The “Swiss” language

Switzerland is a country with 4 official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch (in order of prevalence). There are also several dialects of German under the term “Swiss German”, which is quite different from Standard German (I found it very fun to explore the Schweizerisches Idiotikon to listen to the different dialects). It is also interesting to know that the most widely used language in the workplace is Swiss German (60%), followed by standard German (30%), French (30%), English (20%) and Italian (10%) (source).

Languages in Switzerland
Image from FSO

The language that someone needs to learn when moving to Switzerland depends on the place where this person is living and working. In my case, since I am based at the Zurich University of Teacher Education (PHZH) (as explained in this post) where the predominant language is German, I had to learn German. Things are somehow different at the University of Zurich (UZH), where English has higher relevance than at the PHZH. As an example, while most of the emails that I receive from the UZH are in German and in English, the emails sent by the PHZH are only written in German. And the same applies to meetings: while my meetings at the UZH are in English, the group meetings at the PHZH are in German.

As a person who has two Latin mother tongues (Spanish and Catalan) I would have maybe preferred having to learn French or Italian, but since Zurich was the place to go, German was the language to be learned. And do you know what? I am so glad I did!

To be honest, before I knew German, it sounded very strange and ugly to me (and to most people I know who don’t know German). But now that I know German, I can say I find it such a sophisticated language.

Therefore, I would love to share with you how I learned German, in case you are interested in learning it too!

My journey learning German

As a first step, I started learning the basics of the language using Duolingo, and it was a good method to avoid “fearing” learning German (btw. I saw this great interview with the creator last week). However, this wasn’t enough to understand things such as grammar or practice speaking.

Therefore the next step was taking private lessons in VOX Sprachschule an academy based in Zurich. I began these lessons when I was still in Spain (therefore, online). And although when I moved to Switzerland I was supposed to do them face to face, COVID came and I had to continue online. This I find relevant because I believe it would have been better to have direct relationships with people and even meet with other people in the corridors of the academy. However, it worked out really well.

With the private lessons, I did courses from the A1 to the B2 level. These were intensive courses where all the content of one level was condensed in 2 months, with 90-minute lessons, 3 days a week, and tons of homework. However, I must say that although I could understand and have simple conversations after these courses, I wasn’t 100% confident with my German yet. Therefore, I decided to join small-group courses for doing the B1 and B2 levels again. In this case, I could benefit from practising more speaking with the rest of the group, plus I could do these courses in Zurich (not online anymore) in what I consider the most privileged room of the academy: right on top of the Polybahn!

After these courses, I decided to try Lingoda, a very flexible online platform for learning languages in small groups or individual lessons. There are different types of subscriptions, and in some of them, you can even get back a part or the totality of the money that you paid, when finishing all the lessons you signed up for. In my case, I decided to have a subscription for 6 months (and good for my wallet: I managed to get a percentage back). However, I didn’t only get money back, but rather a really good learning experience! I must say that this platform surprised me in a very positive way. The organisation of the content, the flexibility for choosing when to do your lessons, the platform itself, and the teachers and people that I could meet there… everything was great!

Finally, when I felt I was already able to speak fluently in German (although with several mistakes), I decided to join a C1 level course. For this I went back to VOX Sprachschule, doing an online course this time for convenience, and again, it was worth it!

Practice, practice, practice…

…and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

I remember the moment when I best learned English was back in Ireland, in 2016, while I was being an Aupair. The reason behind it is that I wasn’t shy to make mistakes in front of the children I was taking care of. And by learning German, I have tried to do the same.

So if you are learning a new language, don’t be shy! Bare in mind that people will always know you are not a native German-speaking person, but they will be happy to see how you try and progress in your learning journey (without caring much about the mistakes you make). So just go for it!

Try to have moments to practice with other people, in your free time or in your work context when possible. In my case, I even signed up for a “language tandem” organised by the Language Center of the University of Zurich (more info) could connect with someone who wanted to learn Spanish, and it worked out really well. And also, immerse yourself in the language, with songs, podcasts, videos… In relation to this I could share some links with you:

Finally, I would love to share with you some grammar sheets I created (some of them with beautiful Swiss landscapes in the background) that helped me during my journey learning German. You can find them in this link.

German grammar sheet (Nomengruppe, Kasus)
Grammar sheet example (download them here)

And by the way, if you are thinking to join the academy or the platform I have explained you may want to:

  • VOX-Sprachschule: Refer to me (full name) and you will gain a voucher worth CHF 100.-.
  • Lingoda: Get €50 discount by clicking on this link. 💸

Last comments

Do you remember that at the beginning of the post I said that, in Switzerland, there is also “Swiss German”? So I have decided to learn it as well! Last week I joined an online course at Mundart Schule that so far I can’t recommend more! I’ll maybe update you about it in a future post.

Thank you for being there! 🤗

Categories: PersonalResources


Rosa · 01/12/2022 at 21:45

Congrats! You’re unstoppable! Thank you so much for this priceless information. 👌

whoiscall · 10/09/2023 at 21:49

Thanks for sharing!

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