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Old 29.11.2011, 21:26
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German to English switcheroo

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.
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Old 29.11.2011, 21:27
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Re: German to English switcheroo

German as in High German or the local dialect ? Many locals, for various reasons, switch to English where possible over High German.
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Old 29.11.2011, 21:28
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Re: German to English switcheroo

You are probably speaking high German and the Swiss would rather speak Swiss German or English to foreigners who can't speak (high or Swiss) German. 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...

*for those who might be offended, I have nothing against German or Swiss German, indeed anyone who has heard me will testify to the fact that I randomly use words from either language in the melting pot that is my attempt at interacting with the locals. Linguistically anyway...
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Old 29.11.2011, 21:35
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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.
Yes, High German. I've also been scolded for attempting Swiss German words.
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Old 29.11.2011, 21:37
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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Yes, High German. I've also been scolded for attempting Swiss German words.
Never in the 4 years have I undergone that. Rather, I have been encouraged when I attempt in our Vorstandssitzung ( conducted initially in EN, later High German and eventually in Swiss German ).
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Old 29.11.2011, 21:54
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Re: German to English switcheroo

I have this all the time too. People just switch to English as soon as they find out I'm from the UK. I've even had people I don't know coming up to my 'circle' at a party and join in in English. And then tell me in great detail about the week they spent in London and how it rained ....I know they just want to practice their English, but it is frustrating when I am desperately trying to get more confident at German!

Am going to start suggesting language-tandems with these people
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Old 29.11.2011, 21:56
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Re: German to English switcheroo

If you want to have people who refuse to speak English to you, I suggest you visit a pub where tram and train ticket inspectors hang out - at least that's what I gather from many of the threads in complaints.

Cheers,
Nick
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Old 29.11.2011, 22:14
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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.
My mother was German and I grew up learning a very Bavarian sort of German. I came here thinking, ok, they speak Swiss, I'll start with English and work from there...nobody would speak English to me. Ok, fine, then I started with my German and, VOILIA!, suddenly everyone would speak English to me. It is, apparently, a very common thing. It is claimed that the Swiss don't understand the German dialect but...I'm not entirely convinced that is the case, nor to the Germans (of all various dialects) I know think so either. It is a rather funny thing to realize that the fastest way to get to English is by speaking German but...it happens.
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Old 29.11.2011, 22:16
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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 probably think they're being helpful, but just keep answering in German and they'll eventually get the hint. As your accent starts to lessen this will also stop them from speaking English to you... because they'll be more interested in figuring out where you come from. Mine has become a bit of a mish-mash at this point, so people like me to keep speaking so they can try to figure out where I'm from before they finally give up and have to ask

And the more practice you have here in CH the more you'll be able to pick up CH Deutsch. In the beginning it was really frustrating for me, but it definitely gets better with practice and now I quite like it!
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Old 29.11.2011, 22:27
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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I don't notice this happening in Germany or Austria.
The Swiss try to be nice to you. Germans and Austrians are just not good in foreign languages.
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Old 29.11.2011, 22:34
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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.
When I first moved here, I experienced that as well. I had the impression that the locals enjoyed practicing their English on me
I have the opposite now, the locals generally only speak Swiss-German to me and I feel like a right idiot to keep reminding them that I don't understand what they're saying and if they could please repeat in high German
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Old 29.11.2011, 22:44
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Re: German to English switcheroo

Speaking Swiss German is a great way to avoid this switcheroo. I've found it incredibly useful as the Swiss I've spoken to have mentioned that they really do have to put effort into speaking High German, which is why they choose to use Swiss German or English in such conversations. (Although sometimes I think it must also require effort to speak English - it is a foreign language afterall - more so than High German anyway).

Swiss German isn't easy to learn, but once you can say a few phrases and can understand much of what you hear, you'll find you'll have people speaking to you in [Swiss] German rather than English
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Old 29.11.2011, 23:03
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Re: German to English switcheroo

This has happened to me a lot and used to really annoy me. I've now just learned to get on with it.

Interestingly, we used this as a discussion topic in one of my German lessons. I found it is only something that English speakers are subjected to. No one seemed to break out into French with the French course participants. The Swiss teacher was amazed that I could possibly find this annoying .. he suggested (and was convinced by his own argument) that people were only switching because they were trying to be polite and welcoming and helping me out. This of course does not explain why people still switch to English even when it is abundantly clear that their English is far worse than my German (particularly irritating when they get stuck and ask me in German what they want to say).

If I am feeling militant, I either resolutely stick to replying in German or, even more fun, speak very fast and convoluted English, so they can't understand me and we then have to lapse back into German (well Swiss German from them, German from me).

But most of the time I'm just glad to linguistically have the upper hand for once.
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Old 30.11.2011, 04:01
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Re: German to English switcheroo

They just want to show you that they can speak English ! They're proud if you understand them !

Some of the things that foreigners don't seem to get is that the Swiss are LOOKING UP to people of England and America because that's where all their favorite actors and singers are from ... !
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Old 30.11.2011, 06:17
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Re: German to English switcheroo

This is always an interesting item. Observations I have noted are that it is more a behaviour in the city areas and the more touristy the more likely. Places like Winterthur its much less likely and go into a hardware store even less likely as the education level of the person will determine.

