English replaces Italian as 3rd most common first language in Swiss cities

English replaces Italian as 3rd most common first language in Swiss cities

A new study from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) has revealed that English has replaced Italian as the third-most common mother tongue in Swiss cities. The government noted that the major urban areas of Switzerland have seen rapid growth in the last few decades, and have become hubs for expats and internationals.

Half the Swiss population live in cities

According to the report, more than 50 percent of the population of Switzerland - both citizens and holders of residence permits - live in 170 different towns and cities. Urban areas have been growing consistently for the last 100 years, with the exception of the 1980s, which saw a small decline in city populations.

During the last 50 years, the composition of Swiss cities has gotten older and more diverse. The FSO noted that those under 20 years old make up 19,1 percent of city populations, compared to the national average of 19,9 percent. Geneva was found to be the youngest city in Switzerland, where one in four inhabitants are 19 years old or younger.

Non-Swiss make up nearly a third of city residents

In addition, the report noted that the major cities have expanded significantly thanks to the large number of expats and internationals coming to fill jobs in Switzerland. For example, the population of Basel has increased from 112.000 in 1900 to 206.000 at the end of 2023, with non-Swiss people making up between 24 and 58 percent of the city’s population depending on the district.

In 2022, non-Swiss people made up 32 percent of city populations on average, far higher than the national average of 26 percent. The border town of Kreuzlingen was found to be the city with the highest proportion of non-Swiss residents at 56,3 percent of the population. It was followed by Rorschach (St. Gallen, 50,6 percent), Renens (Vaud, 49,3), Geneva (49,2) and Meyrin (Geneva, 45,4).

English the third most common mother tongue in Swiss cities

Most interestingly, the FSO confirmed that English is now the third most commonly spoken first language in Swiss cities, having overtaken Italian. In 2022, German remained the most common first language at 59,5 percent of city populations, followed by the 22,8 percent of urban residents who speak French.

Having reached its peak of 11,4 percent in the 1970s, today only 8 percent of Swiss city residents speak Italian as their first language, narrowly losing out to English with 8,1 percent. English was found to be most prevalent in and around the cities of Geneva (14,4 percent of city residents), Zurich (13,4) and Basel (12), the Lake Geneva region and Zug.

Which Swiss cities have the most English speakers?

The place with the highest proportion of English mother tongue speakers is Grand Saconnex in Geneva, where English is the first language for 17,6 percent of residents. It was followed by Zug (17,4), Chêne-Bougeries (Geneva, 16,2),  Küsnacht (Zurich, 16,3) and Zollikon (Zurich 15,8).

For more information about the study, check out the official website.

Thumb image credit: trabantos /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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