Students in Zurich found to be switching from Swiss to High German and English

Students in Zurich found to be switching from Swiss to High German and English

A new report by SonntagsZeitung has found that schoolchildren in the city of Zurich are starting to use High German and English instead of the traditional Zurich dialect. The phenomenon is most common in the more affluent areas of the city, with families branding the loss of the local language a “cultural loss.”

High German and English becoming more popular in Zurich schools

The claims are sourced from a number of parents, who say that their children are not learning to speak Swiss-German and are instead resorting to traditional High German and even English in social situations and at Swiss schools. SonntagsZeitung explained that most of the complaints are from schools in Silhfeld - an area known for its affluence and large expat community.

According to one father who spoke to the newspaper, "My children don't speak proper Swiss-German, although they have only ever lived here. In my daughter's primary class, at least three-quarters of the children came from German or Anglo-Saxon academic families, and High German was mostly spoken in the playground."

Swiss German becoming less popular among students

In many areas of the city, the newspaper found that High German and especially English were becoming more commonly spoken than the traditional dialect. This follows a similar report from a school near Aarau, which has chosen to require every student to speak Swiss or High-German in class and in the playground.

“Where do we actually live? It can't be that the Swiss have to integrate into the culture of the migrants instead of the other way around," noted Aargau National Councillor Martina Bircher. In her view, and the view of some parents at Zurich schools, the move from Swiss-German to High German and English amounts to a loss of identity and culture.

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However, according to the school authority in Zurich, the use of foreign languages at schools “has never been an issue.” They explained to SonntagsZeitung that having a German, Swiss or even English accent has proven to be “irrelevant” to how a student performs at primary, secondary, higher education and university in Switzerland.

Responding to the new rule in Aargau, a German Lecturer at the University of Education in Zurich, Karin Landert, told the SonntagsZeitung that she “can understand that people are thinking about a ban, but I don't find this measure particularly beneficial, if only because it cannot be enforced with a reasonable amount of effort." 

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She argued that learning German, whether it is Swiss-German or not, should be the main priority. Another Zurich teacher told the newspaper that only offering childcare services in Swiss-German was another effective way to reduce the number of English and High-German speakers on playgrounds.

When speaking about the rise in the use of English, Landert said that parents “should not overestimate the influence of the school." "How and with whom the children spend their free time is just as important," she concluded.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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