Why learn German in Switzerland?

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.

Learning a New Skill Through a New Language

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite things is learning or experiencing something new. It keeps life interesting, can help us with our career and even keep our brains healthy. When you know the basics of your target language (the one you are learning), you are ready to use it to gain new skills. By doing so you can change the focus from ‘how can I ever learn this language?’ to ‘what can I do with this language?’ or ‘what
can this language give me access to
?’

It can be tempting to learn new skills and try new activities in a language you already know well, but I would like to encourage you to give activities in your target language a chance. At the moment many of us are limited to finding activities online, but on the other side of the pandemic there will be more opportunities available to learn new skills in person in Switzerland in your target language. So, the benefits of learning new skills are obvious, you say, but what are the benefits of learning these new skills through the language I am learning and haven’t totally mastered yet? Isn’t that too hard and inefficient?

Not only is it possible, but I heartily recommend that you try it! I myself, a native English speaker, have previously learnt skills like sailing, pattern drafting and several languages through German.

Benefits:

  • Consistency is key when learning a language (and other skills). Getting consistent practice in the language shouldn’t just be about attending a class, but rather integrating it into your daily life. Doing a hobby or some training in your target language can provide valuable language practice on top of targeted language study.
  • Concentrating on developing your skill can distract you from embarrassment surrounding mistakes because you are concentrating on the new skill, rather than making perfectly formed sentences.
  • You learn relevant vocabulary matching your interests quickly; no fears that you won’t need all the vocabulary in the textbook.
  • Real context to learn new vocabulary and a lot of repetition will help it sink in. Sailing vocabulary will be stuck in my brain forever because I heard the same words over and over in context and connections in my brain were strengthened by connecting physical movement with language. I had to respond to various commands by subsequently pulling a line or trimming a sail etc.
  • Motivation is vital. Here at VOX, we always encourage students to find their inner motivation to learn. Learning exciting new things through your target language rewards you for learning the language because you are actually using for something that benefits you in other ways in your life. You’ll also give yourself more confidence to speak when you know the relevant vocabulary about particular topics and are used to using it. Locals might even be impressed by your vocabulary knowledge.
  • You can learn words you don’t know even in your native language. This might sound strange, but it can be fun to learn new vocabulary that you don’t know in your native tongue (you can learn new words twice!). No one knows all the words in their own language after all, not even teachers.
  • Cost efficient: you are practising two skills for the price of one!
  • If you’re able do attend some kind of class, club or training with locals, you’ll reap the benefits of increased integration and a feeling of belonging. You might also get to try something unique to Switzerland or the German-speaking world that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

How to make the most of this exciting opportunity:

  • Prepare a bit in advance and look up some words you think you might need (if just reading about a topic then look up as you go). You could also look for extra materials like videos, articles on relevant topics.
  • Note down new words and expression as you go or afterwards if not possible to write as you go so you know them for next time.

Language is a tool rather than an end goal. Learning through your language makes it more than just a decoration for your CV or something to fulfil some kind of official requirement. Teachers like me help you to build a foundation so it can then become part of your normal life.
So what are you waiting for? Look for books or videos on topics that you want to learn about, attend an online class e.g. yoga, join a club (when we can get close to each other again), enrol in a course or some kind of training… but please, all in your target language!