How To Learn Swiss German – StoryLearning (2023)

How To Learn Swiss German – StoryLearning (1)

If you're busy learning German, then other varieties, like Swiss German might not be on your radar quite yet.

But if you plan to spend time in Switzerland or you have Swiss friends, then learning Swiss German is totally worth it. And given that Swiss German sounds more like Chinese than German, you can't just rely on your knowledge of Standard German to get by.

That's why, in this post, you'll learn how the German language differs in Switzerland. You'll also learn some useful phrases and vocabulary to impress your Swiss friends.

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WithGerman Uncoveredyou’ll use my unique StoryLearning® method to learn German naturally through stories. It’s as fun as it is effective.

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What Are The Languages Of Switzerland?

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Unlike Germany, Switzerland has four official languages. The Swiss speak German, French, Italian, and Romansch. You'll also find these languages and their dialects mixed in certain regions. Although Swiss German isn't an official language, it sure sounds like one!

Approximately 62% of Swiss are native German speakers, 58% of whom speak a Swiss dialect. Another 23% speak French, and 8% speak Italian. A minority of the population, 0.5% speak Romansch. The rest use a combination of dialects.

(Video) How Different are Swiss German and Standard German?

The reason why Swiss sounds like German in secret code is due to the Alemannic dialect. Centuries ago, Germanic tribes settled throughout different areas of Switzerland. Each locality developed its own linguistic variations, so you'll find dozens of dialects across the nation to this day.

Other Names For Swiss-German

In Switzerland, Swiss-German goes by many other names.

  • Schweizerdeutsch – In Standard German
  • Schwiizerdütsch
  • Schwyzerdütsch
  • Schwiizertüütsch
  • Schwizertitsch

You'll find the Swiss dialect in German-speaking portions of Switzerland and areas of Northern Italy in the neighboring Alpine community.

Where Is German Spoken In Switzerland?

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Swiss German is spoken in 17 of Switzerland's 26 cantons, which are similar to provinces or states.

  • Aargau
  • Appenzell Ausserrhoden
  • Appenzell Innerrhoden
  • Basel-Landschaft
  • Basel-Stadt
  • Glarus
  • Lucerne
  • Nidwalden
  • Obwalden
  • Schaffhausen
  • Schwyz
  • Solothurn
  • St. Gallen
  • Thurgau
  • Uri
  • Zug
  • Zurich

You're probably wondering why Switzerland has so many different languages and dialects. The country's size and location are one contributing factor.

Switzerland is only slightly more than 10% of the size of Germany. As a result, the four bordering countries: Germany, Austria, Italy, and France, had a significant influence on the evolution of the languages in this area.

Is Swiss German Hard To Learn?

How To Learn Swiss German – StoryLearning (4)

Unless you live in a canton of Switzerland, learning one of its regional dialects would be challenging. Still, you can learn to understand and speak Swiss German. With practice, you can even delight and surprise native Swiss speakers with your knowledge of their “language.”

Many Germans have difficulty understanding Swiss dialects. Variations in pronunciation, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary are often not mutually intelligible. Even within Switzerland, Swiss residents can find it challenging to understand someone from another canton.

(Video) The German Language: 5 Fascinating Facts in 60 Seconds #Short

Fortunately, nearly every Swiss German speaker learns Standard German to communicate with individuals in other German-speaking countries easily. Depending on the region, Swiss dialects can be almost impossible to understand, but there are areas where the language is simpler to comprehend.

How Is Swiss German Different From Standard German?

How To Learn Swiss German – StoryLearning (5)

Unlike Standard German, Swiss German uses Helvetisms. Helvetisms are changes in vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, spelling, and figures of speech that distinguish Swiss German from Standard German.

Let's look at some of these differences in more detail.

Vocabulary Differences

Swiss German words are often very different from the Standard German equivalents, but others are very similar. You may notice that the French language influenced some expressions.

Swiss GermanStandard GermanEnglish
GrüeziGuten TagGood day/hello
Gueten AbigGuten AbendGood evening
WiderluegeAuf WiedersehenGoodbye
En GueteGuten AppetitEnjoy your meal
Gömmer?Gehen wir?Shall we go?
Vélo FahrradBicycle
SchaffeArbeiten Work

The Swiss also have different words for days of the week.

