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Old 14.08.2011, 10:50
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Social Isolation of Foreigners

This is probably not a complaint, but an observation about society in Deutschschweiz (which is already well known to most foreigners here) and an attempt to find a faster solution.

I went to a wedding yesterday in Eastern Switzerland and it was TOO LONG (10-12 hours...not sure because we left early, risking the displeasure of those who invited us, but I really don't care about that, if they aren't reasonable people they aren't my friends or people I would like to associate with anyway, but that is another story)...

The main issue is, my High German is approaching intermediate, but that is not really enough for good communication in social situation in a group of people, where there is a lot of cross-talking.

Anyway, the same old story emerges. People will respond to me in High German or English, but then immediately switch to Swiss German when speaking about the same thing to the person next to me, with no translation, cutting me out of the conversation completely.

People do not do this to be purposefully rude, but they don't even think anything of it, because most of them have absolutely no contact with any foreigners (meaning recent immigrants who can not at least understand Swiss German).

I lived in China for a few months, speak intermediate Mandarin Chinese, but had the same experience in Shanghai, the exact same. Having been in Beijing and Chengdu was refreshing because I'm speaking the language most peopel speak everyday (Mandarin, with some regional accent and slang but it is not a completely different langauge, as Shanghainese and Mandarin are). Shanghainese, like Swiss German are not written languages either, not really (that's complicated and I don't want to get into how Chinese written language is structured, the lack of alphabet, etc).

Anyway, I've come to the conclusion that spending time learning a language that is not spoken is pointless.

I do not need High German. I don't care if I can watch a television show, read a book, or read a newspaper. I have options for almost all of these.


What I care about is being able to communicate with Swiss people. High German is fine for a one: one conversation, but useless in groups, and I also find many Swiss do not want to speak High German anyway, it makes them unconformable (something many Swiss have said to be directly, including my girlfriend).


However, Swiss also say that learning "Swiss German (dialects)" without speaking High German as an adult is nearly impossible.

I find that hard to believe. First, I know a woman from the UK who learned Swiss German first, and high German second. She has issues understanding people from certain Cantons, but where she lives she is fine.

Migro Schule (at least some of them) teach Swiss German classes. What are they teaching if it is not possible? what dialect? What grammar?

It seems to me if you learn a dialect, like St. Gallen Dialect, and you go to Zurich, the words vary a bit, grammar might also vary. Okay.

1) In English some folks in America say "goin to'" some say "going", and others "gonna". All me "I am going to".

However if you know one, you can usually guess the others, and foreigners typically can do this. If you are learning something that says "Ich Gehe", but everyone is saying "I'm gonna" you can't even guess.

That is a bad analogy, but my point is learning any common Swiss German dialect is more useful than High German, because the Swiss German word is likely similar in the other dialect, but not the same, it is almost always closer than the High German equivalent.


2) Grammar is not that important most of the time.

If I say in English..."I tomorrow go store early".

That is very bad English grammar, but almost everyone reading this knows exactly what the meaning is.


If I say..."Yeah...told you i did to eat not the candy".

Everyone can understand that too.

Grammar is overrated. Usually, in my experience with languages, the grammar needed for communication is actually quite low, and how Swiss German speakers communicate in Switzerland is proof of this.

So how would I go about learning Swiss German?

This would all be more simple, and foreigners could integrate more easily if the Swiss had just standardized their language like the Luxemburgers and Dutch, but that's also another topic...and a pointless one, since it won't happen.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:04
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

People learn differently, some by ear, some by sight, some intellectually. You can best learn by the way that seems natural to you, so who cares what others do?
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:08
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

Ironically for a post about communication......I'm not really sure of the purpose of your post....

What's the ten word summary please?
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:23
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

It's the same everywhere in the world... even in the UK or US. Most people do not make an effort for foreigners to understand them or have long winded exhausting conversations because of the lack of understanding. And if you can't get the accent, then that's tough... but reality. There's a few who make an effort, but to be honest with you, I don't blame anyone for not making an effort, it's hard work having a conversation in a group of people where there's only one person who doesn't understand. That group of people will (usually and naturally) go on with what they are "used to"... and you are out of that equation.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:40
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

I groaned because of the implication that the Swiss should continue speaking a language you understand simply because you're there. I speak Spanish and German, but I won't use either language exclusively when in a group; instead, I'll speak a language in which I can express the thought I want to express and which the recipient understands. This is not an exclusion of others.

You say you want to learn Swiss German, but how do you expect to do so if you don't hear it around you? If you're not forced to stretch yourself to pick up whatever tiny bits of conversation you can manage? This is an essential part of learning a language. Further, learning a Swiss dialect is possible directly... But grammar aside, you have no efficient way to learn the vocab without high German. You can't buy a book or make useful flash cards for a language without a defined written form. You can't even hope to understand the various ways Swiss dialects are written without first understanding how high German letters are pronounced.

Suck it up, study high German for a year, listen to the conversations going on around you and try to understand the bits and pieces you can, and you'll find your comprehension of Swiss dialects will shoot way up.

Oh, and try your similar-dialects theory between St Gallen and Valais. Report back on your success.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:42
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

Interesting post. First off good for you for trying to learn and immerse yourself in the culture and language. I just came to Switzerland from the States where I was living for 10 years. Although I previously lived in Switzerland and spoke Swiss-German and German fluently I find myself re-learning the language now.

In my experience of learning Swiss-German you really need a base understanding of German: things like grammar, overall sentence structure and a vocabulary. However once you have an base understanding you can pick Swiss German just by listening the speaking with Swiss people. Thats how I am doing it right now, I try to expose myself as much as possible to the language even when I get things terribly wrong or have to pause in the middle of a sentence to think about wording. Also don't take people talking Swiss German over your head the wrong way. People in Switzerland sometimes have trouble conversing in High-German.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:42
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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So how would I go about learning Swiss German?
Ask a Swiss German to spend 2 hours, on a weekly basis for ex., go sightseeing with you in town, eat and drink something together and you do all the talking in Swiss German, mercilessly or with very very little translation in English.

It is practical, fast, frustrating and yet you'll most likely remember expressions, places, things in Swiss German more easily.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:44
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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Grammar is overrated. Usually, in my experience with languages, the grammar needed for communication is actually quite low, and how Swiss German speakers communicate in Switzerland is proof of this.
Agree with the first half of the sentence, disagree with the second half. Swiss German hasn't got less grammar, it's got different grammar.

But yes, you can make yourself understood by just stringing enough of the right words together in whatever order and without regard to gender, case or anything else. That's the first step. Eventually you will start to express yourself in a more 'normal' fashion, i.e. begin to say things the same way people around you would say them. That's grammar, whether you learn it by rules or sheer imitation.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:45
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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I groaned because of the implication that the Swiss should continue speaking a language you understand simply because you're there. I speak Spanish and German, but I won't use either language exclusively when in a group; instead, I'll speak a language in which I can express the thought I want to express and which the recipient understands. This is not an exclusion of others.

You say you want to learn Swiss German, but how do you expect to do so if you don't hear it around you? If you're not forced to stretch yourself to pick up whatever tiny bits of conversation you can manage? This is an essential part of learning a language. Further, learning a Swiss dialect is possible directly... But grammar aside, you have no efficient way to learn the vocab without high German. You can't buy a book or make useful flash cards for a language without a defined written form. You can't even hope to understand the various ways Swiss dialects are written without first understanding how high German letters are pronounced.

Suck it up, study high German for a year, listen to the conversations going on around you and try to understand the bits and pieces you can, and you'll find your comprehension of Swiss dialects will shoot way up.

Oh, and try your similar-dialects theory between St Gallen and Valais. Report back on your success.

I'm still not sure why you groaned. I was not saying that Swiss people should speak another language. I was simply outlining the situation and saying that there may be a more efficient way for me to communicate with them in a language they actually speak.

It is not the same everywhere. I speak another language already, so it is not like I have no experience.

I never asked that Swiss people speak English to me or even high German. That's not the point. The point is how to communicate, because English and even High German is typically useless in a group context.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:50
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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It's the same everywhere in the world... even in the UK or US. Most people do not make an effort for foreigners to understand them or have long winded exhausting conversations because of the lack of understanding. And if you can't get the accent, then that's tough... but reality. There's a few who make an effort, but to be honest with you, I don't blame anyone for not making an effort, it's hard work having a conversation in a group of people where there's only one person who doesn't understand. That group of people will (usually and naturally) go on with what they are "used to"... and you are out of that equation.
I 100% agree with this, that's why I'm trying to find a fast track to effective communication. To me it seems Hoch Deustch is useless. Hoch Deutsch is the language of writting, but for everyday communication it is nearly useless.

I already speak enough Hoch Deutsch to buy most things, take public transport, etc. That's really all I will need. When it come to more complex social situation in Switzerland, Hoch Deutsch is not the language of communication that people will be using or want to use.

