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Old 03.10.2011, 11:17
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Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

I want my son, 17, to join me in Zurich. I am hoping he could go to the international high school here. However, it is possible that his father, who's caring for him now in the USA, will bring up "the language barrier" as an obstacle to his joining me. When I was 16 my mother brought me and my sister to Zurich to live for a year, and I don't recall any major problems making myself understood (though plenty of minor ones ). Now it seems I can't board a bus without hearing English being spoken somewhere on it - and they're not tourists speaking it. What do you all think? How crucial is German?

Last edited by Xlator; 03.10.2011 at 11:27. Reason: Made more specific
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Old 03.10.2011, 12:28
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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I want my son, 17, to join me in Zurich. I am hoping he could go to the international high school here. However, it is possible that his father, who's caring for him now in the USA, will bring up "the language barrier" as an obstacle to his joining me. When I was 16 my mother brought me and my sister to Zurich to live for a year, and I don't recall any major problems making myself understood (though plenty of minor ones ). Now it seems I can't board a bus without hearing English being spoken somewhere on it - and they're not tourists speaking it. What do you all think? How crucial is German?
Why not ask your son to decide? Language might be an issue, but I'd be more concerned about him being close to graduating high school and wondering how the curriculum matches that of the school he would otherwise be going to and there's applying for University, etc. It'd be a fun adventure, but he's old enough to decide for himself I would imagine.
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Old 03.10.2011, 12:54
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

He does have a say, but the decision might have to be made in court, and I need to be sure (in my own mind) that I'm not ignoring any major difficulties. I think the curriculum would not be a problem because the school does award US diplomas. He is just now starting his second-last year.
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Old 03.10.2011, 13:04
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

You can get by with English - but German makes everything so much easier - particular integrating.

Must admit I agree with poptart on this one - so close to graduation I would not want to move a child / teenager.

Also note that International schools, though probably great also have major drawbacks. 1. they are expensive and 2. typcically have students only staying for a few years and then move on.

You don't say whether you have moved here permanently or are only here for a short while - and what circumstances triggered the move.

If it was me I would leave him where he is if possible, and then in a year, he is old enough to decide for himself.
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Old 03.10.2011, 13:10
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

No German no life, with German a life but full of discrimination since you won't speak Swiss Deutsch.. Unless you have a job they need and got it before you came in (usually from your company in your own country and stationed here) They are terrible and they hardly speak any English themselves
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Old 03.10.2011, 13:14
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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No German no life, with German a life but full of discrimination since you won't speak Swiss Deutsch.. Unless you have a job they need and got it before you came in (usually from your company in your own country and stationed here) They are terrible and they hardly speak any English themselves
You seem happy !!
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Old 03.10.2011, 13:31
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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Also note that International schools, though probably great also have major drawbacks. 1. they are expensive and 2. typcically have students only staying for a few years and then move on.

You don't say whether you have moved here permanently or are only here for a short while - and what circumstances triggered the move.
Yeah, I went to an international school myself in my senior (final) year and noticed the turnover. It actually made me feel more like I belonged. He himself has moved around some in the past few years, too.

No arguing about the expense, though.

Until end of October I'm here in a temporary position. Then it becomes permanent
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Old 03.10.2011, 15:08
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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No German no life, with German a life but full of discrimination since you won't speak Swiss Deutsch.. Unless you have a job they need and got it before you came in (usually from your company in your own country and stationed here) They are terrible and they hardly speak any English themselves
What a total crock of shite

(Although, judging by your attitude on another thread, I suspect that even if you spoke fluent Swiss German, people still wouldn't touch you with a 10 ft barge pole. Did a Swiss man shag your girl or something?)
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Old 03.10.2011, 15:27
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

I landed in Zürich with no Swiss German (went to the supermarket asking for "Reis" and was given "Eis", to be berated into saying "Riiiiies") and went along quite well.

If your kid will be attending international school, I guess his classes will be in English, so that would help him a bit.

But if you two intend to stay for a longer period of time, I would advice learning German as it makes daily life and work finding much easier
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Old 03.10.2011, 15:34
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

I don't think it's an issue at all. That of course depends a bit on the person. A super approachable friendly open individual will do well in any language setting, a more intraverted person with anti-social behavior will have issues even if they are fluent in the languages. Really comes down to one's self confidence and outside persona.

That being said I speak fairly fluent swiss-german, but I never hang out with any swiss---if I do, they choose to speak english absolutely.
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Old 03.10.2011, 16:37
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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A super approachable friendly open individual
Ha, Chemmie. You just described him!

My German's OK, and I wouldn't expect him to stay past graduation, really. Except for visits, hopefullly.