Swiss GermanStandard GermanEnglish
MittwuchMittwoch Wednesday
DunschtigDonnerstag Thursday
SunntigSonntag Sunday

Next, check out these unique words and expressions for Swiss food and beverages.

Swiss GermanStandard German English
Morgenässe or Z'MorgeFrühstückBreakfast
Mittagessen or Z'MittagMittagessenLunch
Nachtässe or Z'Nacht AbendessenDinner
Pepperoni PaprikaBell pepper
Rüebli KarotteCarrot

Now that you know some of the most common words in Swiss let's look at the grammar differences.

The 4 Most Important Swiss Grammar Rules

If you want to understand and speak German like the Swiss, you'll need to know several key grammar differences.

1. There's Only One Past Tense

In Standard German, you use the Simple Past and Perfect forms. In Swiss German, you'll only use the perfect tense.

(Video) Swiss German short story

The Swiss past tense, or Perfäkt, uses a form of Ha or Sii, in Standard German haben or sein (to have or to be).

2. Some Nouns Have Different Genders

The gender of nouns can be different in Swiss German compared to Standard German.In Swiss, the French gender is sometimes used instead of the Standard German gender.

3. You Come, And You Go Twice

In Swiss German, the verbs kommenand gehen (to come and to go) always appear twice in a sentence with other verbs. The rule only applies if there are two verbs in a sentence, not only one.

4. Relative Pronouns Are Easier

The good news is, not all Swiss-German grammar rules make the language more challenging. Relative pronouns in Swiss are replaced with wo (where). Instead of having to choose the correct form of der, die, or das, you use wo.

How To Learn Swiss German – StoryLearning (6)

Spelling Changes

A few simple spelling rules can make Swiss German significantly easier to understand.

  • Drop the “n” – In Swiss German, verbs often drop the final “n” of their Standard German counterparts. For example, machen(to do) becomes mache.
  • “chen” becomes “li” – In Standard German, you can say something is small by adding a “chen” or “lein” ending. Swiss German uses the ending “li.” For example, Mäuschen(small mouse) becomes Müüsli.
  • “S” before a consonant becomes “sch” – For example, Rösti(hashbrown) becomes Röschti.
  • At the end of a word, “e” turns into “i” – For example, Küchebecomes Chuchi.
  • “ß” becomes “ss” – Swiss German only uses the double “s.”

When writing formal letters, emails, or publications, the Swiss use Standard German.

The 4 Characteristics Of Swiss German Pronunciation

How To Learn Swiss German – StoryLearning (7)

Perhaps the most significant difference between Standard German and Swiss German is the pronunciation. Below are the major intonation changes that happen in Swiss German.

  1. The “ch” sound is different – “Ch” at the beginning of a Swiss word is pronounced like a “k.” For example, Käse (cheese) becomes Chäse.
  2. Vowels unite – Sometimes, one vowel is used instead of two. For example, Haus (house) becomes Huus (house), and Raum becomes Ruum (room).
  3. Vowels switch places – The “ei” sound in Standard German becomes “ie” in Swiss German.
  4. The soft “t” – In Swiss, “t” is spoken as a “d.”

In Swiss German, you usually place the accent on the first syllable of a word, except for words that begin with “be,” “ent,” “er,” “mis,” or “ver.”

(Video) 17 Weird Places They Speak German

Swiss German Slang

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The best way to start learning Swiss German is by having fun with the dialect to gain exposure. Do you know that there are tons of slang words and phrases in Swiss German? Below are some of my favorites.

  • Abeleere!(Chug!)
  • Fränkli(One Swiss Frank)
  • Fröit mi(Pleased to meet you)
  • Hamburger(A soldier who has completed the first year of training)
  • Lööli(Loser)
  • Schmiär(The cops)
  • Znüni(Second breakfast)

If you want to impress, learn to say chäs-chüchli, which means little cheesecake. The “ch” at the beginning is pronounced like a “k,” and the “ch” in the middle remains soft. When deciphered, the word sounds as if it were spelled “käs-küchli.”

How To Learn Swiss German: Final Thoughts

How To Learn Swiss German – StoryLearning (9)

The German language takes on many different forms in Switzerland. Regional dialects, unusual grammar, foreign language influence, and non-standard spelling are just some ways Swiss German manages to confuse German speakers from other countries.

