• Switzerland's news in English

Switzerland lags behind for English proficiency

Malcolm Curtis · 7 Nov 2013, 23:00

Published: 07 Nov 2013 23:00 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The world’s largest ranking of English skills puts Switzerland well behind Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and even nations in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

The third EF English Proficiency Index, released on Wednesday, ranks Switzerland in 16th place among 60 non-Anglophone countries.

Despite the importance in the country of international organizations and multinational companies that use English as the language of business, the Swiss are behind such other European nations as Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Germany and Latvia, according to the index.

It also trails Asian jurisdictions Malaysia and Singapore.

The top seven countries, judged to have a “very high proficiency” for English, are Sweden, followed by Norway, the Netherlands, Estonia, Denmark, Austria and Finland.

The Swiss are noted for being multilingual, but English is not yet as high a priority as in these countries, the index results indicate.

Switzerland, which has four national languages — French, German, Italian and Romansh — is ranked at the bottom of 10 countries judged to have “high proficiency” English, just ahead of Portugal.

German dialect is spoken by 64 percent of the population, with French accounting for 20 percent and Italian about seven percent, while Romansh is spoken by less than one percent.

Although many Swiss speak two or more languages, the country is divided into linguistic regions where English sometimes becomes the common language between, say, French- and German-speakers.

Retailers often use English words to market products nationally to avoid having to use the three official languages.

But English does not have an official status in Switzerland.

And the recent decision by the state-owned Swiss Broadcasting Corporation to shut down World Radio Switzerland (WRS), the country’s only national English-language station, has made many Anglophones in the country question the federal government’s commitment to what is increasingly regarded as the global language.

(A private operator, Anglo Media, has taken over the WRS name but it does not have an FM licence and is focusing its coverage, at least initially, on the Lake Geneva region.)

On the plus side, Education First, the organization which produced the English Proficiency Index, noted that proficiency in English is trending upwards in Switzerland, based on the statistics it has collected.

EF said it bases its index and comparisons from two previous reports on testing of five million adults between 2007 and 2012.

“Year by year, economies are more globalized, work more delocalized, and information more decentralized,” EF said in an executive summary of its report.

“A shared language is a necessary tool when communication is no longer tied to geography,” its says.

Story continues below…

“English is that tool, now more than ever.”

The group notes that the seven countries with the strongest English “are small European nations, whose size compels them to adopt an international outlook”.

While Switzerland may be behind other countries it remains well ahead of France, which is marked as the dunce in the class among European countries.

Ranked 35th in the index, France is one of only a handful of countries where English proficiency scores have dropped in the past two decades.

One of the factors contributing to this is the lack of exposure to English in a country where foreign languages— and English in particular — are officially regarded as a threat to French.

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Could Montreux host the 2026 Games? Photo: Ivo Scholz/Swiss Tourism

Montreux is to put itself forward as the host city for the 2026 winter Olympics as part of a potential bid by the cantons of Valais and Vaud.

Geneva car share scheme could help reduce city traffic
Catch a Car is aimed at short hops within a city. Photo: Catch a Car

Catch a Car, already in Basel, launches in Geneva next month.

Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Female employees in Switzerland earn 19.3 percent less than their male colleagues. File photo: Randy Kashka

Switzerland's gender pay gap means from today, Friday October 21st, women in the country will effectively be working for free for the rest of 2016.

Swiss luxury watches stolen in Paris raid
Police outside the Girard-Perregaux watch store on Thursday. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

The 10 Girard-Perregaux watches are worth half a million euros in total.

Brother-in-law arrested over murder of Swiss teacher
The victim worked in a school in Stabio, near the town of Mendrisio. Photo: Oliver Graf

The primary school teacher was found dead in Ticino earlier this week.

Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Designed to house 20,000 people, the bunker was built in and over two motorway tunnels. Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben

The Local takes a tour of the Sonnenberg bunker in Lucerne, opened 40 years ago at the height of the Cold War.

Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
File photo: Renato Bagattini/Swiss Tourism

Skiers in Switzerland pay the highest prices for their ski passes of anywhere in Europe, according to research.

Eco group fights Bern over wind farm plans
There are currently more than 30 wind farms in Switzerland. Photo: Alpiq

Wind turbines are “gigantic and destructive” machines, says Paysage Libre Suisse.

Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Antoni Da Campo will now carry out his military service. Photo: Antoni Da Campo

A Swiss man who was told he would not be accepted for military service because of his strict veganism has finally succeeded in making the army change its mind.

Geneva terror suspects to receive compensation
File photo: Emran Kassim

The Swiss public prosecutor has dropped the case against them.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Photo: File
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
jobs available