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View Poll Results: Do you prefer High German or Swiss German
I'm struggling to learn German, I prefer to converse only in High German 108 56.25%
Since foreigners live in Switzerland they should be forced to understand to Swiss German 45 23.44%
I'm Swiss, but I'll adapt to High German or Swiss German depending on the other party 15 7.81%
Swiss German or High German? Are you crazy, I only ever speak English 24 12.50%
Voters: 192. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 03.10.2005, 11:17
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[Learn] Swiss German or High German

This is a continuation from another thread, where spinelli said:

Quote:
I´ll start a course at Migros Klubschule in October. I hate it when the Swiss are being friendly and talk Hochdeutsch with me.
Since I didn't want to get off topic (the original thread was about kids) I thought I'd post a new one.

So my question is this - if you are a foreigner (for want of a better word) and speak at least some German what is your experience - do the Swiss respond to you in Swiss German or in High German. Which would you prefer them to address you in? Why? How do you interpret their actions towards you? Are they being helpful, complimentary or just plain rude or lazy? Let's hear your experiences and opinions.

Now I'll talk about my experiences.... Get ready for another essay

Personally I prefer it when people converse with me in High German, though I can understand a reasonable amount of Swiss German. I consider my own level of German to be reasonable, meaning that I can function in most levels of conversation with very little misunderstandings, teach courses and presentations in German etc. However if Swiss German is used I am no longer comfortable since there is a chance that I may misunderstand a direct question, and give an inappropriate response, or be forced to ask the speaker to repeat themselves.

I have no problem when two other Swiss talk Swiss German to each other since I can follow about 70% of what they are saying, which is usually enough for other peoples' conversations, however when I first got here they did it and I considered it rude (which, if you can't follow it at all it would be a bit rude). Side note: when I got here I already spoke German.

I don't think I speak German with a heavy accent (in fact when I go to Germany some people think I'm Swiss which I find very amusing) but I think it should be obvious to any Swiss that I am not a Swiss German speaker.

So it does puzzle me when I address someone in High German that they would respond to me in Swiss German. Isn't this a pretty big assumption on their part? Were they not supposed to have done all their schooling in High German? (even though this was supposed to happen, we know that it probably didn't). Usually if the conversation is going to be simple I just continue and hope that there isn't a misunderstanding, but other times I stop them and politely request that they speak High German with me. Almost always they apologise and switch the High German. On very rare occassions they just continue to speak Swiss German to me despite my request, in which case I assume that I must be dealing with a moron...

So how should it make me feel? Should I take it as a compliment concerning my German that they would choose to address me in Swiss German, or might I assume that they are just being arrogant, probably thinking "Well we are in Zurich, he should be forced to understand Züri-dootsch, I'm not going to make any effort". I have noticed with some Swiss that while they will address me in High German, they will never speak High German to someone who comes from what they usually consider "less desirable" countries (we all know what I'm talking about here - right?). Surely these foreigners, whose grasp of German is rudimentary at best, should be addresses in High German? Many of them are going to German classes and struggling to get to grips with a language (High German) that nobody actually uses with them while they try to interact with people in Switzerland.

Another angle on this. My girlfriend is Swiss, and speaks perfect Swiss German, but she has an English (sorry, Welsh) surname so often she will be having a conversation in Swiss German with someone, and if they have to ask for her name they then switch to High German - this drives her crazy. Why does she get the opposite treatment to a real foreigner?

Anyway - a lot of points raised there - hopefully an interesting discussion may follow :-)

Last edited by mark; 03.10.2005 at 11:33.
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Old 14.03.2006, 09:04
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Re: Swiss German or High German

I thought it was time to dig out this old thread from last year which never saw any action. Maybe at this time it might get some more comment.

I just wanted to add something I found on Swissinfo that I thought was both relevant and interesting:

http://www.swissinfo.org/sen/swissin...05&sid=6407486

A quote from the article:


Quote:
In German-speaking Switzerland dialect is going from strength to strength, but Forum Helveticum warns that this threatens the country's cohesion.

Switzerland's minority communities regret the eclipse of standard German, while educationalists are concerned by a loss of linguistic competence on the part of German speakers.
Comments?
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Old 14.03.2006, 10:18
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Re: Swiss German or High German

It's the Swiss Germans choice to isolate themselves off from the French and Italian speaking parts, let alone the rest of the world...