So the issue is not "what should Swiss be doing" it is "what is most efficient to learn..."


I have to disagree it is not the same situation all over the world. Swiss German and HIgh German should be classified as different languages. I have a German friend from Hamburg who can't understand people in Zug. I work with Brits, and I understand them 95% of the time or more.

My only experience with another language is Mandarin Chinese. I tried to give an example of Shanghai, which is like here, even worse, because the difference between Shanghai Dialect and Mandarin is like Portuguese and Italian. That being said in Beijing you have a regional slang, but that is like going from standard American television English to what is spoken in Washington D.C. It varies little. It is not like going from standard American English to Jamaican Patrois.

Point at hand is, it is much easier to learn Mandarin when you hear something that sounds 95% like a text book, then when you hear something that sounds 10% like a text book. The same for English, the same for German.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:52
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

I get what you say about grammar. I had a similar discussion with someone from Mexico who was learning English in England. Eventually you want to be grammatically correct, but along the way you just need to get your message across. And as long as you use please and thank you as often as possible, most people are happy to overlook the errors in grammar and help you.

I grew up in a place where the official language is English but a French creole is very commonly spoken. French is rarely spoken so learning the creole is similar to learning Swiss German without High German. It's not impossible but it does require immersion.
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Old 14.08.2011, 11:59
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

Time, take it.

You don't need to be in the middle of conversation, just lay back and let it flow around you. That way you have no pressure, which often leads to blockage, to perform. Just tune in to the sounds and body language. Communication is maybe 20% the words and 80% body language, and a kind of direct transmission.
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Old 14.08.2011, 12:00
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

I would also like to learn Swiss German, mainly because I like the sound of it very much. My goal would be to understand it, not to speak it, though. I am an auditory person and words and sounds are very important to me. Therefore I sympathise with your feeling of exclusion and frustration, being surrounded by incomprehensible wall of sounds.
There are a few schools in Zurich (don’t know about Zug) which offer Swiss German courses, but if you are not interested in grammar and would like to learn some sort of “pidgin tuutsch”, then you might want to take some private conversation lessons. You won’t even need a professional teacher for that, I believe. I think Sada offered some excellent suggestions.
I am more of a perfectionist when it comes to learning languages, so I’m not sure I share your views on grammar, though.
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Old 14.08.2011, 12:19
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

i prefer people to speak SD around me. i feel quite bad when i'm in a group of 7 swiss people and they switch to english just because of me. besides, if they chat in SD, then i get a chancel to learn more.
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Old 14.08.2011, 12:27
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

I don't quite agree with you on that.
I like to compare German and Swiss German to English and Scottish or Welsh. It's basically the same language but it's not. And to understand it you have to first learn the basic English and then try to understand all the accents. If you only had a year of English and went up to the Scottish highlands you'd be totally lost (like you are in Switzerland with "a bit" of High German. To be honest with you, Swiss German is still (High) German but pronounced completely differently, plus a few odd words that are Swiss German only. The difficulty is not the language, they are based on almost all the same words! But it's the pronunciation (and a bit of the grammar) that is different.



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I 100% agree with this, that's why I'm trying to find a fast track to effective communication. To me it seems Hoch Deustch is useless. Hoch Deutsch is the language of writting, but for everyday communication it is nearly useless.

I already speak enough Hoch Deutsch to buy most things, take public transport, etc. That's really all I will need. When it come to more complex social situation in Switzerland, Hoch Deutsch is not the language of communication that people will be using or want to use.

So the issue is not "what should Swiss be doing" it is "what is most efficient to learn..."


I have to disagree it is not the same situation all over the world. Swiss German and HIgh German should be classified as different languages. I have a German friend from Hamburg who can't understand people in Zug. I work with Brits, and I understand them 95% of the time or more.

My only experience with another language is Mandarin Chinese. I tried to give an example of Shanghai, which is like here, even worse, because the difference between Shanghai Dialect and Mandarin is like Portuguese and Italian. That being said in Beijing you have a regional slang, but that is like going from standard American television English to what is spoken in Washington D.C. It varies little. It is not like going from standard American English to Jamaican Patrois.

Point at hand is, it is much easier to learn Mandarin when you hear something that sounds 95% like a text book, then when you hear something that sounds 10% like a text book. The same for English, the same for German.
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Old 14.08.2011, 12:38
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

I know adults who have learned Swiss German, without learning High German. What some of them find irritating is that they speak dialect, the person assumes from their look/accent/whatever that they're not true natives... then switches to High German!

