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  #21  
Old 30.11.2011, 10:46
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Re: German to English switcheroo

I never had that... I mostly get angry looks and despise because I speak High German with, maybe, a touch of Saxon accent.

I'd rather speak English, but when I arrived here and was asking in a friendly, smiling way "Do you speak English", I was almost flayed and skinned alive. The people were very short to scream in my face "Go back to America*!" (some did).

I was probably on the wrong stores, but kinda traumatized me. That's why, nowadays, I tend to hide the fact I speak English...




* As most of you know, I am actually originally from a country on the opposite shore of the Atlantic...
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  #22  
Old 30.11.2011, 12:51
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Re: German to English switcheroo

As my High German has gotten better, I've had fewer and fewer people switch to English, which is nice. I've never worked on Swiss German, but the improvement in the High German did the trick.

I don't know why though, but recently lots of people I talk to haven't been making the switch from Swiss German to High German that they used to. Usually I just look confused and say "wie bitte" and they know to switch, but that seems to have lost its power. Probably just coincidence though - I must be running into a few people who are not comfortable speaking High German, or somehow I've developed a Swiss tinge to my accent that I've certainly not noticed.
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  #23  
Old 02.12.2011, 11:26
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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As my High German has gotten better, I've had fewer and fewer people switch to English, which is nice. I've never worked on Swiss German, but the improvement in the High German did the trick.

I don't know why though, but recently lots of people I talk to haven't been making the switch from Swiss German to High German that they used to. Usually I just look confused and say "wie bitte" and they know to switch, but that seems to have lost its power. Probably just coincidence though - I must be running into a few people who are not comfortable speaking High German, or somehow I've developed a Swiss tinge to my accent that I've certainly not noticed.
I'm having a similar experience - when I first arrived I had no German of any description, so any conversations were either in English or very short!

As I picked up a bit of High German, I found that conversations tended to be in English or High German, usually depending on how comfortable the other person was with High German.

More recently as my High German has become more fluent I've also started to be able to understand much more Swiss German. Once the other person realises I understand Swiss German, I have many more conversations where they stay in Swiss German and I stick to High German.

One thing I still have a mental block over is trying out the small amount of Swiss German that I can speak. For some reason (and I think it's fear of ridicule that was mentioned earlier in the thread), I feel as though I don't really have the "right" as a foreigner to try out Swiss German, at least not unless I was totally fluent. It's just an irrational fear which I'm sure has no basis in reality, but I feel as though I could be treading on toes by mangling the native dialect, and the expectation is more that a foreigner should stick to High German, and leave Swiss German to the Swiss. Anyone have any experience of that?
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  #24  
Old 02.12.2011, 11:56
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Re: German to English switcheroo

During conversations, I have to keep reminding people that I only have High German as they constantly lapse back into Swiss German, and I think that's a bit rude really. For some reason I have a lot of folk think I'm Dutch (no, I am not very tall) so they don't automatically switch into English, but when they find out I am English, then, I too hear a lot of tales about 'when I spent a week in England'....it's quite sweet really.
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  #25  
Old 02.12.2011, 12:23
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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They'd rather not speak any high German if at all possible - especially to Germans, as this shows up their "red-neck" language* compared to high German - chip on the shoulder and all that...
THIS!
However as non-German with English as my main language I don't think that the Swiss would care because any German would sound fine to me. My parents say that the reason for switching is so the Swiss can practice their English or that they think English is a "cool" language (due to the influx of English speakers, American/British music and movies, etc).
It can be very irritating I know because I want to practice German! I personally get a little offended, like they think my German is so bad that they'd better talk in English rather. Maybe that's just me.
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  #26  
Old 03.12.2011, 19:18
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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German as in High German or the local dialect ? Many locals, for various reasons, switch to English where possible over High German.
Realize that 100'000s of Swiss for more than a month in their past lived in either English or French speaking countries, but not many people ever lived for more than a week in Germany. Add to this that Britain and France and Italy in Switzerland are far more popular than Germany, and that by a wide margin. And quite many people here love it to use and exercize their English and/or French whenever the opportunity arises
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Old 03.12.2011, 19:31
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Re: German to English switcheroo

I get the Italian-to-English switch. I'll be standing in line at the cashier and as soon as I get up to the front, without saying a word, they switch to English. Ok, obviously I don't have dark hair and olive skin but you should at least let me try to stammer out a few words. It might help when I'm on the phone to someone who can't see me.
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  #28  
Old 03.12.2011, 19:52
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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Around our home we have people who have never learnt high german and he children around us certainly do not know high german yet as they have't reached that stage in school.
Hardly possible. Whomever ever went to school here DID learn High German, as school is held in Standard language and NOT in dialect

True, children in pre-school age (up to 8 yrs) only speak dialect. Teachers gradually introduce Standard German in the 1st year of school, and before the start of the 2nd year fully change to Standard German for all lessons.
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  #29  
Old 03.12.2011, 21:26
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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I'm not sure how it is elsewhere in Switzerland, or for many other Swiss folks, but after listening to hubby and some of the other Baslers I interact with through him though, I gather they'd rather not make it terribly easy
Funny you should mention Basel, because I've noticed myself that things seem to be a bit polarised at the border.

