Getting to grips with Schwäbisch (Swabian German) in Germany

Today's guest post has been a long time coming. I can't wait to share this story, because it's a report from Fluent's friend Tom Pandolfino! Tom wrote here on the blog about his A-Levels and his first year at university. He's currently in Stuttgart, Germany, working as a junior translator.

I love how Fluent gets to feature glimpses of Tom's language learning story. Check out how he's dealing with a special German quirk: The Swabian dialect!

Speaking in Swabian Stuttgart...more like communication breakdown!


Living in Stuttgart has thus far been a real pleasure. It is a nice quaint city with a lot to offer that many bigger cities don't. Good wine and beer are on offer as well as pleasant countryside near and scattered throughout the city. Though one thing here that has taken me a little bit of time to adjust to is the accent and Schwäbisch (Swabian) itself.

Germany and the German language offer a beautiful diversity of regional accents and dialects. Everywhere German is spoken, the regional cultures and identities add a unique flavour. This makes it a fascinating language and culture to learn, and to experience at first hand in the German speaking countries. Schwäbisch is one of the more well known dialects that stands out with its own peculiarities.

First of all, what is the accent like in Stuttgart?

The first stark dialect difference that  jumped out at me was the ‘-sh' sound. For example "Fährsht du heut' mit dem Bush?" (Fährst du heute mit dem Bus? - Are you taking the bus today?). I heard this phrase on my day of arrival. Upon hearing it, I assumed that the man who said it had a speech impediment, but I couldn't have been more wrong. This '-sh' sound came cropping up time and time again, so it then clocked in my mind this must be how the locals speak in Stuttgart. Just to confirm that it was actually the local accent, I asked an English colleague who has been living here for more than 20 years. Her reply to my question confirmed that I was right. Apparently, the '-sh' was not a strong dialect compared to how some people speak “auf dem Land” (in the countryside).

While it took some time for my ear to tune in to this, it wasn't that big of an issue for me with my comprehension. But, one of my main colleagues at work has a significant local accent. He’s lived his whole life in Stuttgart! When I first used to hear him talking, I rarely understood a word of what he was saying. Though after a few weeks, I had gotten used to the way he speaks. The local accent does give a different feel to the German language and it always gives me the impression that it is a much more relaxed version of German.

Some elements of Swabian and the local accent sound less harsh than standard Hochdeutsch. For example, one addition of the language I like in Schwäbisch is the negation niet (instead of nicht). I find this to be a less harsh and an almost friendlier way of negating a sentence. To me, it just doesn’t sound quite as direct as ‘nicht’. In my opinion, these sounds and words are the most prominent if you have never heard Schwäbisch before. They take time before you completely adjust to them. Even so, it just makes the tough task of conquering the German language that little bit harder!   

Schwaetzet Se doch edd so schnell! (Sprechen Sie bitte etwas langsamer!: Please speak more slowly!)

At first, I was often left baffled when some of the locals spoke to me in Schwäbisch. I could hardly understand one word. It was frustrating especially because I have now been studying German in full-time education for four years. 

My practice got tested when the locals invited me to go and pick grapes in a local vineyard. It was really pleasant, and after we had picked the grapes, we were invited to a meal with all the other helpers. People were interested in me as someone in their 20s from the UK who speaks German. As the evening went on, some people's accents got more and more pronounced. People began to tell me jokes and funny anecdotes about the differences between Swabian German and Hochdeutsch. They were keen to help and recruit me as an Englishman who's into Swabian. I can definitely say that they gave me a hilarious and friendly approach not only to Schwäbisch, but also to Germany and its language as a whole. I feel that this was an experience that will stay with me for some time yet.

Fitting in with the crowd?

In September, my colleagues invited me to the Cannstatter Wasen with them. To put this simply, it is Stuttgart's version of Oktoberfest. We all drank Maßen (the traditional German beer glasses that hold a litre of beer!) and some of us perhaps drank a bit too much. Whilst we were there, I realized that this is what Germany means to me: people gathering together singing songs both German and English, saying 'Prost', talking with friends and drinking beer. I know that sounds clichéd but it is truly special, and I cannot emphasise just how much fun it was, especially because it was my first time there. 

Have I improved my German after living in the Swabian Lands?

All in all, living here has been a great chance to refine elements of my German and pick up much which I would never be exposed to back in the UK. I usually learn a language by reading German books or attending classes at university. I feel like I spoke good German before I came out to Germany, but living here raised my level. Seeing the language written on advertising boards and listening to people, you pick up so much vocabulary and so many phrases that were never heard nor seen in a book. Sometimes I still find it harder than others to actually speak German, but I am slowly starting to get past a point of caring. I feel less and less self conscious about nailing all articles or endings. I am working on just expressing myself as best as I can.

Will I have picked up Schwäbisch by the end of my time here? Maybe a little, but not a huge amount. 

Will I pick up a distinctively different accent? To be honest, I don't think so. I still hear many people at work speaking Hochdeutsch, and most of the people I speak to in German don't have extreme accents.

My time thus far in Germany has only been positive. As a native English speaker some Germans will make it hard for you to talk German with them just because they want to practice English. But don’t let this deter you and just keep plugging away in German, even if it is a bit rough round the edges. It's worth it, because Germany and particularly, in my case, Stuttgart really does now feel like a home from home.

To learn more about the year abroad, check out Third Year Abroad's information page about Germany. Tom would love to hear what you thought of his article on Twitter or Youtube.

Fluent offers a German course to help you feel great and confident about pronouncing Hochdeutsch and knowing your dialects. Check out Speak German like a Native.