Now that you're familiar with the patterns, you should have an easier time understanding Swiss speakers. Once you have a grasp of Standard German, you'll find it considerably easier to learn the Swiss variety.

If you want to learn more, try Swiss German Learning TV, or watch a Swiss German movie. Switzerland's best films include Höhenfeuer, Mein Name ist Eugen, and Die göttliche Ordnung. You can also learn Swiss German from apps like Grüezi Switzerland for iOS or Schweizerdeutsch Lernen for Android.



Is it difficult to learn Swiss German? ›

Is Swiss German Hard To Learn? Unless you live in a canton of Switzerland, learning one of its regional dialects would be challenging. Still, you can learn to understand and speak Swiss German. With practice, you can even delight and surprise native Swiss speakers with your knowledge of their “language.”

How long will it take to learn Swiss German? ›

How long does it take to learn Swiss German? This process from 0 High German to speaking Swiss German takes you probably between 1 year and 4 years. It highly depends on how much time you can dedicate to your learning.

Is it easy to learn Swiss German if you know German? ›

While the distinct pronunciation of many popular sounds in Swiss German might put you off from learning the language at first, you should consider two things: First,Swiss German is a rather easy language to learn for German speakers. After all, it is a group of German dialects.

What language is closest to Swiss German? ›

Swiss Standard German is a written language, used in official documents and by German-speaking Swiss authors, and is almost identical to written Standard German.

Do Swiss Germans understand High German? ›

Although all Swiss German native speakers can understand High German, they almost always prefer to speak Swiss German. This is, of course, perfectly understandable, because Swiss German is the mother tongue of the majority of people living in the “German-speaking” part of Switzerland.

How do you say hello in Swiss? ›

Grüezi is the Swiss-German word for hello, used mostly in more formal settings. This greeting is widely and universally used in Switzerland; however, it is used more frequently in Central and Eastern Switzerland. The word is derived from the expression 'Gott grüez i' meaning 'may God greet you.

How do you say goodbye in Swiss? ›

Widerluege. What is this? ”Uf Widerluege” is used to say goodbye in Swiss German. The phrase translates as ”'until we see each other again,” from the Old High German word “luogēn” meaning “to look”.

What level of German do I need for Swiss citizenship? ›

Spoken B1 German is the standard required both for citizenship and for permanent residency.

What percentage speak German in Switzerland? ›

Multilingualism is an essential part of Switzerland's identity. Over 60% of the Swiss population speak German as their main language.

How fast can you learn German fluently? ›

So, how long do you need to learn German if you want to reach this level of fluency? According to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI), you'll need about 750 hours of study to become fluent in German. This means that if you study 12-15 hours a week, you'll be able to speak like a pro in just a year!

Should I learn French or German for Switzerland? ›

German is the most widely spoken language in the country, with 19 cantons that are predominantly German-speaking, that means around 64% of the Swiss population. French is the official language in four cantons, all of which are located in the western part of Switzerland.

Can I speak normal German in Switzerland? ›

So when and where are Swiss- and standard-German used in German-speaking Switzerland? While 87% of those living in German-speaking Switzerland use Swiss German regularly, a greater 99% regularly use standard German. This is so in all cantons except Glaris. The gap is particularly pronounced in Basel, Zug and Zurich.

What is the easiest language for Germans to learn? ›

English, Dutch, Luxembourgish, Afrikaans and Yiddish are relatively easy languages for German speakers.

What kind of German is spoken in Switzerland? ›

The variety of the German language spoken in Switzerland is called Swiss German which refers to any of the Alemannic dialects and which are divided into Low, High and Highest Alemannic. The only exception within German-speaking Switzerland is the municipality of Samnaun where an Austro-Bavarian dialect is spoken.

Can German speakers understand Swiss German? ›

Swiss German is intelligible to speakers of other Alemannic dialects, but largely unintelligible to speakers of Standard German without adequate prior exposure, including for French- or Italian-speaking Swiss who learn Standard German at school.

What does egg mean in Swiss German? ›

The Swiss-German "Egg" (a word which is not known in high German) means, as said, a mountain ridge. "Scheiden" means "divide" and a ridge that divides waters (watershed) is in German the "Wasserscheide". So, the "Scheidegg" is the ridge that divides the waters.