I find it amusing that Germans I've met have trouble understanding Swiss Germans... I have not much hope as native UK english speaker.
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Old 14.03.2006, 12:49
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Re: Swiss German or High German

I find Swiss German an interesting language and more of a dialect really. It varies so strongly depending on location that it is not easy to really learn Swiss German. I grew up speaking both English and Swiss German which has great advantages but, I think that high German is a better option to learn. After all Swiss German does not really exist in written form...
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Old 14.03.2006, 12:58
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
I find Swiss German an interesting language and more of a dialect really. It varies so strongly depending on location that it is not easy to really learn Swiss German. I grew up speaking both English and Swiss German which has great advantages but, I think that high German is a better option to learn. After all Swiss German does not really exist in written form...
Here lies the current dilemna: Young swiss are sending emails, sms, etc in "Swiss German" . Therefore they are losing their written skills in High German, and putting themselves at a great disadvantage. It is one thing to preserve the dialect, but another to lose greater communication skills.

Bear in mind, many german speakers find the various english accents and "dialects" difficult to understand. Most understand American/Canadian accents, but things like Irish, Scottish and Australian accents can be difficult to understand. I don't know any non-native english speakers who can understand a movie like "Lock,Stock and two smoking barrels", with that wonderful rhyming slang. Personally it is one of my all-time faves.
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  #6  
Old 15.03.2006, 00:01
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
Here lies the current dilemna: Young swiss are sending emails, sms, etc in "Swiss German" . Therefore they are losing their written skills in High German, and putting themselves at a great disadvantage. It is one thing to preserve the dialect, but another to lose greater communication skills.
I agree with you there. I mean sometimes it's funny to write in dialect - as the readers of the classic "Viz" magazine will tell you. But that's all it is - funny. The sad truth is that most of the time young Swiss are writing in Swiss German, and that isn't funny at all. And as you point out - they are losing their writing skills (if they were all that good in the first place?). The rule used to be that high German would be spoken at school, but that doesn't seem to happen anymore. If the teachers don't have the skills - can they pass them on to the children?

But I do think it is a threat the national cohesion - Switzerland loves to pride itself on having four official languages, but what is the point when the French speakers try their best to learn German (cough... splutter...) and then still find themselves in situations where their co-workers speak Swiss German amongst themselves? I think it is a great shame, and with each year that goes by the Röstigraben gets deeper and deeper.

But - in the eternal words of Homer Simpson "Yeah, well - what are you gonna do?"

Quote:
Bear in mind, many german speakers find the various english accents and "dialects" difficult to understand. Most understand American/Canadian accents, but things like Irish, Scottish and Australian accents can be difficult to understand. I don't know any non-native english speakers who can understand a movie like "Lock,Stock and two smoking barrels", with that wonderful rhyming slang. Personally it is one of my all-time faves.
Do you know many Americans who can understand that movie? Let's not forget that there were subtitles in some parts because nobody except those born within a few miles of the Bow Bells would have understood a word of it..

But I should point something out here - I don't think one can draw a comparison between various dialects of English and then make the leap from there to the difference between High German and Swiss German. The point is that there is too much similarity between the English dialects - sure a non -native speaker will find it hard at first to cope with a new dialect, but it won't take them long to figure it out.

When I arrived in Frankfurt I had learnt High German and I was totally shocked at the local Hessisch dialect, but after you figure out a few of the different slang words and different sounds it's not that bad. Moving from there to Switzerland was another story. I stood open-jawed in front of the TV on my first day in Switzerland. I couldn't understand a single word of what was being said - not a single word! I tell you - it really took the wind out of my sails! It took me about 18 months before I admitted to being able to understand and follow some Swiss German conversation.

Native German speakers can get up to speed faster, but from what I've heard for some it can take months. I've been to most of the English speaking world, but I've never been somewhere where I can't understand people.

There are two exceptions - Newcastle, England. It took me about a day to figure out what people were talking about. It didn't really matter since it usually involved beer and football and hunting members of the opposite sex. That's what the women were talking about anyway, I don't know about the men.

