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Old 03.05.2008, 21:34
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How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

im trying to find out statistics/demographics on how many people in Switzerland can speak English, and compare this to how many can speak italian. i stress the word CAN.

i have only been able to find how many people are in the italian region. but none on how many people can speak Italian. including immigrants that live in the german region or people that are in the german region that learn italian as second language, say in school.

it would be nice to know how many people can speak English and Italian.

Last edited by Javo; 03.05.2008 at 22:02.
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Old 04.05.2008, 00:29
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

The Swiss National Office of Statistics might have some numbers: http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/en/index.html

hope you find what you're looking for!
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  #3  
Old 11.05.2008, 23:21
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

This list of first languages in Switzerland was already linked in the past.

In March, a study of the university of Berne was published. It analysed the foreign language capabilities of the Swiss in a survey. The average Swiss resident declared that he knows 2.0 foreign languages, which places him in the third rank in a European comparision after Luxembourg (3.0) and the Netherlands (2.3; EU average 1.14). The German and Italian language regions leave the French speaking part of the country behind (2.2 vs 1.7 foreign languages).

Here are some results sorted by region (partly taken from here, too)

Percentage of people who know a language in the German speaking part, despite it not being their mother tongue:
72% French
67% English
55% Swiss German
34% Italian
20% High German*
(* Those who declared Swiss German as their mother tongue weren't counted)

Percentage of people who know a language in the French speaking part, despite it not being their mother tongue:
99% French
47% High and/or Swiss German
43% English
24% Italian

Percentage of people who know a language in the Italian speaking part, despite it not being their mother tongue:
100% Italian
75% French
65% High and/or Swiss German
42% English
  • English as a foreign language is more widespread in the German speaking part of the country than elsewhere.
  • In no part of the country is English more common than German, and French.
Now I can try to combine the findings of the 2000 population census and the new study by weighting the results of the latter by language region population. (Because I can't find precise numbers, I take the proportion of native speaking populations from the census – This is a simplification because immigrants who have a Swiss language as mother tongue may be distributed unevenly. Also I assume a constant percentage of native foreign language speakers in the language regions.)

This is my answer to Javo's question:
  • About 36% of Swiss residents know Italian
    • 6.5% of Swiss residents are native Italian speakers
    • ca. 29.3% of Swiss residents speak Italian as a foreign language
  • About 60% of Swiss residents know English
    • 1.0% of Swiss residents are native English speakers
    • ca. 59.1% of Swiss residents speak English as a foreign language
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Old 10.07.2008, 10:11
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

I had a similar question for this Forum...
and I cannot found a better reply!

Than U very much Nathu!
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Old 10.07.2008, 10:32
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

Among the non-native german speakers:

55% Swiss German
20% High German

A substantial difference. So 35% of the non-native population can speak the dialect but can't read the papers?
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Old 10.07.2008, 10:40
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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  • About 36% of Swiss residents know Italian
    • 6.5% of Swiss residents are native Italian speakers
    • ca. 29.3% of Swiss residents speak Italian as a foreign language
  • About 60% of Swiss residents know English
    • 1.0% of Swiss residents are native English speakers
    • ca. 59.1% of Swiss residents speak English as a foreign language
Please don't get me wrong, I really don't mean it in a bad way, but I'm still giggling about your combination of ca. and the .1/.3%

From personal experience, here in the French speaking part where everyone had German as a second language, the percentage of people actually speaking it is zero/nada/null...
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Old 10.07.2008, 10:48
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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This is my answer to Javo's question:
  • About 36% of Swiss residents know Italian
    • 6.5% of Swiss residents are native Italian speakers
    • ca. 29.3% of Swiss residents speak Italian as a foreign language
  • About 60% of Swiss residents know English
    • 1.0% of Swiss residents are native English speakers
    • ca. 59.1% of Swiss residents speak English as a foreign language
wow thanks for your detailed answer. very informative. any additional information on trends. IE that english is more widely being taught in schools, and italian is losing ground. personally i have never met anyone in the french or german region that spoke italian unless they were actually from the italian region.

javo
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Old 16.07.2008, 13:08
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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Please don't get me wrong, I really don't mean it in a bad way, but I'm still giggling about your combination of ca. and the .1/.3%
It happens when I do my calculations ca. at midnight. I hope the reader factors in a generous confidence interval.


