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Old 18.06.2011, 19:08
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Speaking English in Zurich

Hallo!

I am gonna move to Zurich on Sept. I'm wondering to know if Zurich people are able to talk and communicate in English or I should seriously and immediatley force myself to study german before arrival?
By Zurich people, I mean for instance bus driver, shopkeepers, policemen, or even a random passer-by!
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Old 18.06.2011, 19:12
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

Many know English but will hardly speak to you in EN unless it is obvious you are a clueless tourist.

The better way is to pick up some elementary DE first ( basic phrases ) and try it out. Most will appreciate it and will happily switch to EN to continue the conversation. Learning DE in your place ( Iran ) might well be cheaper than here.

Even if you were to ask in English if they spoke English, the response is mainly a very humble " a little bit " which is often misleading. The average person on the street speaks EN at B2 level IMO.
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Old 18.06.2011, 19:27
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

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Hallo!

I am gonna move to Zurich on Sept. I'm wondering to know if Zurich people are able to talk and communicate in English or I should seriously and immediatley force myself to study german before arrival?
By Zurich people, I mean for instance bus driver, shopkeepers, policemen, or even a random passer-by!
Most people have some knowledge of English, but German always helps.

Are you studying here or moving permanently?
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Old 18.06.2011, 19:29
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

I think he will be arriving to study at ETH, given his past posts.

New in Zurich - Muslim brothers here?
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Old 18.06.2011, 19:32
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

I've only been out here 3 weeks, but I'd say start learning German now and look to a full course when you get here (it's a good way of meeting people, I'm told)

I've previously worked in Cologne for a year, and France, and survived both without having to learn the language but here in Zurich although the language at work (big investment bank) is almost exclusively English as soon as I step outside the front gates it all changes.

The typical response to "Sprechen ze English?" seems to be a shaking of the head and then great long German sentences. Some of the web sites give a clue: when translated from Swiss-German the order of priority for other languages (if offered) seems to be French, Italian and then English.

In my "self serviced accommodation" I'm finding all the conversations in the communal areas are in either German or Italian, with most seemingly not speaking English at all.

Basic things like working out what the laundry card instructions are, working out how to arrange re-delivery of mail, asking directions etc can become a nightmare, and I still have no clue what supermarket cash till operators are trying to convey to me after I make it clear I don't speak German, other than that they don't seem very happy about the fact I only speak English.

I'm starting on the Swiss-German audio course others here have recommended for getting started. Each of the two parts are not much more than a tenner from Amazon . There are only two parts available so a German course after learning some very basic conversation on this course seems to be the way to go.
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Old 18.06.2011, 20:15
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

It depends on with whom do you speak... If with people who try to sell you something, than everybody will speak English
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Old 18.06.2011, 20:45
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

My impression has been that due to the society's multi-lingual nature, standards for "knowing" a language are high.

Almost everybody who's gone to school will know at least a smattering of French and German, but they won't say "yes, I speak French" unless their French is really good. The idea seems to be that once they declare themselves French-speakers, you are free to address them in French and expect them to understand everything.

So that spills over to foreign languages. Especially shopkeepers seem to fear that as soon as they say "yes, I speak English", the next thing out of your mouth will be "knowest thou whither yon argosy fareth?" and it will be their fault if they don't get it.

Many people on the street (in Zurich) do speak enough English for you to get by with them, but it's not rare to find one that doesn't at all; if that one happens to be the one person you need to talk to right now, then oops.


In the short term, it's good to know a bit of basic German to start a conversation and then politely ask if they speak English. Most Swiss (at least the ones in Zurich) appreciate it if you're clearly putting some effort to adapt and not coming in with your nose held high and expecting them to speak "your" language for you.

In the long term, you can get by in Zurich without German, but you can't really live. You would be forever on the margins, isolated from the city's heartbeat, hanging out only with small circles of people.

Standard German is IMHO better than Swiss German for this. It's easier to find quality instruction for it before you arrive, it will be useful outside Switzerland too, all government stuff is written in it, and the locals' prejudice against it mostly only applies if you speak it very very well

Note language instruction here is quite expensive. As Jrspet said, get as much of it as you can before you arrive.
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Old 18.06.2011, 21:42
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In the long term, you can get by in Zurich without German, but you can't really live. You would be forever on the margins, isolated from the city's heartbeat, hanging out only with small circles of people.
.
This is not entirely accurate. I'm a Yank, but my mother was German and I speak reasonable German as I had a great time last weekend in the motherland speaking German to those who speak it, e.g. not here. The Swiss, on the whole, don't speak German and, even when you do, it's awkward.

