Thursday, March 28, 2013

How do you learn German in Switzerland?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It’s kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to contact The Frau. She doesn’t have all the answers, but sometimes she likes to pretend otherwise.

Dear Frau,

Thank you so much for your blog. I am moving to Switzerland soon and aspire for my blog about my Swiss experience to be half as good as yours. I am hoping you can discuss and recommend options for learning German in advance of my arrival. I am setting up a private tutor, but thought you may have come across good books (like, Hoi! Your Swiss German Guide :)) or programs (i.e Pimsleur) to suggest as well. I unfortunately took French in high school and college.

Thank you,
Preparing to Sprechen Sie Deutsch

Dear Preparing to Sprechen Sie Deutsch,

The Frau would like to unlock the secrets to Swiss German right here and now on this blog, but alas, the language itself is a secret (much like Swiss bank accounts used to be), and she doesn’t have a key. So until the big bad U.S. government decides Swiss German should be as accessible to them as Swiss savings accounts, The Frau has turned to the only member of her family who understands the language:

The Frau: Baby M, is there a secret to learning Swiss German?

Baby M: Nein nein nein! (Her current and favorite German word)

So there you have it.

The Frau does not like to be discouraging. She does have one American friend and one British friend who learned to speak Swiss German (don’t ask her in what dialect!) and she has several friends who can understand Swiss German because they have been here a long time and also because they spoke fluent German before they moved here.

Learning German in Switzerland can be challenging
But for the rest of us French-in-high-school types, especially for those of us with no close Swiss relations to practice with, the process of learning High German and then understanding Swiss German will be long. One must accept that any form of German will take a long time to learn in Switzerland.

The thing is, you must learn two languages to function in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. First, you must learn High German. And learning High German could take years—even if you were living in Germany. But since you’re not living in Germany, it could take decades. Why? Because in Switzerland, you will not hear the High German language on a daily basis. And when you speak High German to a Swiss, you will often be spoken back to in English because the Swiss hate High German. Learning High German was so pointless to the Romands (Native Swiss French speakers) that many of them now teach Swiss German to schoolchildren instead of High German. How they do that, exactly, The Frau would love to know.

Where does this leave the over-achieving expat? If you’re like The Frau, it leaves you sad and depressed and wishing you could move to the French section, n’est pas?

But instead of going into depression when you’re feeling like a language loser, go to Germany or Austria instead. Then you’ll realize that you are learning German. One day, very far in the future, without realizing it, you too will understand a couple of Swiss German words. Then a few more. Eventually, maybe, like The Frau, after seven long years, you’ll get up to about 30% Swiss German comprehension.

Why is understanding Swiss German so hard? The fact that its dialect changes every ten miles? The fact that it’s only spoken and not written? The fact that Swiss people are very private and do not typically engage in casual discussion with strangers? The fact that a third of Swiss people speak English? The fact that even Swiss German speakers can’t always even understand each other?

Ja. Ja. Ja. Ja. And ja.

And then, think about this: Most native High German speakers claim it takes them about three months of living in Switzerland for them to be able to understand Swiss German. So…here are some tools to help you on your long German journey:

The Frau’s Quick Review of High/Swiss German learning materials/classes:

Berlitz: The Frau has no experience with Berlitz, but several of her friends have recommended it for beginners because it helps you learn useful phrases instead of being too academic.

Intensive German: The Frau has taken two separate intensive German classes in Switzerland. Her verdict? They are too intensive to take in everything that fast. Often leads to frustration.

Not-so intensive German: Taking a class 2-3 times a week for 1.5 hours at a time gives you time to take things in and practice them without being overwhelmed. The Frau did this pace for a couple years when she first moved to Switzerland and it was perfect.

Television: Watch German shows with basic getting-to-know-you conversations like Bauer Sucht Frau. Once you understand that well, you can graduate to the Swiss German version, which is called Bauer, Ledig, Sucht. Movies are good too—if you can get over the dubbed voices—especially good are movies you know really well in your own language. The Big Lebowski, for instance, is hilarious in German. Ich bin der Dude, anyone?

Language buddy: One of the best things to do is to find someone who speaks High German or Swiss German and who also wants to learn your native language. Then you can meet for an hour and speak each language for half the time.

Hoi: The Frau has this book but The Frau does not find this book too helpful. Why? It’s impossible to figure out how to pronounce things from it. And if you don’t know how the words and phrases in it sound, you will get nowhere. Why? Because Swiss German is a spoken language! Why this book does not come with the CD is beyond The Frau.

Pimsleur: The Frau has Swiss German Pimsleur. She likes it ok. It definitely helps to hear the language. But she thinks it is best used after learning some High German first so one has a basis for what and why they are saying what they are saying.

Anyone else want to chime in on how to best learn German/Swiss German?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Five Swiss chocolate specialties you should eat now

In case you haven't noticed the chocolate bunnies, which took over all Swiss grocery stores right after the reindeer were retired, another holiday, and therefore, another reason to eat chocolate is upon us. As if you needed the excuse. So The Frau has graciously provided five good reasons to get going on your proper Swiss 12 kilos of chocolate consumption this year.

