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Old 03.07.2015, 12:15
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Learning the language

Is it ok to live in Switzerland and not learn one of the languages. I know everyone has different circumstances and job requirements and so on. I am not saying people need to become fluent, but is it not just basic respect to learn 1 of the languages, even if it is very basic at least it shows that one is trying to fit in....?
Is it really ok to expect everyone to speak English with us? I know they can, but....?
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Old 03.07.2015, 12:21
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Re: Learning the language

Trying to start the Friday popcorn thread?

As you will see on this forum, there have been several discussions on this and everyone has his/her own opinion on this.

And in my case, yes, I do understand the local language but speak mostly high German only.
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Old 03.07.2015, 12:54
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Re: Learning the language

You should learn one of the primary languages out of respect and to integrate well here.
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Old 03.07.2015, 13:06
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Re: Learning the language

To honest it depends.

If you're here on a contract working in an English speaking office or company, intend to spend just 2 or 3 years here before you move on then I'd say no, it's probably not worth learning the local language. Basically you'll spend time and money learning a language that you won't become fluent in because of time constraints and lack of exposure, and then when you move on you'll have no need of it.

If, however, you see yourself here for the long term then you owe to yourself to get started learning as soon as possible. It'll open up doors in work and social life and simply make things easier for you.
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Old 03.07.2015, 13:43
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Re: Learning the language

If you see yourself as a guest worker I would not expect that you learn the language, if you stay for long it's better for you if you learn. It does look weird if you lived for years here and don't speak the language one bit, but it's not a matter of respect, and if you're a woman you look like one that the husbands shuts in the house. Unless you are a swiss german living in ticino since years and still zero italian, in that case you would pass for arrogant and snobbish.
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Old 03.07.2015, 13:47
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Re: Learning the language

That's really up to the individual, and if one prefers not to learn the local language, well...it's his/her choice.

But for what it's worth, I find my limited but steadily improving pidjin of High and Swiss German extremely useful on a day to day basis. And I'm just looking at how it makes MY life better, I'm not even considering the issue of respect to the local people and culture. Therefore, I struggle to understand why anyone would move to a country and not learn even a little bit of the local language. Eor even more strange, marry someone from another country and not speak each other's mother tongue, even at a basic level.

- because it's practical. I can speak to my son's teacher, the cashier at Migros, the plumber or the delivery guy. I can read a menu and buy train tickets. I never really thought about it, until the day I had to translate the menu for a friend who had been here 2 years and couldn't read any German.

- because it opens doors. Switching our son from the Lycée Français would have been daunting if I couldn't communicate with the new school's staff. And by keeping him there, I would have prevented his integration. I can participate in activities where sophisticated discussions aren't expected (sport is ok, but I'm not quite ready for a book club). And as I speak, my skills improve and I get to meet people.

-because just a little bit of German, especially mixed with a bit of Swiss German results in massive goodwill from the locals. If you try to communicate in their language, they try to help you out. Works 99% of the time. From the management company who became much more responsive when I started writing e-mails in German to the wine guy at Globus who recognises me and gives me excellent advice and the ticket controller who helps me out when I've once again bought the wrong ticket on the SBB-app, just a little bit of German and a smile goes a looooong way.

I'm not saying everyone needs to be fluent, but I sure feel much more in control of what's going in around me, and I get by without a lot less frustration than the other people I know who insist on speaking only English or French.

My long-term goal if we stay is to be able to participate in daily conversation and lunch-time chitchat as well as read the papers and go to the theater. Being fluent enough to speak and write German in a professional setting might be too ambitious, but in my line of work I might get away without it.

But on the issue of respect, I think it is fully possible to show respect to one's host country without speaking the local language, as it is pssible to speak the local language and have no consideration whatsoever for the locals.
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Old 03.07.2015, 14:35
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Re: Learning the language

it is not a matter of respect, it is a simple matter of survival. sure, you can get away without the local language for everyday living, but English will be effectively useless if you ever need to call the police (we did, twice) or an ambulance (we did, once).
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Old 03.07.2015, 14:45
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Re: Learning the language

It is about respect for me. I have moved to a new country so I will learn their language and follow their traditions/culture rather than trying to force my own.

