Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Political row over English language heats up

x Keystone

The Swiss House of Representatives has called on the government to ensure that the country's national languages receive priority over English when pupils learn their first foreign language.

The House supported a motion by the Bernese politician, Otto Zwygart, which called for the government to examine ways in which the national languages can be given priority. The vote in favour of the motion was contrary to the recommendations of the cabinet.

The interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, assured the House that it had her sympathies. “I would find it regrettable if English were to become the first foreign language in our schools,” she said. But she insisted that the federal government had no constitutional means to take the matter out of the hands of the cantonal authorities.

While rejecting this argument, the House of Representatives did come out against a more extreme proposal seeking to protect the national languages from the influence of English.

Another Bernese politician, Bernhard Hess, had called on the English language to be restricted, using the model of France’s controversial Toubon law. Hess vehemently attacked the use of English in Swiss society, claiming that it had even infiltrated government administration.

In her response, Dreifuss said the government did not want to introduce state censorship and would not involve itself in controlling the fields of education, science, the economy and advertising. The House agreed with the government on this issue, rejecting Hess’s proposal by 95 votes to six.

swissinfo with agencies

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR