EXPLAINED: Tips for learning Swiss German from those who have
Swiss German, or Schwiizertüütsch, can be incredibly difficult to learn. We spoke to several readers who have learned it to get an insight on how they did it.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”