Switzerland has four official languages, but what language do they speak in Basel, the home of the world’s largest art fair?
German is the official language spoken in Basel. However you will find Swiss German (a dialect) spoken throughout, but don’t worry English is widely spoken and understood too.
So what is Swiss German?
What is Swiss German?
Swiss German is a dialect of German spoken by the people of Switzerland, well by those in the German-speaking areas that is. Swiss Germa is unique in a way that the Germans find it difficult to understand, let alone us English-speaking people!
Swiss German, otherwise known to the Swiss as “Schweizerdeutsch” is a collection of dialects spoken by German-speaking Swiss nationals. Notably, over 60% of people have German as their main language in Switzerland, so you can expect to hear quite a bit of Swiss German, especially in Zurich.
What Other Languages are Spoken in Basel?
As we have previously mentioned, Switzerland has four official languages. However, each region has a dominant language influenced originally by its geographic location.
Therefore you will find German and Swiss German spoken in the Northern and North-Eastern parts of the country, and also the middle. Italian spoken in the South, and French spoken in the West.
So what does this mean for Basel?
As you can above, Basel is located in the Northern part of the country.
Uniquely, when you look at the map below, you will notice that Basel is very close to both Germany and France. In fact, Basel marks the tripoint where three border crossings meet between France, Germany & Switzerland. It is very unique in this way.
What about French in Basel, can I use French?
Do They Speak French In Basel?
Even though the official language in Basel is German, you will find that French is widely spoken in the city too. With that said, you will hear Italian and so many other languages in this beautiful city.
Can I Speak English in Basel?
Yes, you can, as you now know, German is the official language spoken in Basel, and French is widely used too, but as an English speaker, you will be ok only speaking English.
Do I Need to Learn Swiss German Before Going to Basel?
As you may now know, I am a big believer in immersing yourself in local culture for the full experience.
With this in mind and knowing that language is a huge part of the Swiss culture and identity, it is worth learning a few easy words.
Although you can visit Basel and get by speaking only English, learning a few Swiss German words will help you connect with the locals and the incredible Swiss culture.
So let’s learn a couple of Swiss-German words that you can use when you arrive in Basel.
I promise it’s not that hard, I will keep it really basic.
4 Easy Swiss German Words You Should Learn
There are 4 simple words I am going to teach you so you can show them off in Basel, they are easy and straightforward, I promise.
1. Hello – Grüezi
Well you can’t get more Swiss than this. (that last sentence could be a great marketing slogan…)
Anyway, back to it.
Grüetzi is the ultimate friendly greeting and can be used all throughout the German aka Swiss-German speaking areas of Switzerland.
Although the Swiss have many ways of saying the same word, we’ll stick to the most common in this article.
Pronunciation is like “Grooetzi” (say it like it reads).
Well done, next one.
2. Enjoy Your Meal – En Guete
Don’t get me wrong, you can get away with saying “Bon a Petit”, it seems international these days, but let’s practice the Swiss German version.
Unlike a lot of the U.S and U.K, the Swiss will use this before having a snack or a five-course meal with friends.
Pronunciation is like “En-Gooettah”
Great, now onto a word that some would say is more important.
3. Cheers – Proscht
Now, this is a word you should really get used to. It is easy to say and there will be many opportunities to practice it, well I hope so anyway.
Naturally, you will say it when tapping glasses with a friend or an acquaintance before having a swig of beer or a sip of Switzerland’s finest from Castello Luigi.
Pronunciation is like “Proshht” (with a slight roll of the tongue on the “r”)
4. Thanks – Merci/Danke
A word that means so much and is so easy to say. For this, we have two examples, both are part of Swiss German. This is what I love about Switzerland, the mix of languages and cultures.
We all know that “merci” is French. Well, in Switzerland it is naturally used in the French-speaking region, but it is also used in the German-speaking parts too.
Let’s look at the pronunciation of both words and feel free to use them interchangeably.
Danke is like “Dunkarhh”
Merci is like “Miersee”
Now that wraps up our Swiss Language basics for your trip to Basel.
Remember, although Switzerland has four official languages, most people speak German, well Swiss German in Basel, but you can get by speaking English.
Furthermore, most people in hospitality and travel will speak at least basic English, but I dare you to learn a little Swiss German!
5 Fun Facts About Basel Switzerland
A little more background information about Basel.
1. The Home of Art Basel
Heard of Art Basel? Well, this is where it originated. Starting back in 1970 and attracting some 16,000 visitors, this international art event now attracts over 93,000 people. As a result of its growing popularity Art Basel has spread to Miami Beach, Florida, and Hong Kong too.
It is now known to be the world’s premier art event and as of 2022, will start showcasing in Paris too.
2. Birthplace of Roger Federer
Please tell me you know who I am talking about? Roger Federer has won over 20 tennis Grand Slams and is recognized as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
Although he now lives overlooking the lake of Zurich, Roger was born in Basel in 1981.
3. You Can Get a BaselCard!
What is a BaselCard you ask? This is one concept that I wish more cities across the globe would offer.
Basically, after staying one night in a Basel hotel, you are entitled to a BaselCard. What are the advantages of a BaselCard? Let’s check them out.
Benefits of a BaselCard include:
- Free use of public transport (for 30 days) from arrival
- Free use of wifi hotspots located throughout the city center and near major tourist attractions
- Rent an e-bike for 20CHF from the Swiss SBB railway station (a fantastic way to see the city)
- Enjoy 50% off major tourist attractions
Overall the BaselCard offers incredible benefits, for free! All you have to do is stay one night in Basel at a hotel or even an Airbnb!
More info about the Basel card can be found here.
4. Home to Switzerland’s Oldest University
That’s right, the University of Basel is the oldest university in Switzerland.
The University of Basil was founded in 1460, yes you read that correctly. Compare that to Harvard University founded in 1636 & Princeton University founded in 1746, Basil is super old!
5. Blessed By The Rhine River
The magical Rhine River flows through Basel. It is the second largest river in central Europe and begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden.
The Rhine offers Basel so much, from swimming and stand-up paddle boarding to beautiful boat trips. How do you cross over it? Don’t worry, Basel has many beautiful bridges crossing it, they’re perfect for photo opportunities!
This wraps up our article on Basel, enjoy!