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Speaking the Language

Zurich - Speaking the Language



One major advantage of living and working in the European city of Zurich is its linguistic diversity. There are four national languages recognized in Switzerland: German (spoken by 75% of total population), French (20%), Italian (4%) and Raetoromansch (1% - spoken mainly by Swiss nationals only). English is widely understood. If you can speak one of the four national languages, or at least can understand one other European language, language would not be a major hurdle for you.

In Zurich, apart from the four national languages, the local language most commonly used is a variation of German known as Swiss German. Many monolingual, English-speaking only expatriates first arrive in Zurich with little or no knowledge of any European language, and they invariably start to pick up some useful European-language phases during their stay in Europe. As many Swiss are effectively multi-lingual speakers, it is common to hear one switching from one language to another. Everybody in Zurich (and most of Switzerland) – from the bank teller, to the mail carrier, to the housing estate agent to your colleagues – can speak at least two languages fluently. Most expatriates generally agree that in Zurich, the locals will immediately switch to English as soon as they realize you are an English speaker.

Take note, however, that the German spoken in Zurich is a variation of the standard German spoken elsewhere, such as in Germany itself. This is similar to the French spoken by the Belgians or Canadians as opposed to the French spoken by the French. Expect some differences in vocabulary, phonetics and use of certain terms or phrases.

Expatriates interested to formally learn German or some other European language can refer to the local classifieds or visit this link for some contacts.

English-speaking expatriates will find the usual range of English newspapers with strong emphasis on finance / economics, such as The Financial Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal. Popular English magazines such as Vogue, Time and The Economist, are available at newsstands or kiosks throughout the city. The airport and train newsstands or kiosks carry the widest range of foreign newspapers and magazines, the major newsstands or kiosks.

The German newspaper, Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) is one of the leading German language newspapers in the world, and is widely read by people in business, government and politics. The NZZ has an English section.

Visit this for a summary of the main bookstores in Zurich that sell English books. Among them, the Orell Fussli (Fusslistrasse 4, Zurich 8001, Tel: 08 48 84 98 48) is the largest bookstore in Zurich, and boosts of a selection of more than 30,000 British and American literature books.

Public libraries in Zurich have a good selection of English books for loan. The Central Library (Zentralbibliothek) is located at Zaehringerplatz 6, 8001 Zurich (Tel: 044 268 31 00). The public libraries are usually open Mondays through Saturdays. Anyone over the age of 16 can register to join the library at no cost. Click here for a recommendation of other libraries with a good variety of English books for all ages in Zurich.




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