Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. English, though not an official language, is often used to bridge the divides, and a significant proportion of official documentation is available in English.
German (both High German and Swiss German) is spoken by about 63% of the population, French by about 23%, and Italian by about 8%. Romansh is spoken by less than 1% of the total population.
The most notable linguistic fact about German-speaking Switzerland is the use of dialect for spoken communication and standard German for written communication. This makes the task of language learning in German-speaking areas more challenging for foreigners.
French is spoken in the west of the country, while Italian is spoken in Ticino and the south of neighbouring Graubünden. Romansh is spoken only in Graubünden.
Immigrants have also brought their own languages to Switzerland. These non-national languages combined now outnumber both Romansh and Italian in terms of being main languages spoken.
Around 5.1% of the population lists English as one of their main languages, followed by Portuguese at 3.7% and Albanian at 3.1%, according to the Federal Statistical Office (link in French).
Ability to speak a national language remains important for integration. Language courses, from weekly classes to intensive courses, are widely available in every region. Prices and methods vary so it is worth shopping around.
Some local authorities, associations and schools offer low-cost classes for migrants. Women’s groups are also active in this area. If you are unemployed, you may be eligible for free language classes. For more information on language learning, see the migrants’ information site Migraweb.
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