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English is second choice for business

German and French are more often used than English at work


A nationwide survey found that English is only second choice as foreign language in most Swiss companies.

German and French remain the most important languages for the Swiss business world despite an increasingly globalised economy.

The survey by the Technical College North-Western Switzerland is based on interviews with employees at more than 2,000 companies.

The authors of the study say the national languages are more important than English because most Swiss companies focus on domestic trade or have close business relations with firms in the neighbouring countries, Germany, France, Italy and Austria.

"Eighty per cent of our companies are small and medium-sized businesses. They are not dealing on daily basis with brokers in New York," project manager Markus Andres told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

Sixty per cent of the companies with at least five employees never or very rarely use English, according to the study.

Economic factor

Contrary to a widespread assumption English is not the dominant business language in any of the four Swiss language regions.

But nearly four out of five respondents said the co-existence of several languages in Switzerland was an important economic factor.

Andres said a majority admitted that their knowledge of foreign languages was insufficient. They blamed the schools for the poor result.

He added that two thirds of the respondents said they were willing to take language courses.

But the study revealed that only 25 per cent of the companies would pay towards the training, while another 20 per cent would contribute otherwise.

English and more

As expected the majority German-speakers in Switzerland are least likely to speak the minority languages, French and Italian, in their professional life.

The authors also say there was evidence that especially members of the minority language communities needed to learn more than just English, but also German or French to get by at work.

In April the Federal Statistics Office found that English was used by more than one in five Swiss workers.

Based on figures from the 2000 census the survey showed that 21.7 per cent of professionals read texts in English or speak the language at work – up from 15.9 per cent in 1990.

Over the past few years many schools, mainly in the German-speaking part of the country, have introduced English as the first foreign language at primary schools.

But on a political level moves are underway to limit the use of English in the federal administration.


Key facts

National languages in Switzerland: (census 2000)
German 63.7%
French 20.4%
Italian 6.5%
Romansh 0.5%

end of infobox

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