Swiss Easter: another excuse to eat chocolate
PC Americans, please close your eyes now. Because Mohrenkopf literally translates to "nigger head." And you should eat one. Why? With thin layer of chocolate on the outside and marshmallow on the inside, Mohrenköpfe are like s'mores but without the graham cracker. Make sure you enjoy the right brand, where the marshmallow literally melts in your mouth as m&m’s always claimed to do but never did. The Frau recommends Dubler Mohrenköpfe. You can find them at Manor Food or even buy them direct from their factory in Waltenschwil if you are a Hausfrau and their limited opening hours actually fit your schedule. (Warning: do not feed a Mohrenkopf to your toddler unless you want to give her a bath.)
Price of one nigger head: 90 Rappen.

Mövenpick Chocolate Chips Ice Cream
The Frau was never a big chocolate ice cream connoisseur, but after trying the Mövenpick  chocolate chips ice cream, she has reformed. This ice cream tastes more like chocolate custard than ice cream. And if you can’t stop eating it, you’ll want to run for the border–and not just to burn off the calories. In Germany, you can get a package of Mövenpick chocolate chips ice cream for 2 Euros, or about one fifth of the Swiss price (CHF 12). The Frau has not figured out why Swiss products are cheaper in Germany because she's too busy running over there to get them.

Schober Hot Chocolate
Hot chocolate served with a side of chocolate? What are you waiting for? Café Schober’s famous hot chocolate is a drink that’s a meal in itself. Totally justifies the high price.
Price: Cup in café CHF 7

Sprüngli Truffle Cake
The small version of this cake claims to feed four, but it’s so delightfully rich that you could probably squeeze at least six or eight servings out of it. The Frau got this cake for Baby M to celebrate her first birthday and she enjoyed it so much that amazingly, more went into her mouth than on her dress.
Price: CHF 20

Lindt Passion Caramel & Sea Salt Chocolate Bar
Not shockingly, the combination of Swiss chocolate, caramel pieces, and sea salt is a good one. You can find this chocolate bar for sale at Manor Food and Coop.
Price: CHF 4,95

What is your favorite Swiss chocolate specialty? Inquiring Easter Bunnies want to know.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Language Lesson Gone to the Dogs

Baby M is learning to talk in an unofficial Swiss language called English. This is not without consequences. Because when Baby M says one thing, the Swiss think she means another. So far these misunderstandings have been rather tame, but The Frau is eagerly awaiting the day one of Baby M’s English words offends the local German sensibilities because it will make for a good blog post. 

Baby M has moved past her dog stage (crawling on all fours, eating off the floor, putting balls in her mouth, following The Frau from room to room) and now is in the “I love dogs stage,” possibly because she no longer acts like one. Last week on a walk around Baden, Baby M pointed and proudly shouted “da” to every dog we passed.

One Swiss man who was walking his dog actually stopped to talk to us when Baby M pointed and shouted “da” at his dog. We conversed in German:

“Does she like dogs?” He asked.

“Yes, dog is one of her new words,” The Frau replied.

He turned to Baby M. “What’s that?” He pointed at his dog.

“Da!” Baby M yelled, in a big, fat American voice.

The man shook his head at her mistake. “Yes, there is a dog there,” he told her.

In German, “da” means “there.” So the Swiss think Baby M is going around shouting “there.” It could be worse.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Dear Frau: Swiss School or International School?

Welcome to another edition of Dear Frau. It’s kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. Remember, if you’ve got a question about living in Switzerland or moving to Switzerland, don’t hesitate to contact The Frau. She’s not all knowing, but she likes to pretend to be.

Dear Frau,

We’re moving to Switzerland and I don’t know if I should put my kids in the local school system or at one of the international schools. What do you think? Thanks.

Is Calculus Better in English or German

Dear Is Calculus Better in English or German,

Baby M, The Frau’s Swiss-born American baby, is just that, a baby. The way she says “I do” also sounds a lot like “Achtung.” Therefore, it is still too early to tell what language she’ll prefer her algebraic equations in.

But The Frau has considered the school issue many times since M was born and also discussed the problem with many mothers of school-aged kids. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of the Swiss school options. And please leave a comment below, fellow yodelers, if you have experience with any of these or disagree in any way. A big merci vielmal to all in advance!

Swiss School Advantages:
Language learning
Most likely close by/local
Swiss friends/less transient group of children

Swiss School Disadvantages:
English reading/writing skills will be lacking
Schedule (coming home for lunches/different starting and ending times depending on days of week, etc.)
May need to hire a Tagesmutter if both parents plan on working
If there is a Tageschule (day school) available, the cost is typically high (CHF 10,000)
Difficult to move to another country (or canton!) for the child after starting
Foreign parents may find it difficult to help their children with homework

International School Advantages:
Native English/International curriculum
Daylong schedules
Easy to change countries
International environment/mix with children from all around the globe
Higher comfort level for foreign parents

International School Disadvantages:
Cost (CHF 30,000 a year is typical—but look on the bright side, that’s how much an average full-time day care costs in Switzerland too...)
Assimilation (your child will stay in an expat bubble)
Local language learning (your child will miss out, although bi-lingual international schools are also an option in Switzerland)
Transient students AND teachers
May have to travel further to the school every day

Things to ask yourself when making a decision:
1. Are you going to be in Switzerland long-term or not?
2. Is your company paying for your child’s schooling?
3. How important is it to you that your children read and write in English to the level expected of a native speaker?

Anyone else want to chime in with their Swiss school experiences?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin