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Old 27.07.2016, 19:24
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Whats the point of High German?

Not sure if someone mentioned that here before but I gonna give it a go and see any "fresh" opinions about this subject which makes me lose sleep over it for the last year.

I'm in Zurich for the last 18 months or so, and so far I find it really, really hard to get around things and "manage" my life here when it comes to day-to-day living. I'm in all OK situation here in all aspects, apart from German language skills. I do know simple survival sentences and I registered in A level course and it didnt make any difference really. I'm still inconfident about trying my German language skills, and whenver I get the chance, I get knocked by some non-standard answer or followup question that I did not learn or hear somewhere else, so I give up and ask in English. An incedent once happened when I asked the waitress for coffee in German and then she asked if I want suger, and subconsciously I said: yes, please. She opened her eyes in confusion and said: do you speak german or english? I said I'm new in german and wanted to practice it, hence I asked in german.. She replied: this is not the place where you practice your german. That was a knockout in the knees of my ego ..

I moved on, and wanted to learn more because my work putting pressure on me to attend meetings. My work is purely swiss german when it comes to communication (apart from formal emails and when other externals demand high german, especially when they are native germans who are new to CH).

So, what I learned outside and what I learned on my own, is not something I would hear in zurich (apart from announcements), so I feel inconfident, and not sure if I should ask to say the same thing but in high german because Im not sure that I would even know it in german at all, and then collapse and say: I was joking, lets switch to English!


Im dating a "swiss" lady, who would ask and order and do everything on behalf of me - of course, all in swiss chaaaaas style. She is so fast in speaking and also mumbles a lot, and when I ask her to slow down so I hear and understand, she says she cant because she feels people wont wait for her (i.e typical swiss mentality of time is money). She keeps encouraging me and correcting me (especially grammar wise) and I appreciate that, although she can not describe rules and bases because she was born speaking this language.

**Despairing Stage**
Today I got a message in swiss german by mistake, and I pushed it to her to understand what it meant.. it basically contained absolutely nothing from high german apart from "denn" - she translated that into 3 english words and also 3 german words and non of them were connected or relative or pronounced near the swiss german!!!! the sentence was as simple as something like "Paddy eats Apple" (not exact sentence). Then I asked her: wouldnt it contain this and that, and she said: it should in high german but not in swiss german.. so basically no grammar at all and totally messed up! plus no normal german word in it! it felt like a total unknown language or scribbles made by 6 months old kid.

What's the point of High German if all used here is just "swiss german" and it has no foundation or basis or rules.. it feels like those people talk on their on way, and others do the same, and all pretend to understand each other! I do not want a language to just "survive", I want to speak and make all day to day dealings with the local used language, but I can not reach that language because I do not know where my german stands at first to be able to ask them to translate the swiss into german (if they ever become friendly to answer such question)


It kills me inside more and more everyday when I get overwhelmed by the language and lack of practice. my GF practices with me for 2 or 3 mins once every 2 or 3 weeks and then we give up and move to english. She always says we should only communicate in german, but 2 mins later, one of us switches to english.


Anybody in same situation or had previous similar experience and got over it? I would love to hear from ya! Only thing left to me is just to leave the country. I would have been fluent in german (speaking other languages) in a year if it was in germany, simply because they do speak german and not strange language in street and day-to-day and then only newspaper is in german!

Last edited by trainspotter; 27.07.2016 at 19:35. Reason: typo
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Old 27.07.2016, 19:42
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

My answer was always , I don't understand dialekt, I am English but I understand High German. The reply and following conversation was almost always in English rather than HG. Get comfortable with HG and then you will find the local variant is a) very different b) much easier. Präteritum doesn't even exist in SG, so that's one less thing to practice. The expression 'Nochmals, aber langsamer' proved useful more than once. I am surprised at the coffee bar incident to be honest. Finally SG is not an official written language, write it any way you want as long as it looks like 'wo' i' sez'. Every place I have worked here, all official communications have been in HG, the one time not, my Swiss born 50+ colleague went mental and screamed at the sender 'I was never educated in this!'

Good luck
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Old 27.07.2016, 19:52
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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Im dating a "swiss" lady, who would ask and order and do everything on behalf of me .
I am married to a Swiss German, who speaks no German of any kind, so I have to do everything that involves German on her behalf.

I once told a former girlfrind that I spoke some Swiss-German.

"No, you don't, you speak Schriftdeutsch with a Swiss accent"

Tom
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Old 27.07.2016, 19:58
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

I've met so many people here who speak the worse German because they learned Swiss German first, after 20 years. Some of that Swiss German stuff is hard to unlearn when trying to learn German.

