Switzerland is more than a land of silky chocolate, cheese fondue, cuckoo clocks, and yodeling. It is a place of rural beauty and epic adventures. And with four national languages, Switzerland is the perfect place for language study abroad. While walking the streets, you’ll catch tidbits of Italian, French, and Romansh, but the most unique tongue you’ll hear is Swiss German. Find a linguistic alpine adventure – strap your skis on during the weekend and cozy up in a cafe to study during the week. Anything is possible if you choose to learn German in Switzerland; it’s German, with a twist!
In the heart of the Alps and nestled between France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, Switzerland seduces travelers and adventurers of all types. The country is known for its extreme sports, epic scenery, high quality of life, and diverse culture. Whether you want to practice your Swiss German on the ski slopes, hiking trails, or cafés in wooden cabins, you’ll find it all in Switzerland.
With its hard-working financial center and artsy edge, Zurich is known as one of Europe’s trendiest destinations, as well as one of the world’s most livable cities. This German-speaking city in north-central Switzerland pulses with culture. Old factories have been converted to cultural art centers and the city overflows with museums, galleries, and theaters. German language students can experience full language immersion in Zurich, as German is the most commonly used tongue. Get lost in the art, explore beautiful lakesides and trails, let your hair down at the Street Parade (Europe’s most famous techno parade featured in August), or dance the night away with the city’s thriving nightlife.
Located on the border of Switzerland, France, and Germany, Basel is another popular location for German language programs in Switzerland, as well as water lovers. It may not be coastal, but with its great location along the Rhine River, Basel is the closest Switzerland has to a seaport. German language students will fall in love with the city’s engaging Old Town, which is filled with cobbled streets and colorful buildings. Explore museums galore, relax along the river, and try not to miss some of Europe’s best winter carnivals while studying German in Basel.
While most German language programs in Switzerland will take place in primarily German-speaking cities, Fribourg offers full German language immersion classes, despite its proximity to France. The Sarine River splits this medieval city down the middle, with west bank inhabitants speaking French and east bankers speaking German. While the language divide offers a challenge for German language students, you’ll definitely fit in with the high student population. Make new pals and experience a city full of originality, medieval castles, Renaissance art, and lively nightlife.
German Language Programs in Switzerland
From the moment you arrive in Switzerland, European languages will dance in your ears. While language learners will face the challenge of hearing multiple different dialects, there are many German language programs in Switzerland that offer full immersion into Swiss German. Simply surround yourself with native German speakers and explore the German cantons throughout Switzerland.
No matter your language proficiency or trip length, there is a German language program to suit your wants and needs in Switzerland. Many language students choose to take classes at a German language school, where German classes are offered every weekday, for four or five hours per day, in groups of 20 students on average. German language schools in Switzerland often provide apartment rentals or other housing for students. Ride bikes to class, practice writing and conversational German skills with fellow students, and have weekends free to explore and practice with locals.
For those looking for a more intensive language learning experience, try private tutoring. German language learners who choose this route can still live on their own in beautiful Swiss cities, as they spend their time meeting one-on-one with German language instructors. Private German language classes in Switzerland are perfect for accommodating to the specific needs of each student. You can schedule according to your availability and take up to eight hours per day of German lessons if you’d like. If you plan to stay and study German in Switzerland more long-term, consider taking shorter classes, combined with other cultural classes and excursions around the country.
The most popular, and most effective, German language programs in Switzerland offer students the chance to live in a homestay. What better way to immerse yourself in Swiss culture, break out of your comfort zone, and practice your German language skills daily than by living with a Swiss host family? Your new family members will become personal teachers, and you’ll have the opportunity to practice German while taking on family responsibilities and deepening your understanding of Swiss culture. After all, your experience in Switzerland is about more than just language study, it’s about fitting in with the Swiss people. In no time at all, you’ll be living the high life, testing yourself with adrenaline-pumping pursuits, drowning in chocolate, and saying “broscht!” to the best teachers.
German Subtleties & Nuances in Switzerland
Whether you’re a newbie to the German language or you’re a Standarddeutsch expert, brace yourself for a truly unique language experience studying German in Switzerland. Schwiizerdütsch, or Swiss German, is a tongue of its own, and German language students should be prepared to learn a dialect spoken only in this small part of the world.
Schwiizerdütsch is a dialect of Standard German, but to a casual observer, it may sound like a completely different language. While knowing some German will help language students in Switzerland (everyone in German-speaking areas will be able to read, write, and understand Standard German), the language you’ll hear on the streets will sound quite different.
The pronunciation and grammar, for example, are significantly different, with rounded vowels and lots of slang. It’s almost as if the German-speaking Swiss wanted to prove they weren’t German, adopting French words whenever possible. For example, instead of greeting with “guten tag” or thanking each other with “danke,” they throw in some French with “grüezi” and “merci vilmal.”
Another quirk to Schwiizerdütsch is that it doesn’t exist as a written language. This is especially challenging for those taking classes at German language schools in Switzerland. Most often, you’ll practice your writing skills in Standard German or Swiss Standard German, but both of these are different from the language spoken on the street. For this reason, it could be said that Schwiizerdütsch is a language entirely composed of slang, and it will be nearly impossible to fit in with locals unless you practice with them.
Benefits & Challenges
Switzerland truly lives by the rule that “ai Sprooch isch nie gnueg;” one language is never enough. With multiple foreign national languages, German language students may find it difficult to fully immerse in one language. You may confuse your language skills when you hear Italian or French, but know this: your ears will never get bored!
Switzerland is one of the few European countries that don’t use the Euro. Their national currency is the Swiss Franc, which means travelers will have to deal with hassle of currency changes if they want to travel around Europe. The good news? Switzerland is nestled between several different countries, so Europe will truly be at your fingertips and you’ll be able to hop on a train for an international adventure.
At its core, Switzerland is a country of harmony and peace. Combine that with clean air, gorgeous scenery, and endless opportunity for language learning, and you have the perfect place for German language study abroad. Wilkomme to Switzerland, where you can quench your sweet tooth craving, wake up to views of the Alps every morning, and learn the quirkiest of languages!