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SWISS GERMAN

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.

Swiss German can be incredibly difficult to learn, but the journey is well worth it. Photo by Chris Lutke on Unsplash
Swiss German can be incredibly difficult to learn, but the journey is well worth it. Photo by Chris Lutke on Unsplash

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.”

READ MORE: 15 ways to swear like a Swiss German

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. Socialise
 
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’).
 
Socialising 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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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

The Perseids is one of the best annual meteor showers, showing their fireballs on warm summer nights in the northern hemisphere. In Switzerland, some towns want to make the event even more special by turning off their lights.

REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

Every year, skywatchers get ready for the Perseid meteor shower, which in 2022 is going to peak in the early hours of Saturday, just before dawn. At its peak, it will be possible to see about 200 shooting starts per hour if the conditions are optimal.

The Perseids, as this particular meteor shower is known, are fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Its small dust particles (not actual stars) burn up when they enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed. They can be observed worldwide but are best viewed in the northern hemisphere.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

And they may be in large parts of Switzerland. Despite the full moon blocking some of the views (don’t worry, the moon should set at around 2 am), the skies should be clear of clouds during the early hours of Saturday, according to the Swiss meteorology agency MeteoSchweiz.

Some cities also want to remove another major obstacle to stargazing: the artificial lightning that hides most of our stars, the Milky Way, and many shooting stars. The Projet Perseides invites Swiss towns to turn off municipal lights and incentivise stargazing.

The project, created in the French-speaking cantons, has gathered support mainly in western Swiss, but, according to the organisers: “Ultimately, we are targeting the whole of Europe”.

Which cities are participating?

You can find the complete list of municipalities here. The communes include Champagne, Grandson, La Chaux, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Provence, Yverdon-les-Bains, Fribourg, and more than 100 others.

The project invites the municipalities to turn off their public lightning and convince citizens and businesses to do the same – all voluntarily.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

Projet Perseides started in Orbe in 2019 when the non-profit association convinced the town and surrounding municipalities to turn out the lights. In 2020, nearly 120 Vaud cities joined the project. The following year, they were joined by cities in Valais, Fribourg and Neuchâtel, according to the site.

What if my city is not among them?

Even if your city is not a part of the project, it is still possible to watch the phenomenon. The best time would be between 2 am (when the bright full moon sets) and pre-dawn hours, so until around 5 am.

The association says: “to enjoy the night, don’t look at light sources. Let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness”. This includes ditching your phone for a few hours.

If you can visit a part of town with little artificial light, perhaps going up a mountain, for example, you also improve your chances of seeing more of the shower.

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