A study recently released by ch-x shows that only 28.2% of young people in the academic stream (Gymnase) at high school in French-speaking Switzerland speak German. On the German-speaking side of the rösti graben 40.6% of the same group speak French, still far from a majority.
The number speaking a national language, other than their own, at an advanced level is even lower. Only 11.8% of French and Italian speaking Swiss reach the advanced levels of C1 or C2 in German. While the percentage of young Swiss-Germans and Swiss-Italians reaching the same level in French is a tiny 9.4%. The language of Dante fares better – 20% speak advanced Italian as an additional language.
Speaking English is a different matter. 73.8% of the same high school crowd on the French-speaking side speak English, along with 87.5% of their Swiss-German counterparts. The percentage nationwide is 85. 21.1% master English to a C1 or C2 level.
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One of English’s strengths appears to be the way it is learned. English is far more likely to be self-taught via exposure to English-language media than any Swiss language.
Multilingualism the norm
Despite a poor mastery of other national languages, multilingualism is overwhelmingly the norm. Only 6% say they speak one language. Of the multilingual 94%, 53% speak two, 23% speak three, 5% four and 1% six languages.
The study entitled “Switzerland – a multicultural society” is aptly written in three of Switzerland’s national languages – there is no English version. The study looks at multiculturalism, multilingualism and diversity in Switzerland. Based on responses from 42,771 young people with Swiss nationality, the study brings valuable insights on a politically and socially important subject.
Nearly 30% of the Swiss nationals studied have at least one parent who is foreign. 22% of those in the French-speaking part of the country and 11% in the Swiss-German part hold more than one nationality. Even though 98% of respondents speak a national Swiss language as their mother tongue or principal language, they count 126 languages between them. Given this level of diversity and globalisation, perhaps learning English feels to some like the only practical way to navigate such a world.
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