Migroschule will only offer Swiss German to people with a reasonable level of High German. My wife took the course in Basel. They taught Bern dialect, with some indication of what's spoken in Basel and Zürich.
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Old 14.08.2011, 12:38
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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I don't quite agree with you on that.
I like to compare German and Swiss German to English and Scottish or Welsh. It's basically the same language but it's not. And to understand it you have to first learn the basic English and then try to understand all the accents. If you only had a year of English and went up to the Scottish highlands you'd be totally lost (like you are in Switzerland with "a bit" of High German. To be honest with you, Swiss German is still (High) German but pronounced completely differently, plus a few odd words that are Swiss German only. The difficulty is not the language, they are based on almost all the same words! But it's the pronunciation (and a bit of the grammar) that is different.

Yeah but Scots and Welsh don't learn there dialects of English in class. They learn it from it being spoke to them. They learned "standard" written English in school, after the fact. So it does not seem that standard English is required to speak Scots. What is required is someone speak Scots to you constantly and you learn the vocabulary, the same as a child.
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Old 14.08.2011, 12:44
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

AGWV, I understand the frustration - but this falls under the 'accept the things you cannot change' category. We furriners just need to determine how best to get on with it, given our own linguistic needs and abilities.

As others have said, we all learn differently. I am largely print-driven, so for me learning Hochdeutsch has been important. However, I live in the boondocks where only SG is spoken.

My immediate goal is to reach a level where I read/understand HD well, and speak/write HD functionally or at least with a minimum of embarassing mistakes. And that I learn to understand Swiss-German in an everyday context.

I'd like to reach fluency in HD, I'd like to pick up more SG - but I'll settle for practical at the moment.

A typical conversation is me speaking HD, the other person speaking SG - we understand one another, and that's all that counts. Speaking HD has not been a handicap, two dialects in the same conversation is something people round these parts seem to handle seamlessly.

What pushed me forward fastest was to take up a hobby where most folks speak only SG; I know the subject so I already have a good idea what is being said from context - and the atmosphere is relaxed, doing something I enjoy takes the stress off communication. And no-one minds that I speak (error-prone) HD rather than SG - afterall, we're here to have fun, to share our common interest. This really helped me get over the tongue-tied-at-social-events stage.

----

My husband, on the other hand, is solely speech-driven. He hasn't the time nor need (he works in English) to study HD - but he has picked up a fair bit of SG simply by listening and interacting with his colleagues and when out and about town. He has a pretty rich vocabulary - which his strings together in any random order, full speed ahead and damn the torpedos.

But hey - he makes his point by sheer goodwill; people understand him and appreciate the effort - and the inadvertant comedy.

I guess my point is: relax, and do whatever works for you. A word here, a phrase there - suddenly you'll find that it all starts to come together.

Good luck!
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Old 14.08.2011, 12:48
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

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I don't quite agree with you on that.
I like to compare German and Swiss German to English and Scottish or Welsh. It's basically the same language but it's not. And to understand it you have to first learn the basic English and then try to understand all the accents. If you only had a year of English and went up to the Scottish highlands you'd be totally lost (like you are in Switzerland with "a bit" of High German. To be honest with you, Swiss German is still (High) German but pronounced completely differently, plus a few odd words that are Swiss German only.
You may like to compare it to Scottish and Welsh....but you'd be wrong. Scottish is a dialect, Welsh is a totally different language without any root in English.

And Swiss German is NOT High German pronounced completely differently - in fact, retyping that...it makes even less sense. There are people here in the mountain areas who cannot talk High German, only their local dialect.

Anyway - this thread is getting kind of off topic with linguistic debates which are present in other threads.....but to the OP (now I understand the point)...I think you should view it as if it were a new and different language and decide yourself what you wish to learn.

If you want to be able to talk to your doctor, lawyer, architect, tax man about detailed issues - High German is better. If you want to pull at the local bar, or chat to the old lady upstairs.....learn the local dialect. Trying to decide which is "better" or "less pointless" is redundant and simplistic

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Old 14.08.2011, 14:08
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Re: Social Isolation of Foreigners

I presume when speaking of "Scottish" and "Welsh" you actually mean Scottish and Welsh PEOPLE speaking their local version of English with local accent!
Because if referring to either Scottish or Welsh languages you will find that they are in no way related to any form of the English language!
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