Last edited by Xlator; 03.10.2011 at 16:38. Reason: Typo
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Old 03.10.2011, 16:46
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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My German's OK, and I wouldn't expect him to stay past graduation, really. Except for visits, hopefullly.
Is he then going back to the USA after graduation? Hei, maybe he will be excited about studying abroad for a while, but maybe it's better school wise to stay in the USA?
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Old 03.10.2011, 16:54
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

It's totally off topic from the question you're actually asking, but I would sincerely hope that a 16 year old is capable of making the decision about where to finish off his schooling on his own and that such a decision could and should be respected by his parents regardless of the state of their relationship.
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Old 03.10.2011, 17:15
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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Is he then going back to the USA after graduation? Hei, maybe he will be excited about studying abroad for a while, but maybe it's better school wise to stay in the USA?
That would only be true if his school in the US were actually good. It's OK, but not great.
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Old 03.10.2011, 17:16
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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That would only be true if his school in the US were actually good. It's OK, but not great.
Then never mind. I actually thought the education in the USA was actually quite good (that's the idea I got from previous posters).

In any case, good luck with everything
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Old 03.10.2011, 17:25
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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It's totally off topic from the question you're actually asking
Thanks for pointing out how we've veered from the original post, Swissmama. I posted the original query to gather some (somewhat) objective information that I could give to my son to help him make a decision. I wanted to know whether it was just my personal impression/prejudice that a non-German-speaking teenage boy from the US could actually live, and live well, here (and bear in mind that plenty of trailing spouses do exactly this, and are expected to do this), or whether that was also the general impression, or even common knowledge.

What he does with that information is up to him. I did NOT post so that people could agree with me that it was better for him to live here or with me (it truly may not be), or to rant publicly about my son's dad, or to make the US educational system look bad (it does that all on its own). The mention of the school was simply extra information to suggest that he might not be expected to speak German in his daily life, though of course I agree it would be useful.

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I would sincerely hope that a 16 year old is capable of making the decision about where to finish off his schooling on his own and that such a decision could and should be respected by his parents regardless of the state of their relationship.
I would agree with you there. But it needs to be an INFORMED decision, not the result of disinformation and prejudice.

Last edited by Xlator; 03.10.2011 at 18:55. Reason: additions
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Old 03.10.2011, 17:26
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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Then never mind. I actually thought the education in the USA was actually quite good (that's the idea I got from previous posters).
Snort. In many, many cases, public high school is a diploma mill and nothing more.
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Old 04.10.2011, 03:35
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

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No German no life, with German a life but full of discrimination since you won't speak Swiss Deutsch.. Unless you have a job they need and got it before you came in (usually from your company in your own country and stationed here) They are terrible and they hardly speak any English themselves
Do you mean "won't" or do you mean "can't"? There's a big difference between the two words.
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Old 04.10.2011, 10:10
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

If he will be going to one of the international schools, there will be no language barrier at all so long as he speaks English. The international schools will require students to study high German as a "foreign" language, but instruction at the school will be in English. Fluency in high German is hardly necessary in Zurich and is generally disfavored by the locals anyway since they prefer to speak the dialect, especially the older Swiss. For younger and educated Swiss, fluency in English (particularly American English) seems to be quite popular, and you'd be amazed at how many Swiss teenagers speak American English and sound like they were born and raised in Orange County. Bear in mind that the international schools are quite expensive and there are often long waiting lists, so there is never a guaranteed spot although the upper schools tend to be a little more open.

We have 3 kids in the international schools, none of whom came with any "foreign" language skills othen than rudimentary Spanish. The turnover at the international schools is more a plus than a negative, since every kid there knows what it's like to move to a "strange" country and the schools work very hard at integrating new students. Candidly, the schools work harder on integration than they do on the core curriculum, but the overseas experience will be considerably more valuable (and will impress university admissions officers considerably more) than anything a US high school will teach them.
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Old 04.10.2011, 10:30
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Re: Language barrier in Zurich - overrated or a real obstacle?

I have been here since 1994, I speak very little German. Never been an issue.

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If he will be going to one of the international schools, there will be no language barrier at all so long as he speaks English. The international schools will require students to study high German as a "foreign" language, but instruction at the school will be in English. Fluency in high German is hardly necessary in Zurich and is generally disfavored by the locals anyway since they prefer to speak the dialect, especially the older Swiss. For younger and educated Swiss, fluency in English (particularly American English) seems to be quite popular, and you'd be amazed at how many Swiss teenagers speak American English and sound like they were born and raised in Orange County. Bear in mind that the international schools are quite expensive and there are often long waiting lists, so there is never a guaranteed spot although the upper schools tend to be a little more open.

We have 3 kids in the international schools, none of whom came with any "foreign" language skills othen than rudimentary Spanish. The turnover at the international schools is more a plus than a negative, since every kid there knows what it's like to move to a "strange" country and the schools work very hard at integrating new students. Candidly, the schools work harder on integration than they do on the core curriculum, but the overseas experience will be considerably more valuable (and will impress university admissions officers considerably more) than anything a US high school will teach them.
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