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How are languages taught in Switzerland?
Thread poster: Deschant
Local time: 10:31
Jun 15, 2005

I wonder if any of you could tell me something about the teaching of languages in Switzerland in school and high school, i.e., is it compulsory for a German-speaking student to learn the other 3 official languages as well? When does a child start to learn these other languages (and foreign languages like English, Spanish...)? How many languages is a standard Swiss citizen expected to speak fluently when he/she leaves high school? Thanks a lot.

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Rahel H.  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:31
French to German
+ ...
It's being discussed.... Jun 15, 2005

Dear Eva

I am a teacher and have been teaching at Swiss primary and secondary schools for more than 10 years.

The question of the language teaching system is now being discussed a lot in Switzerland because some people want to change the system and others do not.

First of all, you should know that it is a myth that Swiss people speak four languages. Each of the four languages is spoken in its specific area and most people know only the language of the area where they grew up.
Secondly, there is no such thing as a Swiss school system, every Canton has its own system.

The way languages are introduced at school is generally the following:

At primary school, pupils are first taught their native language (that can already be a difficulty for Swiss German speakers because our spoken language (or dialect) differs in many ways from the written Standard German).
Then, the children learn a second national language. This is normally French in the German speaking part, and German in the French and the Italian speaking part. Depending on the Canton this courses start in the 3., 5. or 6. year (i.e. with 9, 11 or 12 years).
English usually comes in as the third language in the 2., 4., 6. or 7. year, depending on the canton's system.

As for the fourth language, Rhaeto-Romanic, very few people speak it nowadays and it is not usually taught at school in the other parts of Switzerland (but it is the first language taught in the Rhaeto-Romanic speaking area).

There is now a discussion going on about changing to English as the first foreign language instead of a second national language. Some cantons have already changed to this systems, others will follow soon. Some politicians, however, consider it important for our country that a national language shall be taught as the first foreign language.

This link might help you for furhter information:

Best wishes


[Edited at 2005-06-15 14:25]

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Local time: 10:31
Thank you Jun 15, 2005

Hi Rahel, thank you for your kind answer. Of course I knew that every language is only spoken (as an official language) in its specific area, but I am always curious about countries with more than one official language (in Spain we also have 4 official languages, although the situation is not exactly the same as in Switzerland) and specially about how are the different languages handled at school. Thank you very much.

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How are languages taught in Switzerland?

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