Four languages for switzerland

The statement “I come from Switzerland” is usually followed by an appreciative look. You are briefly congratulated for chocolate, cheese and a watch, then the question follows: “Where exactly did you come from??”The answer decides whether the conversation is continued in German, French, Italian or Romansh. When this is clarified, all that remains is to hope that one understands the dialect of the other person.

The majority of the population lives with 63.5 percent in German-speaking Switzerland. Swiss German dialect is spoken in 19 of 26 cantons. The western part of the country, with the cantons of Geneva, Neuchatel, Vaud and Jura, speaks French. Bern, Valais and Fribourg are bilingual. Italian is spoken in Ticino and in the southern valleys of Graubunden. And with 0.5 percent, the Rhaeto-Romans are the smallest represented language group in Switzerland. In the canton of Graubunden, however, German and Italian are spoken in addition to Rumantsch. Within Romansh there are the subdivisions Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Vallader and Puter. Since 1982, Rumantsch Grischun has served as a so-called linguistic compromise between the five languages. The diversity of languages in Switzerland is also due to the migrants living here whose mother tongue differs from the four national languages.

How Switzerland became multilingual

Switzerland was monolingual until 1798. This did not change until the middle of the 19th century. The Romanization at the turn of the twentieth century ensured that large parts of Switzerland became Latinized. Before that, there were various pre-Indo-European languages, which were overlaid by Celtic language varieties. A language variety is an expression of a language that complements, extends or modifies it, but cannot exist on its own. Due to the linguistic varieties and the influence of Burgundian and Lombard immigrants, various regional varieties of Latin have developed. Among these, the Rhaeto-Romanic, Lombard, Franco-Provencal and French dialects are found. Later, with immigration, Alemannic dialects were added and Romance varieties spread. In the Middle Ages, the linguistic borders between German, French and Italian settled down and remained stable since the early modern times.

It is important that children learn a foreign language as early as possible and use it actively. This is the best way to learn

In Switzerland, we speak of territorial, institutional and individual multilingualism. Territorially, as it identifies with several languages at once, and in the four linguistic areas usually only one language is official. Institutionally, because the federal government recognizes languages as an official language and thus communicates with the population and finally individually, because numerous individuals in Switzerland speak the language of their own region. Switzerland is multilingual, but its population is not compulsory. French or Italian may be learned at school, but when the school years come to an end, the language skills are usually lost as well.

Multilingualism at school

Switzerland encourages the learning of foreign languages at school. In the canton of Zurich, students learn French from the fifth grade; English is often learned even earlier. This early demand for multilingualism causes mixed feelings in society. Fabienne Maag, a future secondary school teacher, says: “It is important that children learn a foreign language as early as possible and use it actively. This is the best way to learn. It is a great advantage when children grow up bilingual. While there may be language delays in the primary and foreign languages, these usually subside over time.”

Switzerland is a multifaceted country due to its linguistic diversity.

In the country of four languages, it is naturally important for parents that their children master English and French flawlessly. For this, school education is often not sufficient and those who do not grow up bilingual have to resort to private lessons or language stays abroad.

Abroad, learning a foreign language is sometimes more, sometimes less encouraged. For example, British students do not learn a foreign language in their secondary education because British education policy does not make foreign language subjects compulsory or even eliminates them altogether. When students do choose a foreign language, their focus is primarily on languages such as Spanish or Chinese. The subjects of German and French lose out in this respect.

China is quite different. The Chinese government is increasingly offering foreign language instruction to high school students. In addition to Russian and Japanese, students also learn languages such as German, French and Spanish.

Many countries – many languages

Switzerland is not the only country with several official languages. For example, Luxembourg uses German, French and Luxembourgish in official documents and in the education system. The country is a trilingual society, as most native Luxembourgers speak all three languages fluently. And Canada is also institutionally bilingual with English and French, depending on the region. Last but not least, Singapore, which has Mandarin, Malay and Tamil as official languages in addition to English. English is the lingua franca here and is used in business and education.

Switzerland is a diverse country due to its linguistic diversity. It has an impressive history, shaped by the passage of time, and has produced four national languages with numerous dialects and varieties.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *