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Land of many tongues Has migration changed the Swiss language map?

Switzerland has always been a multilingual country – and is becoming a place of ever more languages. Since 2000, the number of residents who do not speak an official Swiss language as their main language has more than doubled. In fact tripled since 1990, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

The language map has changed dramatically in the last four decades. The proportion of people who speak German, Italian and Romansh as their first language has reduced, while those who speak a non-Swiss language has increased. Is this the result of migration?

Yes and no. The marked rise in foreign tongues also has something to do with the way statistics are compiled. Since 2010, the survey of mother tongues has expanded to include more options to list as a first language. Before then it simply wasn’t possible to record certain languages. This change has exaggerated the statistical trend of more foreign tongues being spoken in Switzerland.

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Evolution of Swiss languages

Albanian and English on the rise

After Italian, which counts as both a national language and the tongue of migrants, the most frequently spoken foreign languages are English and Portuguese. With its status as the international language, English is the most widely distributed foreign tongue throughout Switzerland, followed closely by Albanian. Spanish has lost some ground.

Language of work? High German and English

People who come to Switzerland for jobs are most likely to find themselves - statistically speaking at least - in a Swiss German working environment. That is the case for 42% of Swiss residents.

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Language home vs work

But the Swiss are adapting to an ever more international workplace. This results in more High German and English being spoken at work. Twice as many people speak High German or English at work than they do at home.

Correction: An earlier version of this story asserted that the number of residents not speaking an official Swiss language had doubled. We erroneously left out the phrase 'as their main language'.

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