Typically, High German is for reading, writing or official stuff. Swiss German is really for socialising, AFAIC. I don't think its a good idea to try to learn them both at the same time. The Swiss will understand High German well enough.
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:06
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

Phos.. and how did you learn that german without practicing? I assume when people move to new country, they would like to integrate, socialise, understand and talk and make friends etc. all that with "conservative CH" is already hard, let a lone lack of swiss german! I hope you managed 20 years on your own
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:08
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

Don't despair.. keep going with HG! Have fun.. get your girlfriend to teach you sexy swiss phrases - love to learn, learn to love, mush it all together, but never give up.

I once got a a group of old ladies in a Frauenverein to teach me Swiss swear words. They were a little bit hestistant to begin with, but once they got going, we all laughed so much I forgot I was learning something..

This vid is good

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Old 27.07.2016, 20:12
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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Don't despair.. keep going with HG! Have fun.. get your girlfriend to teach you sexy swiss phrases - love to learn, learn to love, mush it all together, but never give up.

I once got a a group of old ladies in a Frauenverein to teach me Swiss swear words. They were a little bit hestistant to begin with, but once they got going, we all laughed so much I forgot I was learning something..

This vid is good

I could recongise "arshloch" already from the video.. only ironic thing is: youtube auto subtitles assumed its ITALIAN LANGUAGE!! FML
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:15
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

I agree with JoeUK. Get High German under your belt. The reason that the Swiss call it "Schriftdeutsch" is that it is the language of correspondence(except for text messages and some club newsletters). If you want to read a newspaper, contract, official communication, or watch anything other than regional news, that communication will be in High German.

The Coffee bar incident? Don't forget, her English may not be good enough to have come up with anything better than what she did (she may have meant "Flirt with me", "Don't flirt with me", or "My German isn't good enough to teach you". When the pinnacle of your linguistic skill is "Where are the blue pencils?" there are only a limited number of scenarios where this is of practical use.

With respect to your gf, please don't expect her to teach you. Ask her to correct you when you make a significant error, but go to a teacher for teaching. She may not be all that comfortable herself with Schriftdeutsch.


Be aware that although the vast majority of people who speak Swiss German understand High German (How else would they read the paper, or their income tax returns, or the voting instructions?), many of them are not comfortable speaking it. You can lead a linguistically complete life here speaking high German and listening in Swiss German. This includes political debate, ordering stuff in a shop, and arguments with neighbors.


You will go through a progression starting with "Sprechen Sie Englisch", to cribbing fixed questions and sentences ahead of time before you set out to do some task, feeling comfortable that you can get by if you have your pocket Langenschied with you, reading the paper/watching the news (initially with rescanning and rewind), leaving your Langenschied at home.


Once you have reached the point where you leave the Langenschied at home then you have really begun to learn German. Up until then you have been translating everything into English. Once you have learned how to ask in German what a sentence or word means you will have reached the point where children are before they go to school.


Swiss German comprehension, will come relatively unnoticed if English is your mother tongue (they are so close that the Noel Coward song is representative).


Read, read, read. At least you can already tie your shoes and do arithmetic.
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:16
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

Oh.. I would like to add: When you want to pay, the locals speak perfect english, but 5 mins later when you have an "issue" with that thing you paid for, suddenly they do not speak or understand english at all

This is one simple example why Im sure that Swiss german is needed or else I would be dead in 20 years by heart attack while waiting for my swiss german or german to be nice enough for a "debate"
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:17
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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...What's the point of High German if all used here is just "swiss german" and it has no foundation or basis or rules...
High German is only used because Swiss German lacks rules and varies so much. After all, a country needs to have some sort of standard for legal documents, etc. Otherwise I think the Swiss would love to ditch HG altogether.

I find it fascinating that Swiss German speakers understand each other even when from different areas, and they can tell by the words chosen where the person is from even if the word a Basler would choose is nothing at all like a Bernese would choose.

The way I get along in daily life is to use a hybrid approach. I've listened carefully and I understand a lot of Swiss German, particularly if I ask people to repeat things and slow down. Then I reply in High German. I don't dare to attempt SG. My neighbors talk to me mostly in SG, but if they see me with a blank look as they're talking, they switch to HG and then I usually get it.
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:24
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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Phos.. and how did you learn that german without practicing? I assume when people move to new country, they would like to integrate, socialise, understand and talk and make friends etc. all that with "conservative CH" is already hard, let a lone lack of swiss german! I hope you managed 20 years on your own
I think courses are a great way of becoming aware of the grammar. Level A is very basic, and level B1 is more comprehensive grammar. I think B1 and B2 gets you the semantics of german, and level C would get you the elegance of using the right words.

Besides taking courses, you still need to get lots of practices, which means making a lot of mistakes. There are so much more aspects to a verb to be learned in german, as well as which other word they go with. These you would only learn through experience.

But I wouldn't be so hard on yourself for mistakes. The key is to get the correct point across. Like I said, so many here speak it so badly anyway.

I read a lot in German, and have started writing a lot. But because I work in an international environment, we all speak and write in english. Truth be told, you can survive here with English.