I have a real problem with people who move somewhere and refuse to even try integrating into society.
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Old 03.07.2015, 14:47
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Re: Learning the language

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it is not a matter of respect, it is a simple matter of survival. sure, you can get away without the local language for everyday living, but English will be effectively useless if you ever need to call the police (we did, twice) or an ambulance (we did, once).
Not always! I had to file a police report recently in Zurich and as soon as the officer saw inside my C-permit, said in a wonderful American accent "Would you prefer to speak English?". The entire interview was then conducted in English, (just the written report was in German). I don't think I'd ever used English with any public official etc. ever before in Switzerland though!

It was clear that the officer wanted to put me at my ease as well as put his wonderful English, evidently learnt in North America, to good use.

When you call an emergency number, you can be put through to someone who speaks English if you ask, whilst by dialling 112 instead of the individual service's own emergency number, you should, in theory, be put through to a multi-lingual operator i.e. with at least one other national language.
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Old 03.07.2015, 19:15
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Re: Learning the language

No need to learn the foriegn lingo. Just replace 'w' with 'v', and occasional 'th' vith 'z' and you shall see zat you are easily understood. Add random 'li' to ze end of short verds and clear your throat several timez in ze sentence to sound cchhhxxxxkkkk authentic. Passat.catastropheraddverdstogether technic.
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Old 05.07.2015, 13:16
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Re: Learning the language

Well, I can only speak english, been here roughly 2 months now, picking up a few words of french here and there.

So far, it hasn't been much of an issue for me. Apart from buying stuff at the supermarkets where I usually just look at the price on the display and pay.

However, I do work in an environment where the language spoken is english though.
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Old 05.07.2015, 14:43
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Re: Learning the language

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Well, I can only speak english, been here roughly 2 months now, picking up a few words of french here and there.

So far, it hasn't been much of an issue for me. Apart from buying stuff at the supermarkets where I usually just look at the price on the display and pay.

However, I do work in an environment where the language spoken is english though.
In Zürich, you'll get by in English 90% of the time, and you might never encounter a major problem. Bit the remaining 10% can be annoying, especially if you stay for a while:
- arranging for delivery/work at your place over the phone. In our early days, I've had a few interesting conversations with people where I had no idea what I had agreed to (replacement? repair? washing machine or dryer?) or when.
- the odd German-only menu in a restaurant. Unlike Japan, there are no pictures to help you chose.
- the important phone call where you struggle to get your message through to your counterpart. I've spent 1/2 day trying to find the right person at the city police, and until I reached that person I had to explain my case at least 4 times, always in German. Didn't help that the guy I had to speak to spoke excellent English, I ha to get to him first... Same with doctors/hospital,myouncannbe lucky and the person speaks English well, moderately lucky and the person speaks English badly but is very helpful, or you can be unlucky and get the burse who will only speak Swiss German.
- sometimes it's even more difficult when you're counterpart isn't Swiss. I've had frustrating phone (again the phone, my nightmare) conversations with Pizza Dieci over a lost delivery; unless I could switch to Serbo-Croatian, it was Swiss German or Swiss German if I ever wanted to get my pizza. The same with our cleaning agency, I don't speak Portugese, the manager doesn't speak French or English, but at least she speaks and write correct High German.

But it is fully possible to stay here several tears without learning German (High or Swiss), it's just very frustrating.
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Old 05.07.2015, 15:00
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Re: Learning the language

Lord knows, lots and lots of people don't learn any more German than "Do you speak English?" and "Zwei grosse Bier, bitte". Drives me batty. If you are here for anything longer than a couple of Semesters, make an effort - anything less is both rude and selfish.


