Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. English, though not an official language, is often used to bridge the divides, and a significant proportion of official documentation is available in English.
Switzerland is made up of four different linguistic areas, namely a German-speaking part, a French-speaking part, an Italian-speaking part and a Romansh-speaking part. Three cantons (Bern, Fribourg and Valais) and two cities (Biel/Bienne and Fribourg) are officially bilingual. Graubünden is the only officially trilingual canton.
According to the Federal Law on National Languages, the official languages of Switzerland are German, French and Italian, as well as Romansh in dealings with people who speak this language. Romansh is a Rhaeto-Romance language with Latin roots and is widely spoken in the canton of Graubünden.
The most notable linguistic fact about German-speaking Switzerland is the use of dialect for spoken communication and standard German for written communication. This makes the task of language-learning in German-speaking areas more challenging for foreigners. Complicating matters further, there is not just one Swiss German dialect but several, which can differ significantly from one canton to the next.
Over 60% of the population speaks German (both standard German and Swiss German) as their main language, while over 20% speaks French, around 8% Italian and under 1% Romansh. Over 20% of residents have another language as their mother tongue, primarily English, Portuguese and Albanian.
Proportionately, the number of speakers of French and non-national languages is increasing, to the detriment of German, Italian and Romansh. Swiss German is the most widely spoken language at the workplace, followed by standard German, French, English and Italian.
Ability to speak a national language remains important for integration. Language courses, from weekly classes to intensive courses, are widely available in every region. Prices and methods vary, so it is worth shopping around.
For more information on multilingualism in Switzerland, see:
- official languages and their dialects on the website of the foreign ministryExternal link.
- statistics on languages spoken on the website of the Federal Statistical OfficeExternal link.
- Forum HelveticumExternal link, a resource centre promoting cultural and linguistic understanding between the different regions of Switzerland.
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