Fewer Swiss are learning another of their national languages, which is why there is a move to defend multilingualism in Switzerland. Is this in vain since English continues to gain ground at the expense of German, French and Italian?This content was published on June 1, 2012 - 11:00
French has been relegated to a second foreign language in most German-speaking cantons, after English. And Italian is even worse off with only canton Ticino as a stronghold. Meanwhile English is being used more often in public and universities.
Would it make sense to adopt English as the first foreign language taught in all Swiss schools, making it the lingua franca between Switzerland’s various language groups? Or is multilingualism truly indispensable for national cohesion? Does it create more problems than it solves? Which path do you think should be taken?
Switzerland has four national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh.
German is spoken by about 64 per cent, French by about 20 per cent and Italian by about seven per cent. Romansh is spoken by less than one per cent 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.
French is spoken in the west of the country, while Italian is spoken in Ticino and the south of neighbouring Graubünden, and Romansh is spoken only in Graubünden. However, there are language minorities from elsewhere in all the major cities.
The three main languages are, accordingly, shared with the surrounding countries. Even Romansh is not really unique to Switzerland – there are similar Rhaetoromanic languages spoken by minorities in the South Tyrol and the Friuli region of northern Italy.