Switzerland is a very extraordinary country in terms of the linguistic situation – 4 languages enjoy the status of the official ones, whereas 3 of them – German, French, and Italian – have the same status in other countries (which is not surprising, though). So if you are preparing to work in this country, you might find yourself struggling to learn languages in Switzerland. There are a few aspects you should take into consideration before moving in.
First of all, our post about the language situation in Switzerland shows that each region has a certain language, spoken by the majority of the population there. Indeed, there are a few exceptions – those languages overlap in some regions, namely near the Swiss border with France and Italy. In predominately French-speaking regions, there are several places where German dialects are spoken as well. The situation is even more perplexed near the Italian border – the Romansh tongue, a language of a minority that has historically populated those places, is spoken along with Italian and German.
In the majority of cases, however, you will find out that the Swiss regions are mostly monolingual, so should you face no problem if you decide to learn languages in Switzerland. The overall linguistic environment is pretty straightforward, clear in the French- and Italian-speaking regions.
The variety of languages and dialects spoken in Switzerland is simply astonishing
However, the situation with the German-speaking cantons – a name for the Swiss provinces – is far more complicated. To begin with, one should say that the majority of the Swiss population, after all, speak German language, and you can find out more about this issue on this page. But that language is not a “clear”, “pure” language, Hochdeutsch as it is called.
On the contrary, the Swiss population predominately speaks the dialects of the German language. These dialects are not solely applied in commonday talks and conversations, but also during business meetings, meetings of shareholders, at work, etc. Furthermore, those dialects vary very noticeably in regards to the standard version of the German language, so you may face numerous problems upon your arrival in Switzerland, even if you speak Hochdeutsch. If you do not speak Hochdeutsch, the issue becomes even tougher. As you want to learn languages in Switzerland, you will have to master Hochdeutsch first and, only after that, proceed to learning a particular dialect, spoken in your region.
By the way, you should have noticed the words “those dialects” – there are over a dozen of dialects of the German language, yet the majority of them – thankfully! – belong to the Swabian group of dialects (Swabia is a region in southwestern Germany). However, such a variety of dialects resulted in the inability of the Swiss people and governments to form and adopt a universal version of the Swiss German language, as people from one German-speaking region may not understand people from another canton with predominately German-speaking population.
After mastering Hochdeutsch, however, even a few weeks or months may be enough for you for mastering a particular dialect – it all depends on your efforts and will. And, of course, you should practice your Swiss German as much as possible.