Whether you want to learn German, French, or Italian, you will find a language school in Switzerland that suits your needs with our helpful guide.
As an expat, learning the language of your new home country can go a long way to helping you settle into local life, not to mention improving your job prospects in the country. If you happen to be living in Switzerland, however, then you are faced with the unique challenge of choosing which language to learn. After all, instead of having one official language, Switzerland has four – German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Naturally, you might want to learn your canton’s local language as a priority. Fortunately, there are plenty of schools in Switzerland to choose from that suit your needs.
To help you get started, this helpful guide talks you through your options and includes the following information:
- Why learn the Swiss languages
- Learning Swiss languages before moving to Switzerland
- Learning Swiss languages in Switzerland
- Online language learning
- Learning Swiss languages with a computer or smartphone app
- Learning Swiss languages outside the classroom
- Language learning for children in Switzerland
- Official language examinations and qualifications in Switzerland
- Useful resources
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Why learn the Swiss languages?
Because Switzerland has four official languages – German, French, Italian, and Romansh – most residents in the country are multilingual. However, although most expats resort to using English as the lingua franca, it is not one of these official languages. Therefore, it may not be as useful to you in your everyday life. As such, expats who choose to learn one of the official local languages in Switzerland are likely to find their integration into Swiss culture far easier.
This is because speaking German, French or Italian will help you immensely in your work and personal life. For example, it can vastly improve your job prospects and, if you are studying in the country, it will make your school classes and university courses much easier. Of course, speaking the language will also aid your social integration, allowing you to make friends with locals and feel grounded in Swiss culture. With all of these benefits, finding a language school in Switzerland and learning the local lingo is a good move.
Whether you want to learn German, French, or Italian, you will find a language school in Switzerland that suits your needs. In fact, you can find in-person or online courses, as well as more casual learning options such as apps and language groups. You will also find a range of courses that cater to different abilities and budgets. Therefore, whether you are a beginner or an advanced learner, want free classes or expensive personal courses, you will find exactly what you need.
Learning Swiss languages before moving to Switzerland
While you could just wait to learn the languages of Switzerland before you move to the country, getting a headstart on your studies beforehand can be really helpful. This is because having a basic understanding of the language will help you in the early days of setting up your new Swiss life. Whether you want to find a place to live, open a bank account, or set up your home utilities, it will make the process run smoother. Which language you learn, however, will depend on the Swiss canton you live in. As such, you will need to figure this out before trying to learn German, French, or Italian.
International language schools in Switzerland
If you want to learn a Swiss language before moving, then you should look for a language school in Switzerland that also has locations in your home country. Alternatively, you could search for online classes that you can begin before you move. Here are a few schools that may be useful:
- Berlitz – This famous language school offers German, French, Italian, and English, and has locations across the globe.
- Alliance Française – This institution promotes French culture across the globe. As such, its many international locations offer French classes.
- Goethe Institute – A promoter of German culture and language, this famous institution offers German classes at locations around the world.
- inlingua – This language school in Switzerland has 12 locations in the country and 300 sites across the world.
Learning Swiss languages in Switzerland
If you choose to wait until you move, then you might find it easier to learn your local language in Switzerland. This is because you will probably have access to far more courses in German, French or Italian than you would at home. Not only that, but you will also be hearing the languages around you all the time, allowing you to learn them more quickly. Of course, you will also have more opportunities to practice speaking with the locals.
Language schools in Switzerland
If you want to study a language in Switzerland, then you should have plenty of options to choose from. However, although finding a language school in Switzerland is not hard, you will still need to decide what type of class and price point best suits you. Here are some of the most popular options:
- Academia – With locations across Switzerland, this school specializes in custom language training to meet your individual needs. It offers courses for children and adults, as well as beginners and advanced learners.
- Alemania – This school specializes in German and therefore has locations in Zurich, Bern, and Lucerne. Because flexible learning is important here, students can combine courses to create their own bespoke courses. They can also choose to take intensive, part-time, or more casual classes. A maximum of 14 students per class also ensures a good teacher-student ratio.
- Bénédict-Schule – Because this school covers many languages, you can learn French, German or Italian, as well as English and Spanish. Students begin with a free consultation and trial lesson, and then get bespoke lessons that suit their needs. They also receive a course certificate at the end as proof of qualification.
- Boa Lingua – This independent organization represents 300 of the world’s best language schools located across 30 countries. Because of this, they offer language travel programs that teach all of Switzerland’s official languages to short and long-term travelers.
- Flying Teachers – This school is a popular choice because of its flexible courses. In fact, clients can determine the location, time, content, and frequency of their lessons.
- Migros Klubschule – With over 600 courses on offer at 50 locations, this is the largest language school in Switzerland. As such, you can learn all the Swiss languages here, as well as languages such as Albanian, Chinese, Danish, and English.
- Swiss French School – Because of its unique teaching method, students at this school learn French very quickly. In fact, classes prioritize oral and aural abilities, and learning grammar comes later. They also have opportunities to practice the language in real life.
