Switzerland has four official languages but surprisingly, Swiss German is not one of them, despite the fact that it’s what most Swiss people actually speak. The four national languages of Switzerland are: German, Italian, French and Romansh; the latter being the least spoken. Not too many Swiss people speak this Latin dialect. It can only be heard in certain areas of Switzerland, particularly in the canton Graubünden (or ‘Grisons’ in English).
However, Swiss German is the main language spoken.
Switzerland has twenty-six different cantons (similar to ‘states’) and pretty much each one has their own Swiss dialect. I have friends that speak the ‘Bünder’ dialect (from the canton of Graubünden), the Luzern dialect and Basel dialect. All distinctly different. Yet, most of the Swiss can understand one another despite the differences, great or small. And although the Swiss speak and understand standard German, the Germans cannot understand the Swiss.
Swiss people have to learn German. They learn it in school. And of course, things such as movies, books, magazines, newspapers, etc are all in the regular standard German. But Germans don’t learn Swiss German in Germany, and although both languages share the same concept and similar sentence structure, even similar words, they are both completely different.
Swiss German is, after all, not a written language – you have to learn it by being here in Switzerland.
(Of course, you may find some useful websites and even YouTube that allow you to listen to and learn it – it’s limiting though.) There are tons of Swiss words that different from the German word.
Swiss German uses the throat more when speaking. Huge difference when listening to high German vs. Swiss German.
This Swiss girl demonstrates the difference perfectly.
Here are 10 examples of some Swiss German words, the first, being the most commonly used to demonstrate typical Swiss:
Chuchichäschtli 😀 (kitchen cabinet)
It’s actually a well-known word throughout Switzerland and anyone trying to learn Swiss German will run into it sooner or later. If you can say this word, you can say anything.
Grüetzi (hello) – Much different from the standard ‘Guten Tag’ in German.
Klöpfer –This word describes a Basel style sausage.
Löli – it’s like an idiot
Fürzli – (calling someone a ‘little fart’)
Bünzli – I was told that this describes the general Swiss manner of following all the rules and sticking to them or doing things a certain why and having nothing out of place ;D ) which is a bit much. I’m definitely not ‘Bünzli‘, hahaha.
Härdöpfel – (Potoato) – completely different from the standard German word ‘Kartoffel’.
Hitzgi – (hiccups) – I find this word to be very funny sounding!
Schoggi – (chocolate) – I love saying this word way better than the high German ‘Schokolade’. (Speaking of Schoggi, I need to ask for a certain recipe for ‘Schoggichüeche’ (chocolate cake!) 😀
Merci Vielmal (vielmol) – (Thank you very much) – I like this one because it’s a mix of a little bit of both French and German. It’s like the Swiss are showing they’re not German by adding a French word, and yet, they’re not German because they have their own way of spelling vielmal (usually with an ‘o’.)
This website is also great to show Swiss German a little more in depth. And you get to see Swiss words compared to German words.
Even though it does kind of sound funny, I think in many ways it has charm and I personally love the Swiss dialects. As I’m Switzerland for the 4th time, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to hear them speak whenever I return and I always miss it whenever I leave. I’ve been fortunate this time around. I’ve made friends with a Swiss girl who’s been texting/teaching me actual Swiss German! 😀 And it’s great. For me, it’s a bit easier to read than it is to understand and listen.
But who knows? Maybe next time I fly back for a visit, I’ll be fluent 😀
(not really, but I can practice 😀 )