If you have been living in Switzerland for a while you will have noticed that many locals speak English or other languages well. You will also have noticed that German speakers in Switzerland speak Swiss German, not Standard German (Hochdeutsch) as their mother tongue. Learning (Standard) German can therefore seem pointless and overwhelming, particularly in a city like Zurich with so many foreigners and international companies. Nevertheless, there are many ways German is well worth the effort in Switzerland.
Read bills, letters, signs, websites and books
Some companies these days do send some of their correspondence in English, but this is not always the case. Wouldn’t it feel great if you could understand your own correspondence rather than worrying about each new letter you receive until you can get help translating it from a neighbour, friend or colleague? Learning German will help you become self-sufficient.
Connect with locals
It is a common complaint that it is hard to forge new friendships in Switzerland. Speaking German can help you here. It will enable you to become a member of one of the many clubs (Vereine) that are popular among Swiss people. Being an active member of a Verein is one of the best ways to engage with Swiss people outside during their free time and it is fun too! In general, Swiss people prefer to form friendships that will last a long time. If you’re putting in the time and effort to learn German it also shows locals that you will probably be sticking around for longer and are less of a risky investment for their friendship.
Get ahead at work and improve your CV
If you have many German-speaking colleagues they will be happy when they don’t have to always switch into English or another language for you, you won’t miss bits and pieces because your colleagues forgot to switch into English this time and you might get more opportunities at work because of your German knowledge. An extra language on your CV will also help it shine and an official language certificate will improve your marketability. If you have been here for a while, you will know that the Swiss love certificates!
Access more services and activities
You will have better access to services when you speak some German (and they may be cheaper than those aimed at foreigners). Although many Swiss people do speak quite good English, particularly in cities, it is only natural that most services are provided in German rather than English.
Attend courses or study
Do you want to attend some further training (Weiterbildung) or gain a qualification in Switzerland? You’ll need German in this case. There are far more courses offered in German than English or other languages.
Get a residency/work permit or even citizenship
There is no way of getting around knowing one of the local languages if you want to obtain a work permit or eventually gain Swiss citizenship. You can sit official Standard German exams to fulfil this requirement.
Follow local events and get insider tips
Following local events in the local language is the best way to get to know what is going on in Switzerland. There are fortunately some sites covering Swiss events in English, but they can’t cover everything and not all information is translated.
Travel to other German-speaking countries
Learning German will of course also allow you to travel easily through neighbouring Austria and Germany.
Connect with in-laws
As a teacher I have met many foreigners with Swiss partners or spouses who want to connect with their in-laws. Working on your German can help you to connect with them and perhaps also to show them that you are serious about your relationship. Of course, learning Swiss German will help you even more here, but Standard German is a very good start.
Feel at home and build confidence
Moving to another country is exciting and unlock many wonderful opportunities. However, it can also be uncomfortable and you might sometimes feel like a fish out of water. Learning German can help you to feel more at home in Switzerland. When you are able to read signs easily, ask questions in a shop or talk to the postman to sign for a parcel Switzerland will feel much more like home.
In general, learning a new language opens up your life to new experiences and a new culture. Only through learning the local language can you expect to better understand the Swiss mindset.
If this article has inspired you to work on your German don’t hesitate to drop us a line and we will be happy to support you on your language learning journey.