If you live in the French-speaking areas of Switzerland, learning French is an absolute must, since many people won’t or simply don’t like to speak English (Geneva with its international population is obviously an exception to this). In German-speaking areas, many people speak English, but knowledge of German will certainly increase your communication abilities in day-to-day areas of life.
Wherever you go, we strongly encourage you to learn at least the basics of the local language. There are many ways of learning a foreign language effectively – from language books to videos and online courses.
Despite claims like 'learn another language in 30 days', there are no real shortcuts to speaking and writing fluently. However, our tips will help you to learn you more effectively – whether you’re learning German, French or Italian.
It starts with you!
The best tip is to get immersed in the language and practice, practice, practice! If you can cut yourself off from everything but the new language for a period of time, do so; this can be a real help. Read newspapers and magazines, watch television and films and listen to the radio. Get as much personal contact with people as possible. Chat with neighbours, shopkeepers, barmen, etc. - anyone is a good target for getting a bit of practice in. The more you are exposed to the local language and the less you use your own language, the quicker you will learn. Memorizing grammar rules is wonderful, but nothing beats practical experience.
Television is probably the quickest way to increase your level of listening comprehension. It's free and you are guaranteed to hear people speaking naturally (and fast). The more you listen and watch, the quicker you will find yourself picking up words and phrases. You will be surprised how much you can learn in a way that is 'relatively painless'.
To get started many people take a language course. There are language schools ( Sprachschule - academie de langues) in all cities of Switzerland. Many towns and cities that offer German language courses at Volkshochschulen (universités populaires), which are schools for adult learning. There may be an international cultural centre offering language course in your area. Commercial language schools offering courses can be found in the Yellow Pages ( Pages Jaunes).
Price differences between different language courses and schools are not always an indication of quality. When choosing a course, the number of teaching hours should be taken into account, in addition to the number of people per class. If you need to get a basic knowledge of the language in a short timeframe, there are intensive courses that will give you a 'kick-start'. Otherwise, it is generally advisable to learn at a more measured pace over longer periods of time.
If your time is limited or the idea of a language course doesn't appeal to you, you can take private one-to-one classes. Depending on the teacher, this is a very good way to learn. It is also usually the most expensive; remember that Swiss wages are anything but low.
Most language schools can arrange private lessons, but it is usually much cheaper to contact a private teacher directly. Quality will vary depending on the ability and experience of the teacher. This can have a large impact on your progress, especially if you're a beginner. When choosing, make sure you feel comfortable with the person and the way they are teaching. If you feel you are not getting on with a teacher, don't be afraid to change.
Language exchanges (Sprachaustausch, Tandem - échange de langues) are a good way to get free conversation practice. They work by pairing up with a local person that wants to learn your language. You switch between the two languages, helping each other. This is also a great way to meet new people and make friends. Most universities and language schools either maintain lists of potential local candidates or have a bulletin board with postings.