How many languages exist in Switzerland
People are naturally fascinated by Switzerland, and this admiration does not only come from chocolate love and mountain hikes. It is also fascinating because it is a land made up of multiple linguistic groups and has largely avoided the social conflict that has plagued other multilingual societies throughout history. In fact, the Swiss have made their multilingual identity one of their greatest natural resources. So, what languages are spoken in Switzerland?
Some cantons, such as Bern, Valais and Fribourg, are officially bilingual: French and German. The canton of Graubünden is even recognised as trilingual, with Italian, German and Romansh designated as official languages. But no matter which area of Switzerland you are in, you won't have to look far to find examples of the country's multilingual identity.
The Swiss are raised to be multilingual from an early age, and children are required to learn at least one other national language at school (along with another “foreign” language, usually English). But while knowledge of other national languages is required among all Swiss schoolchildren, this multilingualism may disappear in adulthood.
All language communities can access television, films, books, music, etc. in their native language, and companies also make sure to advertise their products in as many languages as possible, to ensure that no consumer feels excluded.
Switzerland recognises four languages as so-called “national languages”, and although speakers of these languages can be found throughout the country, the four languages are largely confined to specific regions.
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The most widely spoken language in Switzerland is “Swiss German” Spoken by just over 60 percent of the population, most people live in the northern, central and eastern parts of the country. Swiss German, or Schwyzerdütsch as the locals call it, is a collection of German dialects no longer spoken in Germany or Austria. So trust us, if you speak standard German, you'll have a hard time understanding Swiss German!
In the western part of the country, French is the language that prevails. French speakers represent approximately 20 percent of the Swiss population, and if you are thinking of travelling to cities such as Geneva or Lausanne, it is an excellent opportunity to practice your French, as these popular destinations for international tourism are entirely French.
In the south of Switzerland, along the border with Italy, you will find Italian Swiss. This community of Italian speakers forms the third largest national language group in the country, with around 673,000 speakers, representing just under 8 percent of the country's population.
Swiss Italian, like Swiss French, can be easily understood by other speakers from France or Italy. Although there are local dialects, Swiss Italian is very similar to standard Italian, with the only major differences of German and French linguistic borrowings.
Last but not least, the smallest national language of Switzerland is Romansh. Unsurprisingly, with only 37,000 speakers, international travellers often overlook or don’t know this language. But it is an official language in the south-eastern canton of Graubünden, where it is used as a means of government and education, while enjoying a healthy existence as a community language.
Romansh is a Romance language that has borrowed an enormous amount of its vocabulary and syntax from German. Despite the relatively small size of the Romansh-speaking community, there are an incredible five Romansh dialects in daily use.
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Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.