Even just from a practical viewpoint. If you don't learn any German you will be signing contracts that you cannot read, not be able to understand what is being said at parent visiting day at school, or what your neighbors say. Even a modicum of German reduces the stress level significantly. Imagine you have a minor car accident, which is already a high stress level - what if you have bad luck and neither the other driver, nor the policeman speak English?


It is stressful enough to deal with a different culture, roadsigns, customs - not being able to communicate will leave you feeling isolated, possibly even paranoid.


In Zürich it is actually difficult to learn German/Swiss German. Almost everyone speaks English well. At the very beginning I went into the SBC (now UBS) having practiced all the way to the bank presented my card and said "Ich möchte 200 Franken von mein Konto abziehen, bitte." The teller immediately replied in perfect Oxford English "Would you like that in Hundreds or Fifties, sir?"
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Old 05.07.2015, 15:10
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Re: Learning the language

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it is not a matter of respect, it is a simple matter of survival. sure, you can get away without the local language for everyday living, but English will be effectively useless if you ever need to call the police (we did, twice) or an ambulance (we did, once).
That's good to know. I like the idea that tourists and people who have just moved here will be abandoned and left to die.
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Old 05.07.2015, 15:32
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Re: Learning the language

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That's good to know. I like the idea that tourists and people who have just moved here will be abandoned and left to die.

In _most_ cases you will manage with English, but Sod's Law determines that in an emergency you will end up with one of the 10% that doesn't speak English on the other end of the line. When your adrenaline level is already sky high any impediment makes it worse.


You don't have to be able to write like Goethe, but the ability to say Where you are, What has happened and How many are injured are the bare minimum. Anything past that widens your own horizon.
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Old 05.07.2015, 15:44
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Re: Learning the language

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That's good to know. I like the idea that tourists and people who have just moved here will be abandoned and left to die.
I would assume that one can convey urgency in pretty much any language, and the relevant emergency services would most certainly understand "Help!" and your address if you called. But you might have problems filing a police report if you had a car accident, or describe symptoms to the ambulance drivers.

Or if like me, you have to call the central office of the traffic police because you have been waiting for 500 CHF worth of speeding tickets (loooong story) for several weeks and you're tired of being stopped by every police car you drive by (strangely, always on your way to pick up Junior at school), you might feel like you're calling The Place that Sends You Mad in the Twelve Tasks of Asterix.

And I second the thing about contracts. Our lease is in German, as are most of the contracts we have signed since getting here. Being able to read the local language is definitely a big step towards avoiding legal disputes in the future.
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Old 05.07.2015, 16:31
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Re: Learning the language

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I have a real problem with people who move somewhere and refuse to even try integrating into society.
Speaking only for myself, I know that there are people who have trouble integrating into society of their NATIVE country where is NO language barrier. It's possible that the people you are talking about have the same problem.
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Old 05.07.2015, 16:41
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Re: Learning the language

There's also a category of people (of which I'm a member) who desperately WANT to show this respect by being able to speak the lingo, and who spend thousands of CHFs and hours trying to reach that level of cultural politeness, but who find it extremely difficult to make lasting progress.

I hate the thought that I'm considered disrespectful by not being fluent in German (not to mention Swiss German), and I hate the sense of fear I feel when the phone rings, but despite trying lots of different methods, I continue to struggle after 5 years or so.

But I'm not giving up.
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Old 05.07.2015, 17:07
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Re: Learning the language

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it is fully possible to stay here several tears without learning German (High or Swiss), it's just very frustrating.
Everz time my wife goes to Zurich, she gets by just fine with Italian!

Even though she's technically from Zurich.

Tom
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Old 05.07.2015, 20:58
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Re: Learning the language

For me it's really about making your day-to-day life easier. I found that knowing even basic German helped with that, and people for sure appreciated the effort. Plus, you never know when you need the language later on in life...I've moved on from Switzerland, but my soon to be husband is German, and his mom speaks no English, so at the end, it comes in handy. Plus, even though our worldwide business language is English, I've gotten "brownie points" from current and prospective German-speaking clients for trying to bridge the language gap for them a few times (even with my limited German).
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