Have you ever taken a plane to Zurich or Basel, expecting upon arrival that people would sound like your friends or colleagues from Germany – but then feeling rather puzzled when hearing them talk? The reason is that Swiss Germans have a very strong Allemanic dialect when it comes to their everyday conversation, which is called “Schweizerdeutsch”. This, however, should not discourage you from practising your German skills because every Swiss German can switch to the “Standardsprache” (Standard German) when necessary.
Unlike most regional languages in modern Europe, Swiss German is the spoken everyday language at all social levels in industrial cities, as well as in the countryside in Switzerland. Using dialect conveys neither social nor educational inferiority and is spoken with pride. There are only a few specific settings where speaking Standard German is expected, or is done out of politeness, for example in education, during parliamentary sessions, in the main news broadcast or in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. This situation has been called a “medial diglossia “, since the spoken language is mainly the dialect, whereas the written language is Standard German. They write Standard German pretty much exactly like the Germans do apart from a few small exceptions such as writing the double s (ss) instead of eszett (ß).
In terms of vocabulary Swiss Germans tend to use French loanwords like “Glace” (ice cream) instead of the German expression “Eis” or they use “Trottoir” for “Bürgersteig” (pavement). On a grammatical level Swiss German, for example, does not have a genitive case or a past perfect tense.
Swiss German has also preserved certain vowel sounds from Middle High German. Words like “Haus” (house) are pronounced as /huːs and “Wein” (wine) would be pronounced as /wiː. The contrast in pronunciation between Swiss German and German is as distinct as hearing Brummies talking to Glaswegians.
If you want to improve your German skills and also learn a bit more, as you progress, about the different dialects of spoken German and its usage in German-speaking countries, then get in touch with us and we will provide you with one of our native German speaking experts.