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Francophones in bilingual Swiss city cry discrimination

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Francophones in bilingual Swiss city cry discrimination
Biel/Bienne is the largest bilingual city in Switzerland. Photo: Markus Buehler-Rasom/Swiss Image.
10:58 CET+01:00
French-speaking residents of Switzerland’s biggest bilingual city, Biel/Bienne, overwhelmingly feel disadvantaged compared to their German-speaking neighbours, according to a study.
The Bilingual Barometre 2016, carried out by the Bilingual Forum, surveyed 558 people over 18 living in the city between February and June 2016. 
 
The results, published on Tuesday, revealed that a huge 87 percent of Francophone residents feel they are not treated in the same way as German-speaking residents, particularly in terms of training and the economy. 
 
That’s a big rise on eight years ago, when only 53 percent of French speakers in the city felt disadvantaged.
 
Some 40 percent of residents in the city speak French as their first language. However despite being officially a bilingual city, not everyone in Biel/Bienne speaks both languages. 
 
According to the study’s authors German is the dominant language spoken by companies in the area, and 54 percent of Francophones have had difficulties finding a job because they don’t speak good enough German. By contrast, only 16 percent of German speakers have had trouble finding a job because of their lack of French. 
 
This year’s survey also found that some 48 percent of Francophones were frustrated by communication in public spaces, up from only 23 percent in 2008.
 
Speaking to news agencies, the mayor of the city Erich Fehr said he didn’t think French-speakers were discriminated against, but that they were more demanding. 
 
“With everything that we do for Francophones, we raise their expectations,” he said.
 
Despite this negativity in the survey, bilingualism remains an important part of the identity of the city and is generally regarded in a positive manner, it found.
 
Some 76 percent of those surveyed thought there were more advantages than disadvantages to living in a bilingual city.
 
A majority of people felt bilingual schooling was very important, with most rejecting the idea – touted in some schools in German-speaking Switzerland – of teaching English as a second language instead of one of the local languages.
 
Switzerland’s long-running language row centres on several cantons in the German-speaking part of the country who don't want to teach French at primary school, preferring pupils to start learning English instead.
 
That conflicts with a 2004 federal education strategy, approved by the cantons, which decreed that two languages should be taught at primary school, at least one of which should be a Swiss national language.
 
But citing lack of resources and time, some cantons want to teach just one language and say it should be English.
 

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