Tips and Tricks to bring (Swiss) German into your daily lifeLearning German in Switzerland can be especially difficult. The Swiss, bless their souls, love practicing their own second language skills and are more than happy to switch to English when they can. While this may seem convenient, research has shown that without the need or opportunity to practice second language skills, those skills will not develop. To complicate matters more, it’s unlikely you’ll hear High German but rather Swiss German on the streets. Swiss German is a dialect of sorts (diglossia to be exact) which often sounds and acts differently than proper High German.
Despite these hurdles, learning (Swiss) German is an opportunity you don’t want to miss while living here. To learn (Swiss) German, try integrating it into your everyday life. Small changes make the biggest difference. Here are some tips that will help you pass that initial plateau and start speaking Deutsch.
Look for German beyond the classroom
Language studies (and common sense) show that language is learned best when you need it and you do something you love with it. If you want to learn (Swiss) German, join a group. This doesn’t have to be a language group – but it does have to be a group where you do something you love (e.g. Sewing, Sports, Yoga, Hiking) in (Swiss) German. UNUMONDO (a Swiss based integration and language company) also offers many community classes in which (Swiss) German is used. While joining a class in German can be nerve-racking, the course will expose you to a (Swiss) German that is useful and relevant to you.
Read the News in German
One of the major benefits of learning the local language is to get a better understanding of what’s happening around you. Challenge yourself to read the newspaper (or anything for that matter) in German. While this may seem like a daunting, insurmountable task, rest assured – you can do it. Here’s some tips:
– Find a small text – if you are a beginner, limit it to 50-100 words.
– Find a newspaper topic that interests you or a topic that you are already familiar with. Use contextual clues: pictures, words you might already know to help you understand the overall meaning
– Use apps like Lingua.ly to help capture the words you don’t know
– Break the article down into small bits. Remember – you don’t have to understand a text word for word. Try to first understand the overall message and then highlight 3 main new words you want to learn and practice.
– Keep a journal of the articles you’ve read, and re-read them. This will help solidify new vocabulary and show you the progress you are making.
Fall in love with (Swiss) German
If you are so lucky to have a partner who speaks (Swiss) German, make sure to have days/night dedicated to speaking just (Swiss) German. If that’s not possible, try to fall in love with (Swiss) German itself. Look for words that sound or look interesting and try taking them apart to learn them. This is both a good way to build a bond with the word and remember its meaning. Here are some examples:
Zweifel (German: Zwei + fel / Translation: Two + fields = Doubt)
Beruf (German: (Be) + ruf / Translation: (Be) + calling = Occupation/ Job)
Ehrgeizig (German: Ehr(e) + geizig / Translation: Honor + Greedy = Ambitious)
There are many other words you can take apart to learn. Have fun making up your own!
Don’t be afraid to translate
Recent language acquisition research shows that previous knowledge is critical to helping us learn new things. Second language researchers found that students who translated, learned double as quickly as those who did not use their first language. Use your native language to build associations to new words and concepts. Build a story around new words you hear. That will likely make them more memorable. If you are looking for texts in both English and German, check out Swissinfo.ch which offers Swiss news in many languages.
When at the self-checkout in Coop or Migros, make sure to click on the German language setting. Same goes for any automatic ticket machine like the ATM or SBB machines. As an extra challenge, change your computer settings to German. While this might seem like quite the jump, it will provide you with the opportunity to navigate and use the language in very relevant ways.
People will always try to switch back to English. But if you are really serious about learning German, switch back. Tell whomever you are talking to that while you appreciate their consideration, you’d really like to learn German and need practice.
And lastly, remember to have fun!
Written by Zuri Girl Emilia Siravo is a freelance English language teacher and researcher living in Zurich, Switzerland. Born in Philadelphia to a passionate Italian father and fiery Argentine mother, Emilia felt propelled to neutralize things by marrying someone Swiss. In addition to her work, Emilia loves going on long hikes with her husband and very active 4-year-old son, doing BootCamp and practicing yoga. Follow Emilia online on Twitter: @esiravo or read her blog.