 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.