Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How to Speak "Swiss"


No matter how good my German gets, I'll always be labeled a foreigner in Switzerland. Last week, I was at an "Information Day" for residents of my town, when the woman giving the presentation asked if anyone would prefer she speak in high German as opposed to Swiss German. No one said anything after a second, but finally, just as I got brave enough to say, "Ja", another woman joined me. Immediately, the entire room of people turned to stare at who the two "foreigners" were. I tried to look innocent.

Despite the stigma attached to wanting high German spoken, I was glad I went through the pain since I could understand about 80-85% of the presentation that way. If it had been given in Swiss German, I probably would have been at about 20% comprehension--the languages are that different.

How to speak "Swiss" is a complicated question, but one I've tried to answer in a fun way in the piece "How to speak Swiss" for National Geographic's glimpse.org. Check it out. I'd be happy to know what you think. And thanks again to all of my linguistically talented translators for your help with this piece.

8 comments:

M'dame Jo said...

Why didn't you choose to live in the french part? A few expressions aside, it's pure french :-)

Romy said...

Great article, Chantal! Definitely had me giggling. :)

Chantal said...

I think I would have preferred living in the French section (at least at the beginning) since I had already had 4 years of French versus none of German! And you are right, the French section is pure French :)

Glad you liked the article and thanks for reading.

Greg Christensen said...

Funny. My wife speaks German and every time we travel to Bern or beyond she can't get over how weird it sounds to her.

It's probably like learning French in Quebec and then trying to use it in Paris.

Chantal said...

Even most fluent German speakers can't understand the Swiss German at first. Most fluent German speakers I know say it took them 3 months to start understanding the Swiss. So that leaves a 2-year German lesson person, well, speechless...

Olga said...

Oh yeah, those dialect are killers! It's like you realise you need to learn another language...

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