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Old 06.01.2021, 17:51
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Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

A bit of background: I moved to Zurich last year and (after a short covid delay) began weekly german lessons, having never studied german before but speaking a little French.

My current job will last another 2-3 years, after which I will need to decide whether or not I want to stay in Switzerland. I love living here, but frankly my lack of language knowledge is very frustrating. My workplace is international and English-speaking, but outside of work I feel fairly isolated. I can currently manage the standard tourist things like ordering in a restaurant but not conversation. To be honest, whether or not I decide to stay in Switzerland will depend pretty heavily on how well I speak german in 2 years' time.

I would really appreciate hearing the experience of other expats in Switzerland who started learning german after or shortly before they moved here. How fluent can you become in a couple of years? Were you able to speak dialect in that time, or only standard German?
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Old 06.01.2021, 18:06
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

Understand, it sure.

Speak it, no.

When I informed a former girlfriend that I spoke Swiss-German, she replied "No, you don't. You speak Schriftdeutsch with a Swiss accent!"

Tom
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Old 06.01.2021, 18:10
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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When I informed a former girlfriend that I spoke Swiss-German, she replied "No, you don't. You speak Schriftdeutsch with a Swiss accent!"
Ouch! Explains that "former"
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Old 06.01.2021, 18:22
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

If you put make a very big commitment to learning high German over the next three years then you should have a fairly good command of the language in the end.

But without a lot of interaction with the Swiss, I don't see how you will make much of an advance there. It's something you pick up rather than learn. In my case my wife and kids are Swiss and I live in the country side, so I just picked it up.
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Old 06.01.2021, 18:41
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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Understand, it sure.

Speak it, no.

When I informed a former girlfriend that I spoke Swiss-German, she replied "No, you don't. You speak Schriftdeutsch with a Swiss accent!"

Tom
I thought my German was coming along nicely and that I was getting a bit of Swissness into it. Every time I speak German in Germany or Austria they say it sounds Swiss, laughably so considering the Irish accent behind it, but my Swiss friends have informed me of my "Schriftdeutsch with a Swiss accent".
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Old 06.01.2021, 18:45
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

I agree about the commitment. Practice, practice, both in print and make yourself go out and speak an listen to German every day, on your way to work, at lunchtime, and on your way home.

The feeling of isolation starts to fade the better your command of High German, first of all, and Swiss German comes later. Good, confident High German will already open a lot of doors and hearts. In other words, you needn't set your aim as full command of Swiss German, right away.

The first thing to aim for is no longer having to ask anyone to repeat something to you in English.

Gradually, if you work on listening (e.g. each time you are in the tram), you will start to understand the Swiss German, too. The better your command of High German, the more likely you are to be able to hear and make the mental shift to Swiss German, and then you no longer need to ask for High German. Don't give up, because that's freedom.
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Old 06.01.2021, 19:24
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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Understand, it sure.

Speak it, no.

When I informed a former girlfriend that I spoke Swiss-German, she replied "No, you don't. You speak Schriftdeutsch with a Swiss accent!"

Tom
Which is perfectly acceptable- and perfectly do-able in 3 years.
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Old 06.01.2021, 19:25
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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I thought my German was coming along nicely and that I was getting a bit of Swissness into it. Every time I speak German in Germany or Austria they say it sounds Swiss, laughably so considering the Irish accent behind it, but my Swiss friends have informed me of my "Schriftdeutsch with a Swiss accent".

And that is OK. If you moved to Germany (and accents vary massively in Germany anyhow)- you would soon adapt. You have become a communicator, and that is what matters.

Do you live in a household where everyone speaks English? You will have to be strict- join Clubs, local activities, classes (not necessarily languages - anything that interests you- hopefully by Spring)- watch German TV, etc- and when people switch to English, be firm and ask them to help you and stick to german as you really want to learn. People will respect that.

