Learn Swiss German Faster with these 18 Key Differences Between Swiss and High German

After moving to Switzerland in 2020, I started learning High German, because I had to if I wanted to stay here with my family.

I also wanted to learn Swiss German, because that is the language that is most spoken here in Zurich, where I live. And I’m weird in that I enjoy learning languages.

So I started watching some  YouTube videos about Swiss German, featuring Swiss German speakers.

After watching a few of these videos, I began to realize some patterns.  These are a few key differences in words that are used very often. And if you know these you can be use them in many places.  My wife is sometimes surprised when I can say things in Swiss German, and it’s not because I’ve spent hundreds of hours with tutors. It’s because I’ve spent dozens of hours watching YouTube videos and observing these key differences.

By the way, you don’t have to speak Swiss German in Switzerland. Everyone in the German speaking part of Switzerland understands High German. They all have to learn it in school starting when they are 5 or so. Most of their TV is in High German. 99% of everything written down in Switzerland is in High German. So don’t be afraid to speak High German. And I recommend learning High German first, for the reasons outlined here.

I want to preface this post with these are not clearly defined rules and the rules and  patterns vary by cantonal  dialect. This post is designed to show you patterns of change. You’ll see in numbers 1 and 2  that the changes are similar; there is a pattern of change.

I will list the High German words first in all cases so I don’t have to write “for High German” after every word. When I do make it clear which language I abbreviate High German as HG and Swiss German as SG.

1. Dein, deine, deiner, etc.
– These all turn into “dini” or “dinere”, basically.”
2. Mein, meine, meiner, etc.
– These all turn into “mini” or “minere”, basically.”
3. Words that end in “ung” and “end” in High German often are pronounced “ig” in Swiss German
– Examples: “Wohnung” turns into “Wohnig”.
– Examples: “Abend” turns into “Abig”.
4. “Regen” or rain becomes “ragnet”
5. Infinitive verbs in SG omit the ending n. So “machen” becomes “mache”.
6. Der, die das are very often shortened in SG to just “d” and pronounced shorter than in HG.
7. The hard consonants of “K” in HG becomes “Ch” which sounds more like “Hum” in SG
8. “Ein bischen” is “es bitzli”
9. A super important one: “ist” becomes “isch”. You will hear this every day in Switzerland and you can use it to fit in a bit.
10. Similar to #9, “hast” becomes “hesch” or “hasch”. It’s hard to tell the exact vowel here.
11. Swiss German speakers use “li” to diminutize words instead of using “chen” as in HG.
– “Rössli” is horsey or “Pferdchen” (I do not know if “Pferdchen” is a word).
– “Schlaffli” is a nap.
12. “gsi” is “gewesen”. If you hear this, they are saying something in the past tense. You will hear this a million times per day. It comes at the end of sentences, like “gewesen” would. It is used way more often than “gewesen” in my experience.
13. The Swiss use “schaffe” for “arbeiten” or to work. So “I’m going to work is” becomes “Ich gang go schaffe”. It can mean the noun “job” and the verb “to work”.
14. sein, seine, seiner, etc.
– These turn into “sini” (just like #1 dein->dini)
15. The very common word “maybe” is “vielleicht” in HG and “vilicht” in SG.
16. In addition to dropping the n at the end of infinitive and other verb forms, the Swiss drop the n from many other words such as “Schinken” (pork) as well. So “Schinken” becomes “Schinke”.
17. Continuing with “ist”->”isch” and “bist”->”bisch”, the “st” sound in “ist” and “bist” is turned into “sch” seemingly everywhere. I am not sure if it is changed that way in every instance, but in many many cases it is. Another example is “meistens” becomes “meischtens”.

18. Swiss German uses the German verb “reden” instead of “sprechen”. So if you want to sound Swiss, you say “Reddet Sie Schwiizer-Dutsch” and not “Sprechen Sie Schwiizer-Dutsch”. Hear an example in this great YouTube video

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