Swiss citizenship For Members

Is your French good enough for Swiss residency and citizenship?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 22 Jul, 2022 Updated Fri 22 Jul 2022 09:29 CEST
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At least some knowledge of French grammar is required. Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP

Before you can get a work permit in Switzerland or get naturalised, one of the primary requirements is knowledge of the local language of the region where you reside. If you live in the Suisse Romande, is your French assez bon?

No matter which of Switzerland's linguistic regions you live in — German, French or Italian — you need to have a sufficient level of proficiency in the local language in order to qualify for a work / residency permit and, later on, apply for citizenship.

While Romansh is also a Swiss language, it is only spoken by a handful of people in the canton of Graubünden, where Swiss-German is the predominant language.

Do you live in a German-speaking part of Switzerland? Then test out whether your German is good enough for Swiss citizenship here. 

TEST: Is your German good enough for Swiss citizenship?

A Swiss Federal Supreme Court case from 2022 held that a person is required to demonstrate language proficiency in the administrative language of the municipality in which they apply, even if they are a native speaker of a different Swiss language. 

Being able to be conversant is important not only in order to communicate with the French speakers in your area, but also because language proficiency means you are successfully integrated which, according to the State Secretariat for Migration, means you “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society".

In some cases, integration counts more in favour of naturalisation than in-depth knowledge of history or politics.

The required proficiency level depends on the kind of work / residency permit you are applying for, and is determined by the European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERF).

So how good should your French  be if you live (or are going to settle) in Geneva, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel, Jura, Fribourg, or the French-speaking part of Bern?

A1 oral level (required for temporary admission / permit F and residence permit B)

This very basic level means you know the foundation of the French language, including conjugations (j’ai, tu as, nous avons, etc), auxiliaries (être, avoir), numbers, etc.

You should also be able to form simple sentences and have a simple conversation.

A2 (required for permanent residence / permit C)

This more advanced spoken level (along with A1 written level) means you should master the finer points of French grammar, such as the passé composé — for instance, j’ai mangé, nous avons acheté, etc.

This level means you can understand and use common expressions, as well as ask and answer simple questions about everyday life.

B1 (permanent residence granted after five years / permit C)

At this spoken level, along with A2 spoken level, you should be able to have a fine-tuned grammar, including tenses like imparfait (j’allais, elle dormait, etc) and conditionnel (je regarderais, il mangerait).

If you master this level, you can communicate without major problems, and converse with all kinds of people — be it privately or professionally — with relative ease.

The detailed requirements are outlined in the following table.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

Note that citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements.

This is what you can expect on the test:

Oral comprehension – for this section you will have to listen to audio of French people talking. The format varies, sometimes it could be a news report, an interview or a recorded discussion, and it will be played at least twice.

Here are some sample questions from a past B1 paper, after the candidates had listened to a short clip of a man named Paul talking about his holidays – click here to listen to the audio. 

Quel a été le principal inconvénient du voyage de Paul ?

  • La nourriture
  • La chaleur 
  • La longuer du voyage

Combien de pays ont-ils visités ?

  • Cinq
  • Six
  • Seize

Quel sentiment éprouve Paul?

  • Ii est déçu de son voyage et content d’être rentré 
  • Il est content de son voyage et regrette d’être rentré 
  • Il est content de son voyage et content aussi d’être rentré

Reading – you have 45 minutes to read two documents provided and then answer questions about them. The questions are usually a mix of multiple choice and longer answers.

Here are some sample questions from a past B1 paper, relating to a report about child soldiers, and the charity groups attempting to help them – you can read the document here.

1. Ce document a pour but de:

  • Dénoncer les horreurs de la guerre
  • Informer sur les actions pour les droits de l’enfant
  • Faire signer un texte pour les droits de l’enfant

2. Citez trois formes du soutien proposées aux enfants soldats par les ONG

3. Combien d’enfants sont membres du SPLA.

Oral discussion – the examiner will ask you questions about the documents that you have read for the reading section, you have an extra 10 minutes before the oral section begins to prepare your response.

You will begin by introducing yourself and talking about your work, family or hobbies – the examiner will then ask you some questions about yourself before moving on to questions about the document.

Written – in this section you have 30 minutes to write an answer to a question. You must respond in 160 to 180 words. Here is a sample of the type of question asked:

A votre avis, quels ont été le ou les changements les plus importants des vingt dernières années dans votre pays?

(In your opinion, what are the most important changes that have taken place in your country in the past 20 years).

You can find the full exam paper with the correct answers (at the bottom) HERE.

What about English?

While it is widely spoken in Switzerland, is not an official language, and though it is accepted (and sometimes even required in certain professional situations), it will not ease your way toward work / residency  permits, and even less so toward citizenship.

More information is available at the following link. 

Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

Bonne chance!

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/07/22 09:29

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