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Tips for learning Swiss German from those who have

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Tips for learning Swiss German from those who have
There a number of apps for learning Swiss German. File photo: Depositphotos
10:08 CEST+02:00
What is Swiss German, or Schwiizertüütsch, anyway?

Also called Mundart or Dialekt, Swiss German refers to a group of Alemannic dialects spoken by around two thirds of the Swiss population. Pronunciation, word choice and intonation differ from canton to canton. 

With no definitive written form, Swiss-German is sometimes called Schwiizertüütsch or Schwizertitsch. A majority of people from 19 out of the 26 cantons speak some form of Swiss German. 

Read also: Swiss German tips and quirks: your introduction to 'Dialekt'

According to experienced language teacher Aurélia Marin, the best way to speak and learn Swiss German is to practice in as many ways as possible.

“The best tip I give my students is to speak and listen to Swiss German as much as possible,” she told The Local. 

Here are nine ways to help you improve your Swiss German, with tips from those who have already mastered the language:

1.   Learn High German first

‘High German’ refers to the language’s geographical scope. It is used officially in the central and southern highlands of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Having a good grasp of High German first should make learning Swiss German easier.

“High German was useful for me professionally and Swiss German, socially,” says Lina, a retired civil engineer based in Zurich. Pavel, a Slovak national working at a Swiss bank, told The Local that many years of learning High German has helped him focus on Swiss-specific expressions and pronunciation.

Many language schools offer High German courses, such as Migros KlubschuleHallo DeutschschuleEB Zurich or Flying Teachers

2.   Immerse yourself in the language

According to a 2014 York University study, immersion can help language students learn a new language more effectively.  

For Ian McCarthy, an Australian who has been living in Switzerland for 18 years, learning Swiss German came about when his colleagues refused to speak anything else. 

Ian had studied high German for five years and was fully immersed in the Swiss-German at work so he is now able to communicate in the dialect very well. 

Ian’s advice to others wanting to master the language is “immersion…it’s that simple.”

3.   Listen and don’t be afraid to talk

You’ll only improve if you speak – so don’t worry about making mistakes, just get talking. Start by impressing locals with Grüezi and Grüezi Mitenand to say hello. When sitting down to dinner, throw in an En Guete, meaning Bon appetit

For Franziska Zschokke-Zgraggen who grew up in the United States, having Swiss ancestry didn’t help in learning the dialect, so she made it her mission to listen and mimic the sounds others around her made when speaking Swiss-German.

Read also: Seven English words Swiss Germans get delightfully wrong

“I learned it by being with people who didn’t speak English, which is my first language. We were speaking German to one another and I realised that we were all speaking a second language (technically) so I started to mimic them in the way that they pronounced words and formed sentences,” she says. 

“It did help that I had learned German because I could link German and Swiss German and certain things made more sense, but not being able to speak in my language was the best way for me to learn Swiss German, without another choice, I learned it fairly quickly.”

4. Join a tandem class
 
Since Swiss German is a spoken craft, focus on speaking skills by joining conversation classes and language meet-ups, advises Verena, an Austrian food engineer based in Zurich. She goes to meetup.com event Language Exchange with Pub Crawl Zurich. Another fun meet-up focuses on learning through listening to Swiss German pop songs
 
“For people wanting to learn Swiss German, going to these events is helpful because native speakers are there who are willing to help you learn. You can find tandem partners and it’s a fun and pressure-free way of conversing, and asking for help with grammar or pronunciation,” she told The Local. 
 
It’s easy to create your own meet-up – offer your native language skills in exchange for someone else’s Swiss German skills. Many Swiss universities, including Zurich and Basel, offer a ‘tandem’ language exchange service.
 
5. Socialize
 
Why not join a ski club this winter? Photo: oneinchpunch/Depositphotos
 
Join a local Verein (club) or take fitness classes in Swiss German. Anny, a psychologist originally from the Philippines, recommends Froue Z’Morge, (‘breakfast with ladies’).
 
Socializing with Swiss German-speaking neighbours works wonders, says Melody, a wellness practitioner in Lucerne. The annual Neighbours’ Day held in many Swiss cities is a chance to get to know them, if you don’t already. After a few drinks, trying out Swiss German diminutives like Schätzli (little darling), Chätzli (little kitty), or Brötli (a small piece of bread) can be a lot of fun (the High German equivalents are Schätzchen, Kätzchen, or Brötchen).
 
 
6. Take formal Swiss German classes
 
Sign up for classes in Swiss German at www.schweizerdeutsch.info, or take an online course.
 
However, take care to always focus on one dialect. Marco, a Swiss local from Zurich insists, “stick with one teacher, otherwise you end up with a weird mix of dialects that will affect your speaking”. 
 
7. Consume local culture and Swiss media 
 
Winterthur-based expat Monette listens to the local news and watches the Swiss edition of a television crime drama called Tatort on SRF on Sundays. Casey, based in the canton of Aargau, attends church services delivered in Swiss German. Text and email your Swiss friends or colleagues. Listen to the radio and be on the alert for Swiss expressions and songs.
 
8. Read the right books
 
Visit your local bookstore to pick up helpful books such as Swiss German Booklet or Chuchichäschtli Schwiizerdütsch Büechli, which lists words in High German, Swiss German and English. Another useful book is Hoi: Your (New) Swiss German Survival Guide by Sergio J. Lievano and Nicole Egger. 
 
9. Use Swiss German language apps 
 
Betsy, a Cambridge English teacher based in St. Gallen, uses apps like Grüezi Switzerland, utalk Swiss German, Swissdish, Schweizerdeutsch Lernen (from High German to local dialect), and Mundart (a Swiss German dictionary with 1000 entries and counting).  
 

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