Do Swiss Germans speak German? ›

German. Swiss German is spoken in the northern, eastern, and central parts of the country, and is spoken by 63 % of the population, making it the primary language in Switzerland.

What is considered low German? ›

Low German or Low Saxon (Low German: Plattdüütsch, Neddersassisch and other names) is a West Germanic language variety spoken mainly in Northern Germany and the northeastern part of the Netherlands. The dialect of Plautdietsch is also spoken in the Russian Mennonite diaspora worldwide.

What is YES in Swiss? ›

German word of the day: Jein.

How do you say love you in Swiss? ›

Ich liebe di so, wie du bisch! Ich ha di soo gärn! I love you so much. Ich liebe di so, wie du bisch!

What is thank you in Swiss? ›

Danke (thank you)

Indeed the Swiss German Danke means the same as the High German Danke, which is “thank you”. It also looks exactly the same.

Can I use US dollars in Switzerland? ›

(US dollars are generally not accepted in Switzerland.) Keep in mind that if you do pay in Euros, change will be given back to you in Swiss francs. It is therefore recommended that when purchasing goods and services in Switzerland, you use the Swiss franc.

What does Zug mean in Swiss? ›

Zug in British English

(German tsuːk ) noun. 1. a canton of N central Switzerland: the smallest Swiss canton; mainly German-speaking and Roman Catholic; joined the Swiss Confederation in 1352. Capital: Zug.

What is excuse me in Swiss-German? ›

In this section, you will learn how and when to use 'excuse me' in German. The simplest form of 'excuse me' is "Entschuldigung". It is also possible to say, "Entschuldigen Sie!", "Entschuldige!" or simply "Sorry!" Entschuldige! Excuse me!

Is it hard for an American to get Swiss citizenship? ›

Obtaining Swiss citizenship is difficult. To get a passport, the applicant must permanently live in the country, speak and write fluently in one of the official languages, know the history and traditions, participate in public life, and comply with the laws.

Can you have dual citizenship in the US and Switzerland? ›

Since 1 January 1992, Swiss law has allowed multiple citizenship without any restrictions.

Does Switzerland allow dual citizenship? ›

The right to dual nationality has been recognised without restriction in Switzerland since 1 January 1992. Under Swiss law, if you become a Swiss citizen, you no longer need to give up your previous citizenship.

What do the Swiss call Switzerland? ›

The Swiss Confederation. The European nation known as Switzerland in English has several different names in the country's four official languages: die Schweiz (German), Suisse (French), Svizzera (Italian), and Svizra (Romansch).

Is Switzerland ethnically German? ›

The majority of Swiss, about 65%, ethnically identify as German. The Germanic tribes were major forces in the Alps for a long time, and when the first Swiss Confederacy was formed, it was technically part of the German-controlled Holy Roman Empire.

How religious is Switzerland? ›

The population is predominantly Christian; Catholics are the largest group, followed by various Protestant denominations. According to census data, the number of persons with no religious affiliation has increased in the past decade as has the number of adherents to non-Christian faiths.

How long does it realistically take to learn German? ›

German is rated as a category 2 language and considered to be similar to English. The FSI estimates that German takes approximately 30 weeks, or 750 classroom hours to learn. This study was conducted on a group of language students who spent 25 hours per week in class, and three hours daily on individual practice.

What language is hardest to learn? ›

Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.

Is B1 German enough? ›

The B1 level is the third level in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages. It is certainly a step beyond the A1 & A2 exams. Passing the B1 level German exam means that you are on the intermediate level of your journey.

What language do I need to learn if I want to live in Switzerland? ›

Most long-term visas also require a certain level of proficiency in German, French, or Italian (dependent on the region in Switzerland where you want to live). Otherwise, you will be required to enroll in a language course upon your arrival.

Is studying in Switzerland worth it? ›

There are many reasons why you should consider studying in Switzerland. The European country is widely known for its education system, active-learning methodologies, and wide range of programs.

Do I need to speak German to study in Switzerland? ›

You do not need to speak any of the native languages in order to live and study here. However, we encourage international students to take German (the local language in Zurich) as a foreign language during their studies to feel more comfortable in the country and better understand the country and its people.

