Speaking to the Swiss

It always helps to know a little of the local language when you go skiing or snowboarding. For those planning a trip this winter, now is a good time to brush up on those neglected language skills. In Switzerland four languages are spoken – German (in most of the central and Eastern ski resorts), French (in resorts to the West, in what is called Romandie), Italian (in Ticino and parts of Graübunden) and Romansch (in remote parts of Graubünden). However English is widely spoken and where it is not you can always find someone who speaks French or German.

At www.swisswintersports.co.uk I’ve listed the local language in each resort. The form of French and Italian spoken in Switzerland are fairly standard, but there are subtle variations – for instance in Romandie septante, huitante (in the Alpine cantons) and neunante (in Vaud, nonante in Neuchâtel) are used for 70, 80 and 90. In the Italian-speaking resorts a lot of French and German words creep into the local Italian dialect.

The use of German is altogether a little more complicated.

In the so-called German-speaking part of Switzerland, the local language is actually a highly regional dialect with thousands of variations from High German (Hochdeutsch). The differences are so marked that most Germans cannot understand a Swiss speaking in what is called Schweizerdeutsch (itself with many variant spellings), and in fact the differences in dialect across Switzerland are so strong that many Schweizerdeutsch speakers cannot understand people speaking a different dialect from another part of the country.

Fortunately for visitors to Switzerland, a form of standard German is taught in the schools. As a result, throughout the German-speaking and Romansch-speaking regions of Switzerland, you can make yourself understood if you speak standard German. However the standard form of German used in Switzerland still differs from that used in Germany or Austria, in terms of grammar, stress, case and vocabulary. If you are a German speaker the main variations, or Helvetisms, you might come across are as follows:

Grüezi – Guten Tag (hello)
Merci – Danke (thank you)
Sorry – Entschuldigen (sorry)
Poulet – Huhn (chicken)
Gipfel – Hörnchen (croissant)
Morgenessen – Frühstück (breakfast)
Nachtessen – Abendessen (evening meal)
Billett – Fahrkarte (ticket)
Identitätskarte – Personalausweis (ID Card)
Coiffeur – Friseur (hairdresser)
Velo – Fahrrad (bicycle)
Trottoir – Bürgersteig (Pavement/Sidewalk)
Knabe – Junge (boy)
Spital – Krankenhaus (hospital)
Apero – Umtrunk (appetisers and wine)
Rahm – Sahne (cream)
Gleis – Bahnsteig (platform)
Billette/billet – Fahrkarten (ticket)
Tram – Straßenbahn (tram)
Korridor/Gang – Flur (corridor)
Jupe – Rock (skirt)
Rock – Kleid (dress)
Sackmesser – Taschenmesser (pocket knife)
Aktion – Rabatt (sale/reduction)

Oh, and one other thing, the Swiss don’t use the “ß” (Eszett), preferring instead to use “ss”.

For some useful German words relevant to winter sports visit this site.

For some useful French words relevant to winter sports visit this site

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