The other place was Kerry, Ireland. I honestly thought they were speaking Gailic (spelling?) but I was assured that it was English.... But I'm sure if I'd had the patience to hang around I would have got the hang of it.

Anyway my rather long winded point here is that if Germans struggle with Swiss German when they get here then it has to be pretty hard for dirty foreigners like us to deal with it!
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Old 15.03.2006, 07:52
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Hi Mark,

Interesting question, but I think the second answer choice is a bit harshly written - "Since foreigners live in Switzerland they should be forced to understand Swiss German" - Personally, I speak high german and made the effort to at least understand swiss german, which has made life here much, much easier! As far as being forced to learn a language...well, I think that is an individual decision - but one made knowing the advantages and disadvantages of conversing in the local language.

Jack
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Old 15.03.2006, 08:26
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
Interesting question, but I think the second answer choice is a bit harshly written - "Since foreigners live in Switzerland they should be forced to understand Swiss German" - Personally, I speak high german and made the effort to at least understand swiss german, which has made life here much, much easier! As far as being forced to learn a language...well, I think that is an individual decision - but one made knowing the advantages and disadvantages of conversing in the local language.
Hi Jack,

I know it seems harshly written, it was not my intention to convey that I agreed with that option - merely to give people the chance who hold a strong opinion like that to disagree. Sometimes the "tough" choice in these polls is modelled on the sort of %^@&@$ that you hear certain Swiss coming out from time to time. You've lived here long enough - you know exactly what I'm talking about!

I agree with you though - it is a personal choice. In Australia for example learning English is not a condition of citizenship, it is encouraged but nobody forces the issue. Free interpretation and translation services are provided to migrants for the first 2 years should they need it when dealing with government departments or other situations, after that - they are on their own. In other words, if you don't want to assimilate or learn the local language that's ok. That's because Australia has a policy of multiculturalism as opposed to assimilation. Switzerland for example says that it is multicultural, but in reality their official policy is very much one of assimilation. I think any country which attaches conditions to citizenship (tests, etc.) is running a policy of assimilation.

I expect many expats will jump on me here for daring to question that assimilation should be a matter of choice, since I've heard so many (especially Brits) bitching about immigrants in their own countries. All I wanted to say is that I agree with you, learning a language is a matter of personal choice.

The sad part however is that even those who are committed to do so will struggle because the real language of the street is so far removed from that of the classroom. Unless you are unfortunate enough to be the the child of a migrant and have your German classes in High German and the rest of your schooling in Swiss German! (see thread on Swiss schooling for more discussion on that!)

Mark
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Old 15.03.2006, 12:05
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Re: Swiss German or High German

I saw a documentary on a German channel the other day about Appenzell. The whole Swiss-German audio was subtitled in High German. It did take me some around 2 years to understand the dialect but now I can I prefer to listen to it than High German.

I have no problem with assimilation policies, but assistance must be given. Correct me if I am wrong, but learning Swedish is a condition for all migrants in Sweden, but it is FREE. (A concept so foreign to the Swiss they never had a word for it,so they had to steal "gratis" from Latin). What I object to is being expected to speak a language for the purpose of assimilation and having to pay absurd amounts of money for tuition.
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Old 15.03.2006, 12:57
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
I've been to most of the English speaking world, but I've never been somewhere where I can't understand people.
I challenge you to understand inner-city Glasweigian

I know people who have been living in ZH for 5-6 years and don't speak German or Swiss German. Personally I think that it would be unavoidable, that simply through hearing it around you, on telly etc that you would soak it up even if you tried to avoid it. I think there is a barrier humans place around themselves when it comes to languages, that through fear they refrain from attempting the language, that they feel embarrassed for their mistakes. I love them, I love the looks on the faces of the cashier ladies in supermarkets when I blurt out a strange mix of Dutch, Swedish and German (they are so similar that it tends to merge into one language). Laugh and they laugh with you. OK, I was brought up bilingual, learned another Germanic language (Swedish) later on, so German is not syllable soup for me.

Swiss German almost sounds Scandinavian so my brain tells me I should understand but my ears disagree. I can pick out and hear the words and I don't have trouble retaining the vocabulary. Strangely enough when I guess a word, my girlfriend tells me it's Swiss German, or closer to Swiss German than High German, even though I am learning Hoch Deutsch.