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wow thanks for your detailed answer. very informative. any additional information on trends. IE that english is more widely being taught in schools, and italian is losing ground. personally i have never met anyone in the french or german region that spoke italian unless they were actually from the italian region.
For a start you can compare the native speaker populations of the 1990 and 2000 census.

Italian has always meant an extra effort in the German speaking part. One that the migrants, and some Swiss Germans, were willing to make. The average swiss student doesn't learn Italian.

English has been the second foreign language taught at school for a long time. Now that some cantons have introduced a curriculum where foreign language lessons start much sooner, English comes first in some of them. That could mean an improvement in English proficiency, but not necessarily must be one. If I remember correctly, the HarmoS guidelines state that at the end of the mandatory school years, scholars should be equally proficient in both foreign languages.
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Old 16.07.2008, 13:33
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

Just to stir the pot ... the original question was

"How many people in Switzerland can speak English?"

The stats quoted are for "know a language" ... (which I paraphrase as "they think they can speak" or "they have taken a few years in school") ... now that can be quite different from actually speaking a language, as I have discovered here at work.

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Old 22.02.2012, 17:58
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

I usually shun 20 Minuten, but I glanced at it this morning and found a sentence: "The Swiss spend the most on learning English but they speak worse English than the Poles." Oh, the horror. There were other nationalities which speak much better English than the Swiss, predictably the Norwegians, the Danish, the Swedes and a few others but the journalist had to emphasise that it was the Poles who outranked them in English Proficiency Index. I was a bit offended to be honest.
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Old 22.02.2012, 18:09
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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Just to stir the pot ... the original question was

"How many people in Switzerland can speak English?"

The stats quoted are for "know a language" ... (which I paraphrase as "they think they can speak" or "they have taken a few years in school") ... now that can be quite different from actually speaking a language, as I have discovered here at work.

Same question. Many people say they can 'speak' language as soon as they can buy a beer or ask for basic directions.
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Old 22.02.2012, 18:10
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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im trying to find out statistics/demographics on how many people in Switzerland can speak English, and compare this to how many can speak italian. i stress the word CAN.

i have only been able to find how many people are in the italian region. but none on how many people can speak Italian. including immigrants that live in the german region or people that are in the german region that learn italian as second language, say in school.

it would be nice to know how many people can speak English and Italian.
around about 25%
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Old 22.02.2012, 18:20
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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I usually shun 20 Minuten, but I glanced at it this morning and found a sentence: "The Swiss spend the most on learning English but they speak worse English than the Poles." Oh, the horror. There were other nationalities which speak much better English than the Swiss, predictably the Norwegians, the Danish, the Swedes and a few others but the journalist had to emphasise that it was the Poles who outranked them in English Proficiency Index. I was a bit offended to be honest.
Actually, don't be offended as Polish is on the slavic end of the IE family of language and, as such, is quite far from learning English as a German speaker since those two are much closer. Sweden has a very high rate of English speakers, too, as it's also relatively close. I remember taking a survey course of Polish when I had an extra slot at the university and I was curious, makes every other Romance language seem like a walk in the park.

I think the point of the article, though, is that money alone doesn't really guarantee much in the way of proficiency. Also, there is a strong tendency of smaller countries, outside the German/French/Italian/Spanish ring of large countries where most media is dubbed or translated, to focus on learning English first and other European languages second which tends to make them better at it than, say, a Swiss citizen who doesn't really ever come in contact with English unless they're in the service industry, particularly tourism.

