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Austria, a country where more than 95% of the inhabitants1 speak German as their first language, has, by reason of its geography and history, six minority linguistic groups (Croatian, Hungarian, Roma, Slovakian, Slovenian and Czech). There have been a large number of legal provisions concerning these minorities since 1867, when Article 19 of the Fundamental Law of Empire (Staatsgrundgesetz) was passed. It is guaranteed by law that all minorities have the same rights2.

Today, the legal provisions are based on the State Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919) and Austrian State Treaty (Vienna, 1955), which are still valid. The Austrian Law on Ethnic Groups (Volksgruppengesetz, 1976) is specifically concerned with ethnic and linguistic questions relating to the Austrian indigenous minorities. The reluctance of certain Länder to apply the legal provisions is evidence that the issue is still a contentious one.

The Austrian Sign Language (Österreichische Gebärdensprache) has been recognised as a language in its own right under the Austrian Constitution (Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz, Article 8/3), as amended in 2005.

Since 1990, there has been considerable growth in the number of foreign nationals in the population, due to several waves of immigration from the East, the former Yugoslavia etc., which has contributed to the growth of the Austrian population as a whole. 9,000 of the 78,000 babies born in 2005 were born to foreign national mothers. The number of immigrants entering the country in 2004 and 2005 was more than 50,000 per year. The number of requests for Austrian citizenship is high, particularly among the young. There were more than 40,000 in 2004 and 2005 and more than 35,000 in 2006.

These new additions to the population, combined with the number of foreign-born inhabitants of the country, have contributed to the relaunch of the debate on the issue of what languages should be spoken and taught in Austria.

One can see a slow evolution in boundaries which could eventually lead to a real and official linguistic policy being developed. The Language Education Policy Profile. Country Report Austria (, 2007, for this country can help to measure the advances

It should be noted that Austria is home to the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML)/Centre européen pour les langues vivantes (CELV) of the Council of Europe, which is based in the town of Graz. The town also houses the Austrian Centre for Language Competence (website: of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education and Women's Affairs.


Legal framework

Domains which are governed by legal provisions are teaching, place names and the use of languages in public administration and in the courts. Publicity and consumer information are mostly exclusively in German. Nonetheless, there is no legal requirement for labels on packaging to be written in German, except in those situations where consumer health is an issue (medication, toys…).

Employment legislation does not contain any specific clauses relating to linguistic minorities, as they are generally bilingual.

The language of the workplace is often German.

In 1976, the Austrian Law on Ethnic Groups (Volksgruppengesetz) was passed which states that authorities other than public authorities must ensure the use of the language of the respective ethnic group (§13).


Institutional body with the responsibility for developing, implementing and controlling linguistic legislation

There is no co-ordinating body. The lack of one has been the subject of much complaint since October 2001 (the ‘Declaration of Klagenfurt’) from a collective of university members of the AILA (Association internationale de linguistique appliqué or International Association of Applied Linguistics). The collective is also calling for the creation of a federal group of experts on these issues.

The so-called Volksgruppenbeirat (advisory committee of the ethnic groups) is the representative body of the six Austrian ethnic/linguistic minorities.

To assemble all institutions interested in questions of language policy under one roof, the Ministry of Education established the Österreichisches Sprachenkomitee (ÖSKO, Austrian Language Committee), on 3 December 2003. Through the establishment of ÖSKO, the dynamics first generated by the European Year of Languages was continued, with the help of newly created appropriate structures, and long-term effects were assured. In the face of European developments, and mindful of the fact that language matters (not least on the national level) are increasingly in competition with other areas (notably information and communication technology; mathematics; the natural sciences, etc.), ÖSKO, the Austrian Language Committee, considers its prime task to consist in developing future-oriented proposals to accompany the entire process of life-long language learning, and to undertake relevant lobbying measures in the area of language education. ÖSKO consists of 46 organisations and institutions from the fields of scholarship and science, educational administration, and Austria’s ‘social partners’: its establishment and activities are to ensure fostering and support for language learning beyond school.


Legal provisions concerning the linguistic integration of migrants and public facilities for linguistic training available to them

Austria was one of the first European countries to introduce a linguistic requirement for migrants who are not citizens of the European Economic Area hoping to obtain a residence permit or Austrian citizenship.

In 2005, the Federal Government passed a law designed to reinforce the obligation of migrants to learn the German language if they wanted to:

  • settle in Austria 
  • take Austrian citizenship (normal procedure: after ten years’ residence in the country)

This law was stricter than the legal texts which had prevailed before (the ‘Law on Nationality’ of 1998, followed by the ‘Integration Convention’ of 2002, which already provided for German language lessons and a test in the German language).

Newly arrived migrants must complete 300 hours of German language lessons and pass a test to confirm that they have reached level A2 of the CEFR (which allows them to obtain the Sprachkenntnisnachweis document, a prerequisite for gaining Austrian citizenship). Depending on the region in which they live, they may also have to demonstrate that they can successfully complete a questionnaire on the history and civilisation of their host country.


