The Languages of Europe: Country by Country

As one of the most linguistically diverse continents in the world, an array of different dialects can be found in Europe. From Slavic to Celtic to Germanic, each family of languages comes with its own fascinating history and distinctive expressions. To help you navigate your itinerary’s linguistic landscape, our quick reference guide features vital information about the language(s) you can expect to hear in several of the countries we visit.

View our Essential Phrases for Touring Europe Infographic.


Austria

Austria’s official language is listed as German, but most Austrians speak in an entirely separate dialect. The differences between Austrian-German and Standard German can vary depending on geographical location; in some towns the differences are barely noticeable, but the language barrier is much more pronounced in northern parts of the country, including Vienna.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Hallo (Hello)
  • Guten Tag (Good day)
  • Auf Wiedersehen (Goodbye)

 

Innsbruck in the Austrian Tyrol, Austria


Belgium

With 3 official languages, Dutch, German and French, it’s not uncommon for Belgians to speak at least 2 different languages fluently. Many residents also know a little English. The capital city of Brussels and most surrounding regions favour Dutch and French, whereas German is typically spoken only in the west of the country.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Bonjour (Hello – in French)
  • Dank u wel (Thank you – in Dutch)
  • Wie gehts? (How are you? – in German)

 

Bruges Canal, Belgium


Croatia

Croatian is the official language of Croatia, with 3 different dialects used widely throughout the country. In addition to the standard Shtokavian dialect, Chakavian and Kajkavian are also common. Spoken in parts of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and as a minority language in Austria, Croatian is widespread throughout central Europe. Given the similarities between their languages, Serbians, Bosnians and Croatians can usually understand each other, if they choose to.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Dobro jutro (Good morning)
  • Kako se zovete? (What is your name?)
  • Drago mi je (Nice to meet you)

 

Trogir, Croatia  courtesy of Megan Thackray


Czech Republic

Spoken by around 96% of the population, Czech is the only official language of the Czech Republic. It is classified as a West Slavic language, with Latin and German influences. If you plan to visit the Czech Republic and you were hoping to learn a few phrases in the local lingo, don’t be disheartened if you find it difficult. Czech is ranked as one of the most complex languages in the world, and getting the pronunciation right will take some practice.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Těší mě (Nice to meet you)
  • Jsem z Prahy (I am from Prague)
  • Jízdenky prosím! (Tickets please!)

 

Prague Christmas Markets, Czech Republic - courtesy of Kimberley


France

French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. In Europe alone, it is considered the first language of not only France but also Southern Belgium, Western Switzerland and Monaco. Within France, Metropolitan French is spoken in major cities such as Paris and Marseille, whereas a slightly different dialect known as Meridional French is often used in regional areas.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Ça fait longtemps (Long time no see)
  • Bonne journée (Have a nice day)
  • Parlez-vous Français? (Do you speak French?)

 

Cafe in France


Germany

Standard German is by far the most commonly spoken form, but it exists in many different dialects. High German is Germany’s official written language, whereas Low German, which originated in the lowlands of Northern Germany, is more closely related to Dutch. Other dialects include Austro-Bavarian, Alemannic (Swiss German) and High Franconian (Franconia is a region in Germany).

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Wie gehts? (How are you?)
  • Woher kommst du? (Where are you from?)
  • Ein bier bitte (One beer please)

 

Fussen, Germany - courtesy of Simon Pilkinton


Italy

A famously expressive language, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary. It is the third-most spoken language in the European Union, with official status in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Malta and the Vatican City. An important thing to remember when attempting to speak Italian is the musicality of the language; the pronunciations are quite exaggerated, so don’t be afraid of sounding overenthusiastic.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Buon appetito! (Have a nice meal!)
  • Ciao! Amico! (Hey friend!)
  • Figurati (Don’t mention it – e.g. after someone else says grazie)

 

Ravello, Italy - courtesy of Garry and Margaret Keath


Portugal

Portugal is the only country in Europe where Portuguese is the official language, although large Portuguese-speaking communities can be found in Spain, Belgium and France. Not to be confused with Spanish, Portuguese is known for its rustic qualities and distinctive pronunciations. Not very many people in Portugal can speak English, so learning a few basic phrases can come in handy if you plan to travel there.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Bom dia (Good morning)
  • Não percebo (I don’t understand)
  • Com licença! (Excuse me!)

Porto, Portugal


Slovenia

Standard Slovenian belongs to the South Slavic language family. It features unique characteristics such as a dual grammatical number (some languages use this in addition to singular and plural) and two accentual norms, one of which is characterised by pitch. Sound confusing? Like all Slavic languages, Slovenian can seem complicated at first, but once you get the hang of the pronunciation and basic grammar rules, you should have no problem mastering a few essential phrases.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Me veseli (Pleased to meet you)
  • Na Zdravje! (Cheers!)
  • Adijo! (So long!)

 

Preserens Square, Ljubljana


Spain

Spanish is the first and only language for the majority of Spain’s population, although pockets of Catalan, Basque and Portuguese speaking communities can be found dispersed throughout the country. Derived from a Latin dialect, Spanish is a beautifully animated language, with plenty of rolled ‘R’s and unique accentuations to keep tourists on their toes.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Hola (Hi)
  • Dónde está un restaurante? (Where is a restaurant?)
  • Buenos días (Good morning)

Santillana Del Mar, Spain


Switzerland

Switzerland has 3 official languages: German, French and Italian. Romansh, a language spoken in the southeastern Swiss region of Grisons, has semi-official status. An estimated 60% of the population speaks Swiss-German (a dialect of Standard German), while 20% speaks French and 8% speaks Italian. The remainder of the population either speaks Romansh or a minority language. With such a variety of different languages spoken all over the country, being bilingual – or even trilingual – is considered the norm for Swiss citizens.

Things you might hear on the street:

  • Gueten Abig (Good evening – in Swiss-German)
  • Tu veux prendre un café avec moi? (Do you want to get a coffee with me? – in French)
  • Quanto costa? (How much is this? – in Italian)


Christmas Markets in Montreux, courtesy of Switzerland Tourism


As you can see, Europe is a wonderfully diverse continent filled with various beautiful languages. For a more comprehensive guide to basic words you might want to say in German, Italian, French or Spanish, please view our Essential Phrases for Touring Europe – and start getting excited for your trip!