Whether you’ve chosen to take lessons to learn Swiss German or not (if you’re planning to, you should check our post about where to learn Swiss German in Switzerland), I’ve put up a list of ideas that have helped me in the past to complement my Swiss German learning experience. Some of them are more passive, and other ideas will definitely involve some effort, but trust me, they all help a lot.
In order to learn Swiss German, first you need to have a base knowledge of High German. You can also listen to Swiss German music, watch Swiss German series and movies, and get a tandem partner.
Get a base knowledge of High German
Learning High German first will be a huge advantage, and knowledge of German is, at the end of the day, more valuable than Swiss German. I recommend you to have at least an A2 to B1 level of listening and speaking High German, since that will allow you to create connections between the two languages easier.
That helped me a lot at the beginning, and it still does today: when I hear Swiss German (in any context) I usually relate most words to High German, and it works!
Listen to Swiss German music
Listening is the most important skill while learning a language (and if you don’t believe me, check our post about it). Listening to music has helped me tremendously while learning new languages. Of course, music taste varies from person to person but here are some songs in Swiss German to motivate you:
Watch Swiss German series and movies
The good thing about watching series and movies is that even if you don’t understand 100% of the audio, you can grasp information through the context in the video. I don’t recommend you to watch Swiss German series and movies with English (or your mother tongue) subtitles, because you’ll put less effort into understanding the Swiss dialect.
If you want to use subtitles, go for High German ones. You can try Tschugger, a webseries by the national network SRF set in the canton of Valais, where all of the characters speak Valais accent, except for two (one from Zurich and one from Basel) that actually struggle to follow the Valais natives. A funny fact is that the script was actually first written in High German and then translated into Swiss German.
Get a tandem partner
Getting a tandem partner to improve your speaking skills is one of the most fun and quickest methods to learn a language. This is especially advantageous with Swiss German, given that there aren’t many apps that will help you with speaking skills. Also, there will almost always be someone that wants to learn your mother tongue, and if you’re lucky you might even end up with a local friend!
You should have some basic level of the language though, in order to be able to introduce the topics you want to talk about. I’ve used Sprachtandem in the past, and it’s available all over Switzerland. Don’t forget to also check social media (e.g Facebook groups) for tandem groups that meet regularly!
This might seem like pointless advice, but really. Don’t be shy. Swiss people really appreciate foreigners trying to learn their language and immerse into their culture, so they’ll be happy to see you try and will give you useful tips. Don’t be scared to make mistakes also, because who doesn’t?
English is not even my mother tongue, and even though I’ve learnt it years ago, I still make mistakes while speaking or writing. I’m happy to have a native friend correcting me, it just means I’m getting better.
Learning any language is a challenge, and specially one like Swiss German. But don’t get discouraged if you feel like progress is slow. Try to be constant with the amount of Swiss German you “consume” and speak daily. In moments where the person in front of you switches from German to English or other language because they notice that you’re not native, I recommend to keep answering in German!
Most people just switch to your language because they try to be accommodating (that’s very nice, thanks!), but they highly appreciate your answers in the local language and in the end, perseverance is the key to progress.
Make Swiss friends
Ha! Just kidding. That sounds like mission impossible, but if you follow the tips above you might make one in no time! (Actually, it will probably take a while, but it’s worth it. I promise).