Language schools in Basel
Language schools in Bern
Language schools in Geneva
Language schools in Lausanne
Language schools in Zurich
Government language lessons in Switzerland
Although it doesn’t provide language lessons directly, the Swiss government has some initiatives in place to promote language skills for immigrants. However, the cantons – rather than the federal government – usually deal with this. Foreigners in Basel, for example, can get vouchers to learn German. After they get these vouchers, they can enroll in courses at language schools in Switzerland, such as inlingua and ECAP. In fact, these vouchers cover up to 80 free German classes during their first year.
Similarly, the canton of Zurich offers new arrivals with little income the Caritas Culture Pass. Through this, they can get discounts on German language courses. The canton also provides language classes that focus on integration.
Learning Swiss languages for free in Switzerland
While some Swiss cantons offer free language classes, they vary greatly by region, so you will have to check with your local department. For students, however, Swiss public schools often offer extra language classes to help them pick up the language and integrate quickly. Meanwhile, adults might find that local Facebook and Meetup groups are a better fit.
Online language learning
Fortunately for expats, there are numerous online courses that can help you master the languages of Switzerland in no time. In fact, many expats prefer online language classes as they can be done at their convenience.
Here are a few useful online language schools in Switzerland that you might want to consider:
- FrançaisPlus – This completely bespoke school allows students to choose how and when they learn. It also offers different price points depending on the student’s style of learning, focusing on oral communication, which is easier for online learning.
- LSI Education – As well as having 16 locations in seven countries, this wide-reaching language school offers online classes in German, French, and English. Students get up to 25 hours of contact time each week, along with digital coursebooks and self-study materials. Prices also range from US$39 to US$179 a week depending on the course you pick.
- Swiss Language Academy (SA) – For full flexibility, there is no better language school in Switzerland than SA. It offers French, German, Italian, and English, as well as fully-flexible courses and a smartphone app. There is a wide range of course styles available, with prices ranging from CHF 300 per month to CHF 1,500 for an intensive 25-hour course.
- BBC – This is a great site for learning basic German, French, Italian, or English, but these are the standard languages, not the Swiss dialects.
- Babbel – Because it is relatively cheap and easy to use, many students use Babbel to begin learning a language. It offers a full range of language courses and costs just €6.95 per month, making it an affordable option.
- Berlitz – Although this is a popular face-to-face option, Berliz offers a wide range of online resources, including bite-size lessons and interactive videos. Discounts are also available for corporates.
Other handy online language-learning resources
In addition to online language courses, there is also a selection of useful online resources to help you build your vocabulary and skills in the Swiss language of your choice. Here are a few ones to keep handy:
Learning Swiss languages with a computer or smartphone app
Many companies claim to have the best program to learn languages quickly and retain everything. However, since everyone learns differently, you should explore the teaching style used by the program before you buy it. Price may also play a factor when it comes to which option you choose, as some can be quite expensive, ranging from €32 up to €150 or more.
Here are some of the most popular options:
- Tell Me More
- Rosetta Stone
- Instant Immersion
- Living Language Platinum
- Hello-Hello World
- Pimsleur Comprehensive
- Transparent Language
- Language Learning with Netflix (Chrome extension)
A growing number of schools offer online-only courses that you can complete in the comfort of your own home. Platforms such as Skype Language School offer one-to-one tuition in a range of languages, including French and German.
Just keep in mind that a lot of what you can buy can be found on the internet for free, so don’t be afraid to look around. For example, Radio Lingua Network is a great resource that offers short audio language tutorials, which are downloadable as podcasts. Meanwhile, Open Culture offers 48 online language courses for free.
Learning Swiss languages outside the classroom
Although you have the option of attending a language school in Switzerland, learning the lingo outside the classroom will help you gain real fluency. Depending on where you live, you may hear locals speaking German, French, Italian, or a combination of these, and this immersion can really help you.
There are many casual ways to engage in the local language, including the following:
- Finding a local to Meetup language group
- Joining a conversation club with other expats
- Watching TV shows and movies in the local language (with subtitles) to help you expand your vocabulary
- Listening to music in the local language so you get used to hearing it
- Joining language practice groups on Facebook
- Finding ways to interact with locals, whether they are your neighbors or shop owners, for example
- If you have children, host playdates with local kids and converse with their parents
- Join a local sports club or society
Language learning for children in Switzerland
Because most Swiss schools teach classes in the canton’s local language, expat children may have some trouble adjusting. That said, many schools offer help such as immersive classes or extra language lessons. Similarly, international schools in Switzerland usually offer bilingual programs or require students to take second (or third) languages. As such, many expat students develop some skills in their local Swiss language.
Official language examinations and qualifications in Switzerland
Importantly, the Swiss government now requires certain foreign-born residents to prove their fluency in a local official language. Because of this, they now use the FIDE Language Passport. This document proves your ability to write and speak French, German, and Italian, or a combination of the three. As such, it can help you register for certain courses and apply for certain jobs. You will also need the FIDE Language Passport to gain Swiss citizenship.
In order to test your skills, the exam for the passport includes a 20-minute speaking test, a 20-minute comprehension test, and a 60-minute writing and reading section. After you pass these, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) will issue your passport.