For people in most countries, the question is easy. However, when you get to Switzerland, things get a little complicated and some explaining has to be done. In Switzerland, the question is supposed to be, what languages does the country speak. This is already an indication that there are more than one languages in Switzerland. This is one of the countries in the world with no single language as their official language.
Switzerland is one if the countries renowned for top quality of life, environmentally-friendly outdoor look, and perfect infrastructure. The secret to their success might be derived from their level of diversity. The country’s harmony is also top notch which adds on to their success. Though it might not be the most diverse county in the world, it is one of the countries that has most embraced diversity and harmony.
Switzerland has four official languages. Not two or three but four of them. The four official languages in Switzerland are French, German, Italian, and Romansh. All the four languages are spoken in different regions in the country. With their diversity, the country has embraced the languages so well and combined them with others to make very social and diverse communities. Due to the four languages, it is a dream country to study in for international students. University programs in the country are offered in these four languages and people communicate using the four languages. This makes communication a lot easier in the country. You can always find a person who understands your language.
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Let’s take a better look at the regions where each of these languages are spoken.
Swiss German is the most widely spoken of the four languages in Switzerland. The language is spoken by a bit over 60% of the entire population. Swiss German also called Schwyzerdütsch by the locals is a combination of Alemannic dialects that are not spoken in Austria or Germany anymore.
Swiss German is commonly spoken in the eastern, central and northern parts of the country. It is the primary language in Switzerland but it’s not like standard German. You know how standard German is used in formal correspondence, newspapers, and in books? This makes the language a bit easier as compared to the Swiss German dialect.
Swiss German is like one intricate meal served only by people in Switzerland who speak the language. It is a collection of Alemannic dialects like we mentioned but its spiced with a whole lot of French clichés and expressions. As an international student or a standard German speaker, you will find same words in the dialects used in Basel, Bern, or Zurich. However, you don’t need to worry about it. you can always ask for clarification from the locals whenever you are in doubt.
French is the second most spoken language in Switzerland. It is primarily spoken in the western part of the country accounting for approximately 20% of the population. If you are travelling to Switzerland and plan on travelling to cities such as Lausanne or the famous Geneva, you better bring you French game. These are some of the most popular destinations in the country and they are entirely French speaking. But then one would ask, if the German spoken in the country isn’t the same dialect as standard German, what about French?
Swiss French as most people call it is different from standard French. However, the differences are less obvious compared to the Swiss German and Standard German. There is a distinction in vocabulary and expressions but Swiss French won’t give the speaker too much trouble if they are good in standard French. Contrary to Swiss German, the differences in French and Swiss French are pleasant and fun for the foreigners to learn.
If there is anything to say about Swiss French, it is that the language is fun to learn and speak compared to standard French. Some of the words and verbiage you struggle with in Standard French are non-existent in Swiss French.
Some people especially French speakers claim that Swiss French sounds much slower as it has longer vowels. This is excellent news for standard French speakers who find it easier chatting with locals in the French speaking areas.
Italian is spoken in the areas of southern Graubünden and the canton of Ticino. It is the part of Switzerland that enjoys a special blend of Italian and Swiss culture. The language is historically known as Lombard and is spoken by about 350,000 people in Switzerland. The language is influenced by French and German and some of these differences are confusing especially if you speak or studies standard Italian. Not to worry though, the dialect might be different but you still will be able to communicate nicely with the locals.
The loanwords from German and French tend to make the language tougher but it is not so different compared to standard Italian. Swiss Italian stands out from standard Italian with the presence of “calques” which are the phrases reading like literal word-for-word translation from German and French.
This is Switzerland’s smallest national language which gained official recognition in 1996. Romansh has only 37,000 speakers and it is often overlooked by the international travelers. However, the language is recognized as the official language in the south-eastern canton (Grisons). Here, the language is used as a medium of education and governance and it also enjoys a pretty healthy experience as a community language.
The language has been spoken in some valleys of Graubünden for centuries before it was recognized as a national language up until 1996. Today, the language is referred to as a romance language that has a large portion of its syntax borrowed from German. A majority of the Romansh Speaking community starts learning German in kindergarten making it easy for them to speak without a French or Italian accent.
Switzerland has bilingual and monolingual cantons. 22 cantons have one official language despite there being four official languages. Some of the bilingual cantons include Fribourg, Bern, and Valais. In the country, they use English as a common language of business. The canton of Zurich is in discussion to decide whether to implement English as the first language since it is use as the primary language of business in the country.