Last edited by JackieH; 06.01.2021 at 19:49.
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Old 06.01.2021, 19:38
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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I would really appreciate hearing the experience of other expats in Switzerland who started learning german after or shortly before they moved here. How fluent can you become in a couple of years? Were you able to speak dialect in that time, or only standard German?
If you put in the work, you can be fluent in a couple of years, maybe less. Nowadays it's easier to learn a language with the multitude of available resources.

I wouldn't bother learning dialect, I find it of no use. German is fine. And stick to your English working environment, it's definitely better compared to the German or the Swiss German one.
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Old 06.01.2021, 19:58
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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stick to your English working environment, it's definitely better compared to the German or the Swiss German one.


Were that true, I'd have stayed in an English speaking country. Never have worked in an English working environment since moving here.

Tom
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:02
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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I wouldn't bother learning dialect, I find it of no use.
It is if you have kids who speak it as their primary language.

Tom
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:02
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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If you put in the work, you can be fluent in a couple of years, maybe less. Nowadays it's easier to learn a language with the multitude of available resources.

I wouldn't bother learning dialect, I find it of no use. German is fine. And stick to your English working environment, it's definitely better compared to the German or the Swiss German one.
No use for what? All depends surely- if integration and feeling part of a community is important- then speaking super posh perfect German may not achieve that. Same as if you'd move to Cornwall or Lancashire, etc- you would have to adjust your Eton speak.
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:03
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

Concentrate on German. Swiss German will follow.

There is three things I suggest:

One. Try to watch everything in German. Buy a dvd of a tv show that you know well. Watch it in German with German subtitles. Concentrate on listenig and reading. Repeat and repeat. You will understand more everytime you watch it.
Also watch the news on tv. There are in German not Swissgerman.
Read 20 minutes whenever you find one. It is easy to understand and after a while you will spot mistakes

Two. Take a two week holiday in Germany every year. Spend two weeks in Hamburg or Berlin and attend language classes. Full time. You will meet orhers learning German and are surrounded by German. It is a lot cheaper than Switzerland.

Third. Join a Verein. Look for something that you like. Hiking, cooking, bee keeping. Whatever. Just don't join an expat club.
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:06
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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Were that true, I'd have stayed in an English speaking country. Never have worked in an English working environment since moving here.

Tom

I worked in both German/Swiss and English companies. There is less politics and better pay in an English speaking company. English environment wins hands down.
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:06
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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Take a two week holiday in Germany every year.
Two weeks in Germany is torture, not holiday. I could never go that long without decent food.

Tom
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:10
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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I worked in both German/Swiss and English companies. There is less politics and better pay in an English speaking company. English environment wins hands down.
I've only worked in French/German or French/Italian environments here.

Last English environment was in the US 35 years ago.

Tom
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:18
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

I'd like to piggy back and ask what virtual learning courses you all could recommend. I'm coming up on my 3 year visa renewal and since I'm not working I'm required to show that I'm learning the language and/or in a language learning class and can pass an A1 language test. Does anyone have one they recommend over others?



Thanks!
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:34
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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Two weeks in Germany is torture, not holiday. I could never go that long without decent food.

Tom
What? You're not a Sausage Man, Tom?
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Old 06.01.2021, 20:40
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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I wouldn't bother learning dialect, I find it of no use. German is fine. And stick to your English working environment, it's definitely better compared to the German or the Swiss German one.
Well if you are only staying for a short period and don't mind being excluded, I guess that is ok.

But the OP says he is thinking long term and already feels isolated.
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Old 06.01.2021, 22:12
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Re: Can I realistically become semi-fluent in Swiss German in the next three years?

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Well if you are only staying for a short period and don't mind being excluded, I guess that is ok.

But the OP says he is thinking long term and already feels isolated.
I think putting effort into learning the standard language is still the right thing to do. Anyone living in Switzerland will automatically get the Swiss accent and vocabulary when trying to practice German in every day life. Swiss German is far from being one dialect but a group of significantly different dialects... I think studying that is a bit silly but if you really want to only do so with at least B1 in German... or you wonít get the difference anyways.

I donít think that Swiss people will exclude any foreigners who put a serious effort into learning German.
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