English is one of those languages that you really need to hear from a native or very fluent non-native (the article mentioned unskilled teachers with accents) in order to really get an ear for it. A good friend of mine from the Netherlands has a *flawless* American accent (not the rather distinctive Dutch English accent) to the point that when I first met him, it took me 15 minutes before I detected idiomatic dissonance, cornered him and asked him where he was from. He learned English in school, but he learned how to speak it from English cartoons on TV in Amsterdam when he was a kid.
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Old 22.02.2012, 18:21
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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around about 25%
According to the Italians I know up here, it's quite a bit lower than that....
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Old 22.02.2012, 18:59
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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He learned English in school, but he learned how to speak it from English cartoons on TV in Amsterdam when he was a kid.
It strikes me that the top five of the list consists of countries where US/English movies and TV shows are subtitled and not dubbed.
I think that's no coincidence.
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Old 22.02.2012, 19:18
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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It strikes me that the top five of the list consists of countries where US/English movies and TV shows are subtitled and not dubbed.
I think that's no coincidence.
It's not. I think there's a very high correlation of hearing a language, particularly when you are young, and being fluent in it later in life. There's a lot of linguistic academic goop on the intarwebs to corroborate this as well.

Granted, you have to use it or lose it as they say but...my mother was German and spoke a lot of German around me when I was a kid, took a couple years of German in Uni and, while I wouldn't say I'm fluent, I'm respectable when it comes to speaking German...of course, it's rather useless here, but I get on alright in most parts of Germany in spite of my so-called 'Bavarian' accent.
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Old 22.02.2012, 20:38
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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Same question. Many people say they can 'speak' language as soon as they can buy a beer or ask for basic directions.
if you add in "where is the bathroom", is there really anything else you need to know???

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Old 22.02.2012, 20:45
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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Actually, don't be offended as Polish is on the slavic end of the IE family of language and, as such, is quite far from learning English as a German speaker since those two are much closer. Sweden has a very high rate of English speakers, too, as it's also relatively close. I remember taking a survey course of Polish when I had an extra slot at the university and I was curious, makes every other Romance language seem like a walk in the park.

I think the point of the article, though, is that money alone doesn't really guarantee much in the way of proficiency. Also, there is a strong tendency of smaller countries, outside the German/French/Italian/Spanish ring of large countries where most media is dubbed or translated, to focus on learning English first and other European languages second which tends to make them better at it than, say, a Swiss citizen who doesn't really ever come in contact with English unless they're in the service industry, particularly tourism.

English is one of those languages that you really need to hear from a native or very fluent non-native (the article mentioned unskilled teachers with accents) in order to really get an ear for it. A good friend of mine from the Netherlands has a *flawless* American accent (not the rather distinctive Dutch English accent) to the point that when I first met him, it took me 15 minutes before I detected idiomatic dissonance, cornered him and asked him where he was from. He learned English in school, but he learned how to speak it from English cartoons on TV in Amsterdam when he was a kid.
Thank you, that's very informative, unlike the simplistic observations of 20 Minuten. I've been wondering about the closeness of English and German, though. I guess it would cause a lot more interference for German speakers when learning English. I constantly mix up the English and German word order, for example.
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Old 22.02.2012, 20:53
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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Thank you, that's very informative, unlike the simplistic observations of 20 Minuten. I've been wondering about the closeness of English and German, though. I guess it would cause a lot more interference for German speakers when learning English. I constantly mix up the English and German word order, for example.
I think word order is less important than pronunciation in spoken word since, few languages are as forgiving as English in terms of both accent and word order. I have some personal language experience to support this.

What constantly piques my curiosity, especially in places like Switzerland where English appears to be very reluctantly used, if at all, much of the advertising uses it rather liberally...almost like a spice. I see this in many countries but, few as curious as here.
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Old 22.02.2012, 21:08
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Re: How many people in Switzerland can speak English?

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im trying to find out statistics/demographics on how many people in Switzerland can speak English, and compare this to how many can speak italian. i stress the word CAN.

i have only been able to find how many people are in the italian region. but none on how many people can speak Italian. including immigrants that live in the german region or people that are in the german region that learn italian as second language, say in school.

it would be nice to know how many people can speak English and Italian.
After 22 years of living in Ticino, all I can say is that 0% ever speak English to me!

Tom

P.S. My daughter went with her friend to the US last year, I asked how she got on without English, turns out her friend speaks FLUENT English! (just not to us!)

P.P.S. I work with several people who NEVER speak to me in English, but will write e-mails and talk to clients in English, but during meetings with said clients we will speak French or Italian amongst ourselves!

P.P.P.S. My kids speak English to each other, even when non-English people are here!
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