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What to do when you feel like giving up on learning German in Switzerland

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Naomi Tsvirko - [email protected]
What to do when you feel like giving up on learning German in Switzerland
Learning languages can be tricky. Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

It's no secret that learning German in Switzerland can be difficult, but what do you do when you hit a learning wall? How do you persevere with your language learning goals? Writer Naomi Tsvirko asked an expert.


When I first moved to Switzerland I was so excited to learn a new language because I wanted to be part of the community. As a resident of Basel Stadt, it seemed like even the Canton was keen on me learning German as I was provided with six weeks of free High German lessons.

After a few weeks of intensive lessons at A1 level, I was frustrated with the 'full immersion' process (you’re only allowed to speak German in class), but I was speaking basic German in a short time and I was determined to keep learning. Although my accent was terrible and the German sentence structure still confused me, I was eager to keep learning after my six-week course ended. I continued learning German on my own accord - but then things got really tough.


The teacher introduced me to difficult German grammar known as 'German declensions', so I decided to stop going to intensive lessons. Instead, I opted for two lessons a week and a year later after moving to Basel I am halfway through the A2 level course and am feeling very discouraged.

After speaking with other international residents and my former classmates, I learned the obstacles I faced were all too common - especially for those affected by Switzerland's language requirements for gaining citizenship.


Common obstacles to learning German in Switzerland:

1.    The local Swiss community speaks Swiss German, a totally different dialect to High German which makes it difficult to practice in day to day life

2.    Most people in Switzerland speak English so it’s easier to explain things in English (when foreigners attempt High German, locals often respond in English) 

3.    As with most languages, German is not easy to learn as an adult

According to international German language teacher Heike Reinhart, many of her students have expressed the same frustrations but these 'obstacles' should be dismissed as limiting beliefs. 

“Many foreigners often give up on learning a new language in Switzerland because they believe they will return to their home country, but 70 percent of people actually reside in Switzerland for longer than they intended. That’s why it’s important to work out your desired language outcome and not give up,” says Reinhart.

As an expert who has worked with German language beginners, she says to overcome learning stumbling blocks, language learners must realise that the process is similar to buying something new.  

Image: Heike Reinhart /Instagram @international_german_teacher.

“You pay a lot of money for your German classes and in a sense, the journey is similar to that of buying a waffle maker. When you first buy the waffle maker you want to use all the time, so it’s exciting. But then your enthusiasm fades and slowly there are no waffles and then you stop using the waffle maker, this is the same when learning German,” explains Reinhart.  

Reinhart says for many learners the curriculum is too difficult and not aligned with the specific needs of a student: “Often what you need is not what you learn and textbooks can be grammar based and irrelevant to your needs.” 

How to overcome doubt and keep going when learning High German gets tough:

"It is important to find a teacher who is ready to differentiate lessons to meet your needs and teach you accordingly. But at the end of the day, your success in learning German depends on your motivation, the effort you put in with the guidance of your teacher," says Reinhart.

She also explains that the common objections to learning German can be overcome when you keep the following in mind:

1.    Swiss people like to have their own identity and although they learn High German at school and can speak and write in the language, it is avoided in social settings and their dialect is seen as more relaxed. For the Swiss, High German is often associated with formal settings.

2.    Although people speak English in Switzerland, as a language learner you should keep trying to speak German and respond in German when others speak in English. It is the best way to learn.


3.   It’s important to find the right classes for you and not be afraid to speak up if you feel your teacher is not a good match and you would like to change the teacher or class or if you need extra help.

“German is tough to learn with its 16 articles. Teachers should not put emphasis on this since you will be understood anyway. Also, it is very difficult and very important for learners to understand the dative case. I never teach the dative case when my clients have not paid yet - because they will never return, it‘s too complicated,” Reinhart jokes.

“But you can do it. You just need these key attributes - resilience, courage and a will to let go of being a perfectionist.”

Heike Reinhart is on a mission to make learning German easier with her daily tips on social media.

If you would like daily German language tips and tricks you can follow Reinhart on Instagram @international_german_teacher.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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Anonymous 2019/05/17 18:03
Question for The Local and/or readers? If one emigrates to a FRENCH-speaking zone in Switzerland, can speaking good FRENCH qualify one for Swiss citizenship? Just curious!

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