Can I use ß instead of ß? ›

Finally on June 29, the Council for German Orthography, the country's official spelling authority, decreed that ß deserved its own capital: ẞ. When writing the uppercase [of ß], write SS. It's also possible to use the uppercase ẞ. Example: Straße – STRASSE – STRAẞE.

What level of German is required to work in Switzerland? ›

Applicants need to at least meet an oral language level of B1 and a written language level of A1 in the official language of their Swiss place of residence.

Can you live in Switzerland with only English? ›

English is the most commonly spoken non-national language in Switzerland. It is regularly spoken by 45 percent of the population in Switzerland although it is more prevalent in German parts of the country than French and Italian. It is also more widely spoken in Switzerland's big cities such as Geneva and Zurich.

What is the hardest European language to learn? ›

1. Hungarian. Unlike most European languages, which belong to the Indo-European language family, Hungarian is a Uralic language. It is spoken as a native language by 13 million people, most of whom live in Hungary.

What is harder Spanish or German? ›

Overall, Spanish might be easier than German at the beginning stages, but the two tend to even out in difficulty once learners get to the more advanced stages. German has more complicated grammar rules that need to be mastered early on, but once learners get familiar with them, they find that they're pretty consistent.

Is German more easy or French? ›

And German pronunciation is definitely easier. German words are spelled blessedly similar to how they're pronounced, while French spelling is based on twelfth-century pronunciations no longer in use. The moral of the story? Whether it's German or French, learning a language always involves some stumbling blocks.

Is Swiss German hard to learn? ›

Is Swiss German Hard To Learn? Unless you live in a canton of Switzerland, learning one of its regional dialects would be challenging. Still, you can learn to understand and speak Swiss German. With practice, you can even delight and surprise native Swiss speakers with your knowledge of their “language.”

How long does it take to learn Swiss German? ›

How long does it take to learn Swiss German? This process from 0 High German to speaking Swiss German takes you probably between 1 year and 4 years. It highly depends on how much time you can dedicate to your learning.

What is a person from Switzerland called? ›

The Swiss people (German: die Schweizer, French: les Suisses, Italian: gli Svizzeri, Romansh: ils Svizzers) are the citizens of Switzerland or people of Swiss ancestry. Swiss people. Schweizer / Suisses / Svizzeri / Svizzers.

What is the most efficient way to learn German? ›

Best Way to Learn German. As with any language, the fastest and best way to learn German is through total immersion, preferably through living in a German-speaking country.

Is Swiss German very different? ›

The Swiss German dialect differs from (Swiss) Standard German on various levels such as vocabulary, pronunciation and syntax. These differences are called Helvetisms. Swiss German has its own dictionary. Der Duden is the dictionary of the Standard German language, created in 1880.

How do you say hello in German Swiss? ›

Grüezi is the Swiss-German word for hello, used mostly in more formal settings. This greeting is widely and universally used in Switzerland; however, it is used more frequently in Central and Eastern Switzerland.

What level of German is considered fluent? ›

C2 (Upper Advanced/Fluent)

Your mastery at the C2 level lets you produce and understand highly complex German.

What is the hardest part of learning German? ›

Because there are few pronunciation rules

Unlike English, for instance, where every word is pronounced in its own way or French, where to rules are so severe and dictations are done even in the most progressed course levels.

Should I learn German or Swiss German? ›

If you are a German speaker, things should get easier with exposure to Swiss German. If you do not speak the language and want to learn, we recommend starting with learning Standard German first, as it is the basis for Swiss German.

What is Swiss German called? ›

Swiss Standard German (German: Schweizer Standarddeutsch), or Swiss High German (German: Schweizer Hochdeutsch or Schweizerhochdeutsch), referred to by the Swiss as Schriftdeutsch, or Hochdeutsch, is the written form of one of four official languages in Switzerland, besides French, Italian and Romansh.

What is I love you in Switzerland? ›

Ich liebe di so, wie du bisch!

How do Swiss say bye? ›

Widerluege. What is this? ”Uf Widerluege” is used to say goodbye in Swiss German. The phrase translates as ”'until we see each other again,” from the Old High German word “luogēn” meaning “to look”.


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