I've had no success at all speaking French 200m from the French border in Basel, but ended up using it miles away in Luzern and in Germany in Freiburg. Likewise in Saint-Louis it's as if German didn't exist with English instead as the preferred second language, whereas a bit further away from the border in Eastern France I've regularly had people ask me to switch from French to German.

I got the feeling that near the border there's a bit of social pressure to maintain a distinct linguistic identity. Further away, it's less political and the decision just comes down to which language gets the job done quickest!

And on the original topic - most of my Swiss colleagues prefer to speak English to High German. It seems much harder for a foreigner to learn German in Basel than French in Lausanne, say.
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  #30  
Old 05.12.2011, 15:56
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Re: German to English switcheroo

I am one of those Swiss who switch to English when someone whose German is obviously very poor approaches me.

Is that RUDE? I don't think so! I am only trying to be polite, speaking to this person in a language they understand to avoid any misunderstandings, since it's usually a question regarding train departures, actual time, location of department XY and so on.
I do the same with Germans, French, Spanish and Dutch since those are the languages I speak and never ever is my intention to tell those guys "listen, your German (Swiss German) is awful, let me show you how well I speak your language".

So why exactly do you take this as an offence and not as a sign of politeness? Next time you should just add "bitte antworten Sie auf Deutsch" (please answer in German)..

(seriously.. if that is your only problem you can consider yourself a lucky person )
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  #31  
Old 05.12.2011, 17:05
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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Why do so many Swiss people switch to English when a foreigner is trying to speak German to them? I am aware that my German isn't great, so maybe they just can't understand me. But my husband speaks German very well, yet they always switch on him too. Anyone else find this to be the case?

I don't notice this happening in Germany or Austria.
I think they just want to be nice to you and that is why start to speak your language.

Anyhow I don't remember even a single case like this happened to me. I also have to ask "sprechen Sie English"?
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Old 05.12.2011, 17:07
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Re: German to English switcheroo

sorry, not also but always
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  #33  
Old 05.12.2011, 17:19
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Re: German to English switcheroo

Personally I'm only starting to learn german so certainly not enough to hold a proper conversation but I've found if you want to practice the swiss food and flower markets are a great place to go. If I start with a Gruetzi and a smile then they're more than happy to let me muddle along in (bad) german, especially as a few of the farmers and stall owners don't understand english - I think they appreciate the effort even if it's a few words and a lot of 'please' 'sorry' and 'thank yous' in german.
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  #34  
Old 11.12.2011, 18:28
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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Why do so many Swiss people switch to English when a foreigner is trying to speak German to them? I am aware that my German isn't great, so maybe they just can't understand me. But my husband speaks German very well, yet they always switch on him too. Anyone else find this to be the case?

I don't notice this happening in Germany or Austria.
they love to practice their English and to be honest their English is way better than the German's English . cheers
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Old 11.12.2011, 18:46
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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I am one of those Swiss who switch to English when someone whose German is obviously very poor approaches me.

Is that RUDE? I don't think so! I am only trying to be polite, speaking to this person in a language they understand to avoid any misunderstandings, since it's usually a question regarding train departures, actual time, location of department XY and so on.
I don't think it's rude...I think it's a real help. Thank you Swiss_Can

I haven't had anyone switch into English with me (my German is reasonably competent with a mish-mash accent from UK, North and South Germany, Luxembourg, and high-German-taught-by-a-Zuricher, so probably no-one is quite sure which kind of alien I am)

However hubby speaks very little German, but is learning small sentences. He can handle "expected" answers (would you like fries with that ) but would be sunk if locals were not willing to be patient with him, and/or switch to english if they can speak it. If I'm with him, I'll often step in after his first sentence (if the other person is looking a bit confused) and say in German "sorry, he doesn't speak much German, but he needs to learn/practice"...then people are usually very kind and speak slowly, use hand gestures and wait for him to find words to answer with.
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  #36  
Old 11.12.2011, 18:54
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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I am one of those Swiss who switch to English when someone whose German is obviously very poor approaches me.