Main legal provisions in force concerning the use of regional and minority languages

Article 8 of the 1920 Constitution, as amended in 2000, stipulates that “German is the official language of the Republic” but also that “the language, culture, existence and preservation of ethnic minorities emanating from other countries will be respected, guaranteed and favoured”.

The Austrian State Treaty/Staatsvertrag, 1955, only mentions the Croatian and the Slovene minorities in Burgenland (in Carinthia and Styria respectively).

The Austrian Law on Ethnic Groups (Volksgruppengesetz), 1976, is concerned in detail with ethnic and linguistic questions of the Austrian indigenous minorities: provision of schools, place names, language use in administration and in the courts.

The Laws on Minority Schools for Burgenland (1994, as amended in 1998) and for Carinthia (1959, as amended in 2002) (Minderheiten-Schulgesetz für das Burgenland/Kärnten) stipulate that there have to be bilingual schooling for the minorities in Carinthia (Slovenes) and in Burgenland (Croatians, Hungarians, Roma) at all levels of schooling.

On 24 June 2000, a decree was adopted which gave official status to Hungarian and to Croatian as a second official language, after German, in certain districts of Burgenland, and Slovenian in certain parts of Styria and Carinthia.

On 28 June 2001, Austria ratified the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages.

A department of the Federal Chancellery has responsibility for linguistic minorities ( Educational issues concerning minority language and German language establishments fall under the remit of the Austrian Minister for Education, Arts and Culture.

Radio and television companies broadcast some programmes in minority languages. The law of 31st July 2001 (Rundfunkgesetz) obliges the public radio and television channel ORF to offer some programmes broadcast in minority languages. (Programmes in minority languages had already been broadcasted before.)


Foreign language teaching within the education system

In Austria, German is the language of teaching for all school establishments. Pre-school education is also in German. Minority language kindergarten groups are sometimes private initiatives but may be subcontracted by the State and paid for out of special funds.

For the six national minorities (Croatian, Hungarian, Roma, Slovakian, Slovenian and Czech speakers), the law provides for three types of primary school: minority language schools, bilingual schools and bilingual classes within German language schools.

Provisions for foreign-language learning:

Primary teaching
  • MFL1: The first foreign language (English, French, Italian, Croatian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Czech or Hungarian) is obligatory as a working language and is taught for an hour a week from the first year (ISCED 1). The vast majority of schools teach English.
  • MFL2: It is also possible to start learning a second foreign language, alongside English, from the third year (ISCED 1) for an hour a week.

Secondary teaching

  • MFL1: English is taught as a first foreign language, whatever the direction of the student’s studies. It is unusual for a minority language to be obligatory, unless this is also the language of the resident minority.

    After four years of primary school, students are directed to either a short secondary school (Hauptschule or Neue Mittelschule, ISCED 2), where they will study for four years, or a long secondary school (Gymnasium, ISCED 2 + 3), where they will study for eight years.
  • MFL2:
Short secondary teaching (Hauptschule, Neue Mittelschule)

     In these schools, a second foreign language is optional.

Where families do choose a second language, it is usually French. Italian comes a close second, followed by Spanish and then Russian and the languages of the neighbouring countries (Croatian, Slovenian, Czech etc.).

Long secondary teaching (Gymnasium

Since autumn 2006, it has been made possible for students to learn a second modern language from year 7 (= the third year of Gymnasium) or year 9 (= fifth year in certain literary schools). The choice is usually between Latin, French, Spanish, Russian and the languages of neighbouring countries.

Despite the reform, it is still possible for some students, who chose Latin as their second foreign language, to reach the end of their school career only knowing one living foreign language (English).

Given the changes of 2006, the autonomy of the individual establishments and adaptation to demand, it is very difficult to get statistical data on the current situation.

  • MFL3: In some vocational colleges (especially tourism) and even some classical ones, it is possible to learn a third foreign language. This remains optional.


Some establishments have introduced bilingual streams, usually English/German, and in rare cases French.

A very few private establishments offer a second foreign language from the first year of the long secondary school.

Since 2005/2006, regulations have provided for students to have the option to present one or more subjects of their choice in a foreign language at the baccalaureate (Matura). 

All students have, in theory, the right to be taught in their native language, if this is not German. In practice, only about 20 to 25% of them (approx. 27,000 pupils per year) exercise that right and learn one of the following languages: Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Bulgarian, Chinese, French, Italian, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romani, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Chechen, Turkish and Hungarian.



1This statistic relates to Austrian citizens. 88.6% of the resident population speaks German.

2The information in this report is mainly based on the English version of the Language Education Policy Profile. Country Report Austria. Language and language education policies in Austria. Graz: ÖSZ, 2007 (




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