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Linguistic divide Survey shows Swiss youth struggle with national language learning

Fewer than 50% of young people in Switzerland reach the foreign language objectives set out by their schools

(Keystone)

Young Swiss struggle to learn other national languages at a sufficient level for the classroom and the workplace, according to a national study on multiculturalism from the perspective of the country’s youth.

The 2015 Swiss Federal Survey of Adolescents found that fewer than a quarter of the young respondents living in the French-speaking part of the country found it interesting to learn German in school, with the feeling reciprocated in German-speaking Switzerland.

And the low interest level translates into students’ skills. Just 23% of youth from the French and Italian-speaking parts of the country can speak German at a basic conversational level, while 21.9% of German speakers said they don’t know any French.

“Fewer than 50% of young people reach the [language] objectives set forth by their schools,” said François Grin, a professor at the University of Geneva who helped lead the study. The survey showed that 47% of German and French-speaking apprentices have sufficient skills in the other language, while those who seek a baccalaureate diploma fare even worse. Only 40% of German-speaking high school students know French at the federally required level, and just 28% of their French-speaking counterparts have mastered German.

English, however, enjoys more popularity among young people, with the majority of survey respondents saying they could speak English well or very well.

“Such a difference between the learning of English and the national languages cannot only be explained by the skills of the teachers,” Grin said. Instead, he emphasised that societal and political discussions should commit to and highlight the multilingual nature of Switzerland.

"It should not be a myth."

However, currently, just 16% of French-speaking youth and 18% of German-speaking youth currently think that learning another national language will help them better understand Switzerland.

The Federal Survey of Adolescents surveyed 41,000 young men and 1,500 young women across Switzerland, who are all around 20 years old. The regularly conducted survey has its origins in pedagogical examinations of all military recruits, which were intended to monitor the effectiveness of cantonal school systems. 

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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