And yes,when you live in Sweden, the Swedish government puts you into 500 hours of free Swedish lessons, 4 hours a day, 4 days a week. I lasted 2 months as I had the most dreary teacher who just dished out reams and reams of verbs. I worked at the same time so I just fell asleep in class. Also they take the grammatical approach to learning a language, which I can't. I prefer a functional approach. I quit school, went to work, told everyone to speak Swedish to me, even though they all speak excellent English, and 18 months later I was fluent.

People bang on about kids being able to soak things up. Why should adults not have the same capacity? Or is it that kids just don't have the same hang-ups and inhibitions as adults?
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Old 15.03.2006, 13:11
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
People bang on about kids being able to soak things up. Why should adults not have the same capacity? Or is it that kids just don't have the same hang-ups and inhibitions as adults?
Well this is more to do with the way the brain grows and develops. We are wired to pick up language during our early stages of development. That's not to say that it is impossible for an adult, only that as age increases our ability to learn languages decreases. Sure, some of it might be hang ups, but a lot of it is the wiring of the brain.

Of course that does not give adults the excuse to make no effort at all! I'm learning Japanese at the moment, and I tell you if you think German is hard.... oh boy...

One thing that I think makes a difference is an awareness of pronunciation. I never had exposure to a second language as a child, but I did grow up in 3 different English speaking countries and was constantly teased about my accent - but I learned to adapt it quickly. I think this gave me a big advantage when learning German, and has helped me a lot with understanding some of the rhythms of Japanese.

I must admit that I am surprised that so many expats think that Zug is pronounced "Zooog" - I've even been subtly corrected on many occassions when I pronounce it correctly. How can someone live somewhere and hear a word so many times, but have a totally different memory of it in their head (unless their entire experience of hearing the word comes from only other English speakers mispronouncing it?)
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Old 15.03.2006, 13:13
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:

I quit school, went to work, told everyone to speak Swedish to me, even though they all speak excellent English, and 18 months later I was fluent.
You hit the nail on the head. For adults, it is not the new language that causes the problem, it is the old language. The biggest hinderance to my german-learning capabilities is that I am too often in English speaking environments, such as here. My wife and I have always spoken English, because she does not want to lose her English skills. But I have news for her: the moment I finish up at my current workplace I will only talk to her in German until at least I find another job where I can get my practice in.
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Old 15.03.2006, 15:27
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
My wife and I have always spoken English, because she does not want to lose her English skills. But I have news for her: the moment I finish up at my current workplace I will only talk to her in German until at least I find another job where I can get my practice in.
Excellent point! My wife is also Swiss, but we only speak English and High German - and lately a little too much of the English. I'm with you...back to speaking more German/Swiss German! I invested too much time and effort to let a bit of laziness wilt my language skills!

Jack
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Old 15.03.2006, 23:44
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Mark wrote:
Quote:
In Australia for example learning English is not a condition of citizenship, it is encouraged but nobody forces the issue. Free interpretation and translation services are provided to migrants for the first 2 years should they need it when dealing with government departments or other situations, after that - they are on their own. In other words, if you don't want to assimilate or learn the local language that's ok.
I emigrated to Australia from a non-English speaking country and when applying for citizenship in the mid 90's, I did have to prove that I had sufficient English skills. Perhaps this has changed since then, but I was definitely tested on my English. Never did become an Aussie but that's another story.

Maybe I'm in a different kind of situation but have found many friends and colleagues will switch to English with me, in order for them to practice their English skills. This was great initially but I'm now really wanting (and needing) some practive with my German - changing their habits is proving rather difficult!!
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Old 16.03.2006, 00:33
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
Mark wrote:


Maybe I'm in a different kind of situation but have found many friends and colleagues will switch to English with me, in order for them to practice their English skills. This was great initially but I'm now really wanting (and needing) some practive with my German - changing their habits is proving rather difficult!!
Be careful: It is very important from your first contact with someone here to choose your "default" language, before it becomes "hard-coded" and almost impossible to change. People with whom I started talking to in English (like my wife) I always talk in English. People with whom I met first and spoke German, we always talk in German. So now, when I meet new local people I "force" German from the outset, so I can get my practice.
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Old 16.03.2006, 01:21
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
I emigrated to Australia from a non-English speaking country and when applying for citizenship in the mid 90's, I did have to prove that I had sufficient English skills. Perhaps this has changed since then, but I was definitely tested on my English. Never did become an Aussie but that's another story.
You were tested in order to receive your immigration visa - knowledge of English is worth about 5 points (if I remember correctly) of the approximately 120 points (which changes each year) to qualify. Your test would have been simply to get the five points or not, if you had failed, you probably would have had enough points for the visa anyway.