I've rarely had language issues in places I've lived, particularly because I speak Spanish, German and French, but the Swiss are a bit different and though, yes, speaking German does help, though there is certain amount of disconnect in saying that by speaking German that you'll get along here.

At least in Zürich, yes, knowing German helps, but it's an unusual place where as an international city you'll frequently bump up against the fear of English - in spite of every bit of graffiti and advertising and music, etc. all being in English.

German helps, yes, but many know English and only the Swiss know Swiss German.

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It depends on with whom do you speak... If with people who try to sell you something, than everybody will speak English
You'd think, but not true in Zurich. I've been waiting for a toaster for over three months from the big department store and every time, they forget, oh, right you don't speak Swiss and scramble for someone who speaks either decent german or English. Their English is usually unbearable so I ask, in German, that they speak in German...which tends to work out a bit better. It's not a guarantee that those in the selling/tourism trade speak English. You'd expect it in any other EU country but...this ain't the EU, remember.

Last edited by Longbyt; 18.06.2011 at 21:49. Reason: same poster, same theme, consecutive posts
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Old 18.06.2011, 21:51
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

I think Miss Watson was having a little joke, you know.
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Old 18.06.2011, 21:53
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

Add to the list the people on the streets exhorting their brand of religion - they will speak to you in English, assured!
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Old 18.06.2011, 21:57
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

Poptart who are THE Swiss who speak Swiss German? Many Swiss do not speak Swiss German at all - including me (and I have a Degree in German).
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Old 18.06.2011, 22:24
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

I would say most people will know and speak some English, you will hear a lot of expats around the city centre too so fear not in that respect. As other say it's best to try to pick up the basics though, as it goes a long way particularly for questions in supermarkets/taxi drivers etc.
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Old 18.06.2011, 22:28
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

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Hallo!

I am gonna move to Zurich on Sept. I'm wondering to know if Zurich people are able to talk and communicate in English or I should seriously and immediatley force myself to study german before arrival?
By Zurich people, I mean for instance bus driver, shopkeepers, policemen, or even a random passer-by!
This week I met an English guy who has lived for the past 40 years in a small village (3,000+ inhabitants) about 20 Km from Zürich & he has never learnt any German, Dialect or whatever.
Case closed
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Old 18.06.2011, 22:53
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

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It depends on with whom do you speak... If with people who try to sell you something, than everybody will speak English
but evidently not everyone can write it...
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Old 18.06.2011, 23:15
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

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You'd think, but not true in Zurich. I've been waiting for a toaster for over three months from the big department store and every time, they forget, oh, right you don't speak Swiss and scramble for someone who speaks either decent german or English. Their English is usually unbearable so I ask, in German, that they speak in German...which tends to work out a bit better. It's not a guarantee that those in the selling/tourism trade speak English. You'd expect it in any other EU country but...this ain't the EU, remember.
I wonder to how many EU countries you have been?
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Old 18.06.2011, 23:22
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

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Hallo!

I am gonna move to Zurich on Sept. I'm wondering to know if Zurich people are able to talk and communicate in English or I should seriously and immediatley force myself to study german before arrival?
By Zurich people, I mean for instance bus driver, shopkeepers, policemen, or even a random passer-by!
Most bus drivers and shopkeepers and many random passers-by are able to talk in English. Policemen in private yes, officially a bit less to study a bit German so may be a good idea. Do not forget that people like plumbers, masons, plasterers, house-keepers, electricians, cooks, carpenters, locksmiths, etc do not speak English, but beside a sometimes rudimentary German of some kind, Italian, Albanian, Serbian, Portuguese, Spanish, Macedonian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Tamil !

I in fact when learning English in london in 72 had some Iranian colleagues.
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Old 18.06.2011, 23:46
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I've only been out here 3 weeks, but I'd say start learning German now and look to a full course when you get here (it's a good way of meeting people, I'm told)

I've previously worked in Cologne for a year, and France, and survived both without having to learn the language but here in Zurich although the language at work (big investment bank) is almost exclusively English as soon as I step outside the front gates it all changes.

The typical response to "Sprechen ze English?" seems to be a shaking of the head and then great long German sentences. Some of the web sites give a clue: when translated from Swiss-German the order of priority for other languages (if offered) seems to be French, Italian and then English.

In my "self serviced accommodation" I'm finding all the conversations in the communal areas are in either German or Italian, with most seemingly not speaking English at all.

