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Speaking the Language

Geneva - Speaking the Language

Being located in central Europe, there are four official languages recognized in Switzerland. They are German, French, Italian and Romansch. Of the four languages, German is most widely spoken throughout Switzerland (around 75%); while French is regularly spoken by around 20% of the population, and Italian, 6.5%; and Romansch is spoken by a minority (less than 1%). In Geneva, most expatriates who can speak and understand at least one of the major European languages would typically not find major difficulties fitting in, although there are variations in the language used.

Although French is generally not considered the predominant language used in Switzerland, the situation in Geneva is somewhat opposite. Geneva, being located in the la Suisse romande region of Switzerland, recognizes French (not German) as the main language – it is the everyday language used, on road and directional signs, in printed media, on television and so on. 3 out of every 4 residents in Geneva speak French, according to the Statistiques Genève. It is also the language of instruction in public schools in Geneva. In terms of numbers, there are an estimated 1.5 million French-speakers who live in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland.

While French is spoken widely in Geneva, there are some variations between Genevois French and France-French. A France-French speaker is likely to notice several minor differences, and the ones that give rise to greatest misunderstandings / miscommunication are those used in reference to numbers (e.g. the number seventy (70) is "soixante-dix" in France-French, while it is "septante" in Genevois French). All in all, the differences in Genevois French are far less than the variations in Swiss-German as compared to Germany-German.

English-speaking expatriates might be relieved to know that English is widely understood and used in Geneva, thanks in part to the fact that Geneva is home to many international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations and the Red Cross. There is an estimated 100,000 English-speakers living in Geneva. The younger Swiss generation, in particular, are more likely to switch to English when speaking with non-French speaking expatriates. Depending on your workplace, English and/or French may be the main languages used by your fellow colleagues.

Expatriates wishing to keep updated with news from their home country will find it easy. Many American, Australian, British, Canadian and Irish newspapers in English are available at many newsstands. For Swiss-based news, try Swisster or Swiss News. For community news in and around Geneva in English, try Geneva Lunch. Some regional newspapers, such as the Tribune de Genève (or "la Julie"), carries an occasional English section.

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