All Swiss know German
Switzerland knows the four national languages German, French, Italian and Romansh. English is not an official language, but it is still often used to overcome language divides.This content was published on July 6, 2017 - 8:18 am
Multilingualism is a defining characteristic of Switzerland. Around 65% speak German (dialect and standard German), a good 23% French, around 8% Italian and around half a percent Romansh. The large number of foreigners living in Switzerland also contribute to the linguistic diversity.
There are more and more people whose mother tongue is not one of the four official languages. And English is used more and more to bridge linguistic bridges. Almost two thirds of all Swiss citizens (64%) speak more than one language at least once a week (38% two, 19% three and 7% four or more) according to a survey by the Federal Statistical Office in 2014.
When visiting German-speaking Switzerland, the difference between the spoken language - the numerous Swiss-German dialects - and the written language, Standard German, is noticeable.
In waves it is becoming popular to write in dialect language. There is even a comprehensive online dictionaryExternal link on German-speaking Swiss dialects. On the website of the Swiss German Dictionary Idiotikon you will find a few audio samples of various German-speaking Swiss dialectsExternal link.
But dialects are not only found in German-speaking Switzerland. The website of the phonogram archive of the University of Zurich offers a map with numerous examples of Swiss languages and dialectsExterner Link.
The three largest language communities have cultural ties to their respective neighboring countries: French-speaking Switzerland to France, German-speaking Switzerland to Germany and Austria, and Italian-speaking southern Switzerland to Italy.
The Grisons Rhaeto-Romans are not really alone either: in Friuli and in South Tyrol there are language-related minorities. Further information is available from the Lia RumantschaExterner Link, which takes care of the promotion and other matters of the Romansh and Romance languages in general.
The four national languages German, French, Italian and Romansh are anchored in the Federal Constitution: Every language group has the right to communicate in its own language. German, French and Italian are full official languages of the Confederation, which means that the laws and official documents of the Confederation must be available in these three languages.
When dealing with people in Romansh, Romansh is also an official language of the federal government. In addition, the federal government supports measures taken by the cantons of Ticino and Graubünden to preserve and promote Italian and Romansh.
Abroad, it is sometimes wrongly assumed that all Swiss are able to speak four languages. Most people, however, live in their language region, use newspapers, radio, television and new media in their language.
The difference between French-speaking and German-speaking Switzerland is a reality that is colloquially known in the country as "Röstigraben" - after the potato dish Rösti, which is more widespread in German-speaking Switzerland than in French-speaking Switzerland, as western Switzerland is also known.
During school time, children and young people in Switzerland are obliged to learn at least one of the other national languages, but as in other countries, this is often no longer used after school time and is forgotten again.
Nevertheless, in certain regions of Switzerland, especially close to language borders, of course, you will find a considerable number of people who are bilingual or who try to understand one of the other languages.
In addition to the traditional mix of languages, other languages have come into the country through immigrants in recent decades. All of these non-national languages combined are spoken by more people today than Italian and Romansh combined.
English with 4.6% and Portuguese with 3.6% of the population have the largest share. Further information on the linguistic diversity external link can be found at the Federal Statistical Office.
According to statistics, only about one percent of the population has English as their main language. However, as the language of international communication, English has increased significantly in importance in recent years. Interest in learning English has increased in all language regions, mainly because of its importance in everyday business life.
Anyone who moves to Switzerland from abroad and speaks English today has hardly any problems communicating, especially in the cities. There is also a trend towards increasing use of the English language as a lingua franca in everyday business between French and German speakers.
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