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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, 21:35
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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.

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Nick
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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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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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Old 16.12.2011, 23:34
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Re: German to English switcheroo

Ugh! I get scolded about not dressing myself or my child 'appropriately' too! I am from the freezing cold Canadian prairies, these mild Swiss winters really don't require so many layers of clothes and 'strumphose'! It doesn't bother me how they decide to dress their children, but it annoys me so much when they try to tell me how I should dress mine!!! I guess the Swiss way is the only way! I'm really struggling with that right now as we're building a new house. Anytime I suggest something different than what they usually do, the first response is always 'that's not possible'.
oops! I've wandered from the German/English theme.... I have the problem that I understand Swiss German much better than High German but once they realize I am not native Swiss, they switch to High German! Obviously they are trying to make it easier for me which is nice of them doesn't help me much though...
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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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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 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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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 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 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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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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