Is that RUDE? I don't think so! I am only trying to be polite, speaking to this person in a language they understand to avoid any misunderstandings, since it's usually a question regarding train departures, actual time, location of department XY and so on.
I do the same with Germans, French, Spanish and Dutch since those are the languages I speak and never ever is my intention to tell those guys "listen, your German (Swiss German) is awful, let me show you how well I speak your language".

So why exactly do you take this as an offence and not as a sign of politeness? Next time you should just add "bitte antworten Sie auf Deutsch" (please answer in German)..

(seriously.. if that is your only problem you can consider yourself a lucky person )
I had a Swiss person once approach me and, when she heard me talking to my daughter, asked in English something I couldn't comprehend. I asked once, in English, if she could repeat the question, same result. Then, I switched to my very un-Swiss German (which is understood in Germany much to my comfort) and she gave me the glare of death and stalked off.

I've lived a lot of places and it's hard to know if someone is an earnest learner of the local language or if they're a tourist stuck in a sea of language soup looking for a life raft. The most fun in that vein I ever had was going to order something at a cafe, something simple as I was an intermediate beginner, and the woman behind the counter kept saying, "what?" (in the language I was learning) until my husband, a native, stepped in from behind me and said that he understood me perfectly fine and wanted to know if she had a hearing problem. Suddenly, she understood me perfectly without my having to repeat my order.

Language is a tool and it is a weapon, a weapon usually reserved for those who 'aren't from around here'. Even in the US, dialects will serve to isolate you from the native population though that has diminished due to a much more mobile population in recent decades. In all the places I've lived, Switzerland (or maybe it's just Zurich) seems to be the least flexible in terms of finding common language with those who 'aren't from around here'. I met a French guy in our temp housing who didn't speak English and nearly wept that I was wiling to speak my limited amount of French to him. We invited him over for dinner and he was interesting, but very, very lonely.

Sometimes it's more polite and less isolating if you suffer the person making an ernest attempt at speaking the local language than cutting to the chase and speaking English instead.
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Old 11.12.2011, 19:31
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Re: German to English switcheroo

That's strange. I experience the opposite. I learnt Swiss-German when I lived here in my youth, because that's all anyone would speak with me. Now, I find that Swiss people often reply to me in bad High German. Kind of really slow and laboured. Nothing against German, but I do like it to be spoken properly :-)
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Old 11.12.2011, 22:06
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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In all the places I've lived, Switzerland (or maybe it's just Zurich) seems to be the least flexible in terms of finding common language with those who 'aren't from around here'.
Try Luxembourg for the most flexible I've found. A phone call can easily use 4 languages in the first few sentences** as both parties find out a mutually understood option

** Luxembourgish, French, German, English.
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Old 11.12.2011, 22:42
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Re: German to English switcheroo

Switching to English when I speak high German seems to happen in waves; nobody does it for months & then it seems like many people do it.
Sometimes quite strangely; I had a Bofrost delivery this week & the guy insisted on speaking English & all I had said was "abig"!

In my village I tend to speak high German & people reply in Swiss German which seems to work OK. Most of the locals do not speak English anyway - or at least only after a few glasses of wine when they speak various new English dialects.
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Old 12.12.2011, 07:20
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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In all the places I've lived, Switzerland (or maybe it's just Zurich) seems to be the least flexible in terms of finding common language with those who 'aren't from around here'.
I think it depends who you mix with in Zurich. Here, usually in business, people have a battery of languages they can draw upon so the language flexibility is probably one of the highest in the world.

Swiss who are used to mixing in an international environment very quickly are able to find a common language that works with other parties and this common language seems to change depending on who they are with. Standing around in the "Pause" area of our office, there can but up to four different languages at any one time with the fallback language being English and our office isn't particularly special.

If you are expecting language flexibility from the checkout chick at Coop or the woman in the dry cleaners or the guy serving you a sandwich in a bakery you can probably expect some kind of disgruntled noises if they have to speak High German, let alone English. I've found many of the supermarket workers, etc. aren't Swiss but on arrival in the country only picked up Swiss German as their spoken language and speaking in any other language, apart from perhaps their native language is a huge bind for them and normally is met with a roll of the eyes.

By the same token, Swiss people who perhaps aren't so highly educated also seem to dislike switching to high German. But, like I say, it depends who you mix with. From my experience I definitely wouldn't say that Zurich isn't flexible with languages.

It could be worse - in England, if you don't understand English they'll just shout louder until you do.
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