However this would not have affected your eligibility for citizenship, as the only requirement is to fill in the necessary paperwork, turn up at a ceremony, have coffee and biscuits and go home. I know because I did exactly that in 1983, and I have friends who have done it in the last few years as well.

The last time I checked the UK also had no tests as a pre-requisite to citizenship, there was talk of introducing one, but I doubt this went anywhere.

Ooops - correction on this one - it looks like you are assessed for "basic" English, unless you are over the age 50, in which case you are not. Quite a few of my school friends had parents that didn't speak English, or very little, so they must have managed somehow. I don't recall an interview though, so maybe being a native speaker enabled me to skip that part.
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Old 27.07.2006, 01:58
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Re: Swiss German or High German

I am coming to Switzerland for 2 months and I don't know any German at all. I can't decide whether to learn Swiss German or High German. If I learn Swiss German, would I be able to speak to people outside of Switzerland?
And if I learnt High German instead, then would I be able to speak with all German-speaking Swiss people? And if so, would it be easy for them to talk to me, or more of an effort?
I don't know anything about High German or Swiss German, so any information would be welcome.
Thanks!
E
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Old 27.07.2006, 09:51
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Hello E,

High German is "standard" German as spoken in countries like Germany and Austria. Swiss German is a derivative and is quite specific to Switzerland.

So, if you learn Swiss German, it'll only be useful for speaking to Swiss people with. Germans won't understand it (unless they're from the border area) and you won't be able to read much, because Swiss German is a spoken language. Even in Switzerland, the written language is High German and it's different to Swiss German.

If you learn High German, you'll be understood by Swiss German speakers. They'll randonly respond either in Swiss German, High German or English. It's your job to get them speaking a language you can understand ;-)

German is useful not just in Germany and Austria, but many other eastern European Countries where the 40+ generation learned German at school. The younger ones of course, learn English now instead.

When will you be coming?

=DM=
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Old 27.07.2006, 10:26
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Re: Swiss German or High German

enav
you'll find that no matter how you perfect your German, if you speak to the Swiss in High German with an obvious hint that your first language is English........then they will reply to you in English.

Quite annoying sometimes; for two months, depending on where you'll be going and what you'll be doing - you won't need any German. I know expats who've been here 5 years and speak almost no German...!
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Old 27.07.2006, 10:40
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Re: Swiss German or High German

Quote:
you'll find that no matter how you perfect your German, if you speak to the Swiss in High German with an obvious hint that your first language is English........then they will reply to you in English.
Hi Lob, I don't actually agree on that one. This happened to me my first month or so, but as I improved my pronunciation and fluency it stopped happening. In fact the opposite happened - many Swiss would then be embarassed to speak English around me, as if I would judge them. I found this most curious. Nowadays I only get the switch to english thing once in a while, usually from someone who is overjoyed at the chance to practice.

One thing to bear in mind that many expats, even though they work really hard on their german seem to do very little work on their pronunciation. The English seem to have a habit of putting umlauts on all their vowel sounds and refusing to do the deeper sounds such as u and o. Most insist on pronouncing Zug as "Zoooog" (as if it were spelt süüg in German). Many Americans seem totally unaware of the rolling "R" in German, flattening it and dragging it into a nasal sound which is like fingernails on a blackboard to a native speaker. These dead giveaways simply trigger a response in a native that "this person is very uncomfortable with German" and the response would come in English simply out of politeness.

To think about it another way - imagine you are in the UK and someone comes up to you and says "vitch vay to bahnhof". You'd hear the heavy accent and probably answer in German. But if you just heard a light German accent, you'd most likely answer in English.
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