English to benefit after cantons fail to agree language policy

English is set to join the curriculum in many German-speaking cantons Keystone

Most Swiss German cantons are poised to push ahead with plans to adopt English as a first foreign language in schools, after cantonal educational officials failed to agree whether a national language should be given priority.

This content was published on June 13, 2001 minutes

The failure to reach a decision means that it remains up to the 26 individual cantons to choose whether English or a second national language should be given priority.

The debate is part of efforts to boost foreign languages and introduce them at an early stage in state-run schools.

The proposal foresaw a regional solution under which the majority of the German-speaking cantons would have opted for English as a first foreign language in primary schools. Other cantons, including those on the language borders, would have introduced another national language.

Switzerland has four national languages. German is spoken by an overwhelming majority, while French, Italian and Romansch are minority languages.

It is widely assumed that the failure to reach a common solution means the decision is up to individual cantons. However, most of them, particularly in the German-speaking part of the country, are likely to follow the example of canton Zurich, which has been at the forefront of a campaign to opt for English.

Experts say failure to opt for English could also lead to more parents sending their children to private schools.

There have been concerns among the French-speaking community and in bilingual regions that the preference for English could put at risk national cohesion.

Supporters of English argue it is the international language and most frequently used by the business community.

Moves are underway in parliament to prioritise the teaching of a second national language, triggering a dispute between the German- and French-speaking regions of the country.

swissinfo with agencies

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