Basic things like working out what the laundry card instructions are, working out how to arrange re-delivery of mail, asking directions etc can become a nightmare, and I still have no clue what supermarket cash till operators are trying to convey to me after I make it clear I don't speak German, other than that they don't seem very happy about the fact I only speak English.

I'm starting on the Swiss-German audio course others here have recommended for getting started. Each of the two parts are not much more than a tenner from Amazon . There are only two parts available so a German course after learning some very basic conversation on this course seems to be the way to go.
Italian is the preferred language among many folks from the Mediterranean. Add to this that the Italia-origin Secondos now have moved up to managerial positions, and so you get the point.

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This is not entirely accurate. I'm a Yank, but my mother was German and I speak reasonable German as I had a great time last weekend in the motherland speaking German to those who speak it, e.g. not here. The Swiss, on the whole, don't speak German and, even when you do, it's awkward. .

It depends on where you are. The family of my mother in Schaffhausen, and countless people here in CH I knew and know spoke Hoch-Deutsch very well, and so, you better abstain from generalisations. Beside the point that German speaking Switzerland is part of "motherland of German speaking"
-
You might compare it with the details here




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At least in Zürich, yes, knowing German helps, but it's an unusual place where as an international city you'll frequently bump up against the fear of English - in spite of every bit of graffiti and advertising and music, etc. all being in English.
.
"Fear of English" ???? Where exactly ? Sure, French has lost its importance, if compared with day when songs like
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9oEVsZP6Xs
-
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1q...-l-amour_music
-

-
were top here

Quote:

German helps, yes, but many know English and only the Swiss know Swiss German.
.
-
no, also les Alsaciens and the Süd-BadenWürttemberger and the folks in Vorarlberg know Alemannic German


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You'd think, but not true in Zurich. I've been waiting for a toaster for over three months from the big department store and every time, they forget, oh, right you don't speak Swiss and scramble for someone who speaks either decent german or English. Their English is usually unbearable so I ask, in German, that they speak in German...which tends to work out a bit better.
--
Everyone of them was taught to speak decent German in school for years, 6 hours per day. Unbearable ? What about some decent English ?? And you mentioned to be from the USA
.
--

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It's not a guarantee that those in the selling/tourism trade speak English. You'd expect it in any other EU country but...this ain't the EU, remember
.
-
those in the tourism trade of course DO speak English, but NOT necessarily American

Last edited by Wollishofener; 19.06.2011 at 02:05. Reason: Merging of successive posts - please try at least to use the Multi Quote option
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Old 19.06.2011, 10:18
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

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It depends on where you are. The family of my mother in Schaffhausen, and countless people here in CH I knew and know spoke Hoch-Deutsch very well, and so, you better abstain from generalisations. Beside the point that German speaking Switzerland is part of "motherland of German speaking"
That hasn't been my experience. Granted, I've not been here that long, but I was starting to doubt my rusty German until I spent a few days in Germany where I had much, much less trouble communicating in either German or English. I'm not sure why it seems to be so much more difficult in Switzerland, but it is. And I've heard many similar experiences from others so I'm not entirely sure I'm an isolated case.


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"Fear of English" ???? Where exactly ?
In particular, Globus or, just about any retail shop where the sales person comes to bother me and I speak to them in English. One poor girl looked so shocked/scared I had to wonder if it was her first day on the job in a flagship department store in an international city. In such a store, particularly in a banking nexus, you'd likely expect to have English spoken by most clerks. I have found that to be a curiously lacking expectation.

I'm not entirely sure why English appears to be so aggressively shunned when it appears everywhere in print - used much like a 'spice' - on products, in ads, in slogans, and in graffiti and, particularly, most of the songs on the radio are in English from the UK/US.

So, there is some complicated algorithm where you're supposed to negotiate the language that I have not quite figured out yet. But the bottom line is, no, many folks around here don't speak English, even the ones you'd feel comfortable in expecting to speak it. Learning German helps, but also not as much as you'd expect.

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those in the tourism trade of course DO speak English, but NOT necessarily American
Oh, the English no longer have the distinction now that they have become the 51st state.
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Old 19.06.2011, 10:24
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

I recently met a young British women who has been living in Switzerland since 5 years and doesn't speak German. She said that there was never a need to speak it and that she never had a problem.
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Old 19.06.2011, 10:26
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Re: Speaking English in Zurich

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I recently met a young British women who has been living in Switzerland since 5 years and doesn't speak German. She said that there was never a need to speak it and that she never had a problem.
A French-speaking friend of mine who's been here since 1995 and has a Malaysian wife who doesn't speak German claims the same. Makes me think I've just been unlucky with my experiences over the last 3 weeks.
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