Also I found in the early phase of learing that if you continue with english while Swiss German or German is coming back as the reply and the answer is what you expected then you miust be getting it across correctly so keep going. It does change and it does depend on the person. Even now after 5 years have people I struggle to understand in german or rather swiss german and others I understand clearly.

Don't be worried just keep practising and remember german is a 2nd language to most swiss and not all of them are comfortable using it. 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.
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Old 30.11.2011, 08:37
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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My mother was German and I grew up learning a very Bavarian sort of German. I came here thinking, ok, they speak Swiss, I'll start with English and work from there...nobody would speak English to me. Ok, fine, then I started with my German and, VOILIA!, suddenly everyone would speak English to me. It is, apparently, a very common thing. It is claimed that the Swiss don't understand the German dialect but...I'm not entirely convinced that is the case, nor to the Germans (of all various dialects) I know think so either. It is a rather funny thing to realize that the fastest way to get to English is by speaking German but...it happens.
Yes, that is the frustrating thing! Because when I first moved here and would have appreciated a little English in transition, no one could speak it. Now that I am trying to improve my German, no one speaks German!
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Old 30.11.2011, 09:09
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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This has happened to me a lot and used to really annoy me. I've now just learned to get on with it.

Interestingly, we used this as a discussion topic in one of my German lessons. I found it is only something that English speakers are subjected to. No one seemed to break out into French with the French course participants. The Swiss teacher was amazed that I could possibly find this annoying .. he suggested (and was convinced by his own argument) that people were only switching because they were trying to be polite and welcoming and helping me out. This of course does not explain why people still switch to English even when it is abundantly clear that their English is far worse than my German (particularly irritating when they get stuck and ask me in German what they want to say).

If I am feeling militant, I either resolutely stick to replying in German or, even more fun, speak very fast and convoluted English, so they can't understand me and we then have to lapse back into German (well Swiss German from them, German from me).

But most of the time I'm just glad to linguistically have the upper hand for once.
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 on the French.


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Yes, that is the frustrating thing! Because when I first moved here and would have appreciated a little English in transition, no one could speak it. Now that I am trying to improve my German, no one speaks German!
I get some of this sometimes, if I start out by asking if (whomever it is) can speak English, often it's no, sorry. However, if I start out with "Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut" (Excuse me, my German is not so good), and then ask for English, the response is more favorable.

Likewise, if I say "My German is not so good, but maybe we can..." and continue on in my broken German, usually the response is to try to speak German with me, usually patient with my broken German. (The "..." in this case is because I do honestly stop here, I don't know what the phrase is to say "try it" in this context)
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Old 30.11.2011, 09:12
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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Yes, High German. I've also been scolded for attempting Swiss German words.
Reading through your other posts on this forum it seems you have been "scolded" a lot. Are you sure you aren't just misinterpreting the tone of German? Sometimes it can sound a bit direct and maybe a sensitive flower might take it as being scolded.

I am sure people would never "scold" you (thinks of old lady wagging finger at small child for stealing sweeties) for using a Swiss German word. In my experience people just recommend that you don't attempt Swiss German until you feel reasonably comfortable with High German.

People have openly laughed at my Swiss German attempts but in all fairness we were all several beers down and attempting to speak everything from Arabic to Portuguese.

People switching to English when you are obviously trying to learn German is mildly frustrating but I wouldn't have put it down as a complaint. My feeling would be that people are trying to help and make you feel welcome.

A complaint would be if they rigidly stuck to German and didn't give a toss whether you got it or not.
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Old 30.11.2011, 09:32
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Re: German to English switcheroo

Hmm, I don't seem to understand why so many see the language thing as a competition. Stick to your German / Swiss German and let the others talk back to you in English. Problem solved.
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Old 30.11.2011, 10:01
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Re: German to English switcheroo

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Reading through your other posts on this forum it seems you have been "scolded" a lot. Are you sure you aren't just misinterpreting the tone of German? Sometimes it can sound a bit direct and maybe a sensitive flower might take it as being scolded.

I am sure people would never "scold" you (thinks of old lady wagging finger at small child for stealing sweeties) for using a Swiss German word. In my experience people just recommend that you don't attempt Swiss German until you feel reasonably comfortable with High German.

People have openly laughed at my Swiss German attempts but in all fairness we were all several beers down and attempting to speak everything from Arabic to Portuguese.

People switching to English when you are obviously trying to learn German is mildly frustrating but I wouldn't have put it down as a complaint. My feeling would be that people are trying to help and make you feel welcome.

A complaint would be if they rigidly stuck to German and didn't give a toss whether you got it or not.
You could be right, I may be overly sensitive to the tone in some cases. But I think that the "scolding" is a more culturally accepted thing here than I am used to as well. Before I moved here I had never been told by a stranger how I should be dressing my children. Here I know that if certain items of clothing are not on my children when I leave the house, and I cross a woman over a certain age I will get a tsk tsk. Sound like overgeneralizing? Let's do a study together and see!

At the same time... their culture, their country, my problem, not theirs.

In the Swiss German case I said, "Wiederluege" and the person responded in English with, "you don't need to use Swiss German, it sounds a bit ridiculous." Understandably, that is just one person, and doesn't represent the sentiments of the entire Swiss population. But for a "sensitive flower" like me, it has molded my experience.

Somehow, it just doesn't feel like they are trying to be helpful by switching to English when I attempt German and sticking with German when I go for English. But you're right, it is all in one's perspective and maybe I just need to try to see it differently...
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