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On parle Français Victory for national languages in local vote

If the pupils themselves were allowed to vote, would they have raised their hand for one or two?


French will continue to be taught as a foreign language in primary schools in the German-speaking canton of Nidwalden. At the ballot box on Sunday, voters said no to a proposal which would have limited teaching to only one additional language, namely English.

Just over 60% of voters in the central Swiss canton marked their ballots in favour of maintaining two foreign languages at the primary school level.

By rejecting the proposal by the conservative right Swiss People’s Party, Nidwalden remains in line with most other cantons. The model they have adopted institutionalises the teaching of two languages, with one of them another national language.


Language teaching is an emotional issue with political significance in a country with four official languages – German, French, Italian and Romansh.

A decision last year by parliament in canton Thurgau - in eastern Switzerland - to scrap French from the curriculum prompted alarm notably in French-speaking western Switzerland.

Sunday's ballot was the second public vote on the issue in a Swiss canton since 2006. Further initiatives are still pending.


The Nidwalden education director and member of the local branch of Swiss People's Party, Res Schmid, described the latest result as a missed opportunity to amend the curriculum.

His party argued that it was too great a burden for children up to the age of 12 to learn two foreign languages simultaneously. The party’s proposal wanted to move French to the secondary school level.

However, most major parties as well as the local teachers association were opposed, saying the roughly 2,300 primary school pupils of the region near Lucerne would be placed at a disadvantage compared to students of the same age in other parts of the country.


The education authorities in Switzerland's 26 cantons have welcomed the outcome of the vote.

Chairman Christoph Eymann voters said had decided in the greater interest of a multi-cultural country.

He said he was confident no intervention from the federal government was needed.

Interior Minister Alain Berset repeatedly warned that he is not willing to tolerate moves to scrap the teaching of a second Swiss language in primary school.

The education authorities have been trying to gradually adapt school curricula. The plan is for all children to learn a second Swiss language plus English by the fifth year in primary school.

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