In conversations, I respond back in German. I can't get myself to speak Swiss German without sounding like I'm mocking it. My wife and children are Swiss, and so is the extended family. So I do understand what they say, I just don't try to speak it back. I defer to my wife on those things when I really have too.

I should say though that Swiss German is a key to socialising with the Swiss. Naturally, they would be more comfortable and accepting of a person when they speak their language. Otherwise, they may just take you for a tourist. Here again, my wife covers that credibility gap for me.
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:27
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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and how did you learn that german without practicing?
Watch TV, listen to radio, read newspapers.

The main person I spoke German with was my Sicilian bike mechanic friend, though we switched to Italian 15 years or so ago.

Tom
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:30
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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H
I find it fascinating that Swiss German speakers understand each other even when from different areas
Not always. My pal Roman who grew up in Luzern then moved to Zurich was pretty surprised when he asked for a coffee and a piece of bread one morning , only to be met with 'Was?' - relating to the bread. If it's any help I only knew yes, no and thanks seven years ago. If you want to do it, it will come.
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:31
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

By the way, I would strongly advise against learning german from just anybody, especially another foreigner. You'll want to learn german from at least a native speaker, or a professional teacher.

Some of the conversations I hear out on the streets between two german speaking foreigners are cringeworthy. Its not a smart idea to learn bad german.
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:37
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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Oh.. I would like to add: When you want to pay, the locals speak perfect english, but 5 mins later when you have an "issue" with that thing you paid for, suddenly they do not speak or understand english at all

This is one simple example why Im sure that Swiss german is needed or else I would be dead in 20 years by heart attack while waiting for my swiss german or german to be nice enough for a "debate"
Be careful of the "They're out to get me" mindset. There is a world of difference between "That will be 37.50 please" and "Did you follow the instructions and leave it on charge for 8 hours as it says in the instructions, you muppet?"

Trust me, concentrate on High German. Re read books that you've already read in your mother tongue, but this time in German Translation. Children develop most of their vocabulary by figuring out the context - rereading books in German means that you know the context, so you're not concentrating on what is going on with the plot.

You may need to start with Dr. Seuss, but you can move on to John Grisham fairly quickly (1 years +/-).

Don't be afraid that you have a funny accent, according to the Bavarians everybody does.
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Old 27.07.2016, 20:42
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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Be careful of the "They're out to get me" mindset.
Yeah, I couldn't agree with this more. Get over that mindset as it will needlessly ruin your experience here. Before you know it, you'll be trolling the Complaints Corner.
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Old 27.07.2016, 21:05
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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By the way, I would strongly advise against learning german from just anybody, especially another foreigner. You'll want to learn german from at least a native speaker, or a professional teacher.
This is an important point trainspotter. At the moment you live in a world which speaks a secret language - it doesn't even occur to you that some of them speak like cowboys and indians in the Western movies of the '50s.

Teaching well is at least as difficult as learning. You will make better progress with a professional than with many Academics.

Avoid trying to stuff anyone with whom you have a close personal or professional relationship into the teacher role - In the end you will annoy them, and they will annoy you and this is rarely good.
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Old 27.07.2016, 21:06
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

I think the question should be "What is the point of Swiss German?"

I lived in Munich for 12 years but traveled and worked from Hamburg to Basel, from Vienna and Berlin to Luxembourg. Always I used High German, and after about two years or so I never carried a dictionary.

Then I moved here, and my first job was at the Ministry of Planning in Bern. I couldn't understand the receptionist, I thought he said my customer was in the lift drinking a cup of tea (He actually said I should go to the lift and press button 'T' ) I was shocked, and I told the customer I couldn't understand the man at reception. "Oh" he said "He was in the Vatican Guard and he speaks 7 languages"

Well it didn't do him much good did it? He must have heard my English accent, but stubbornly spoke in the Bern dialect, of which I had no experience.

Today after 25 years here, I understand most Swiss German, but I always reply in High German, using Swiss nouns when I know them (Trottoir etc). If the natives get uppity I start speaking French, that stops them moaning.
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Old 27.07.2016, 21:16
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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Today after 25 years here, I understand most Swiss German, but I always reply in High German, using Swiss nouns when I know them (Trottoir etc).
I, on the other hand, always try my best Swiss accent when in neighboring German speaking areas.

Really winds them up.

Tom
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Old 27.07.2016, 21:23
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Re: Whats the point of High German?

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Oh.. I would like to add: When you want to pay, the locals speak perfect english, but 5 mins later when you have an "issue" with that thing you paid for, suddenly they do not speak or understand english at all

This is one simple example why Im sure that Swiss german is needed or else I would be dead in 20 years by heart attack while waiting for my swiss german or german to be nice enough for a "debate"
Nahhh.

It takes half a dozen words to collect, it's even doable with zero English. Taking a complaint however requires knowing at least a dozen words, and commenting on it two dozens.

If you look thru the forum you'll find lots of complaints that locals keep switching to English even though the poster wants them so speak German so he can learn.
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