Ok, so you know that Switzerland has four official languages? But what language do they speak in Bern?
The official languages spoken in Bern are German and French. Yes, that’s right, Bern is one of three cantons (states) in Switzerland that have two official languages. Otherwise known as a bilingual canton.
Confusing right? Well, it can be a little if you don’t speak either. However, there are a number of villages that speak both French & German, but often you will find that a village or town will speak one or the other.
Let’s just add a little more confusion into the mix. So, the official languages are German & French, right? So I am sure you have heard about Swiss German?
So What Is Swiss German & Where Does It Fit In?
Swiss German refers to any of the dialects of German spoken in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland.
Being a dialect and a confusing one at that, you will find that most traditional German speakers will not understand Swiss-German. Mix that with some strong Swiss accents and often German speakers won’t understand a thing, that’s how different it can be.
But, that doesn’t mean that the Swiss don’t speak normal German, formally known as High German (Hochdeutsch).
The Swiss are able to speak and write in High German. But, the question is, do they want to?
So what about French, is there a Swiss version of that too?
Is There Swiss French?
Sure there is.
The Swiss have taken French and put their own spin on it too, although not as dramatic as Swiss German, Swiss French is different to normal French.
But, if you speak French on your trip to Bern, you will be just fine. Sure, you might not understand a few words, but communication and your understanding of general conversation will be fine.
What Other Languages Do They Speak In Bern?
According to the local government of Bern, 85% of people speak German, 10% speak French, 3% speak Italian & 3% speak English.
But and a big BUT, Bern is very international. How?
Bern is the capital of Switzerland and hosts a total of 87 embassies, adding to this, over 30% of Bern residents are foreigners too.
What does this mean? It means you can expect to hear a huge selection of international languages in the capital.
But what about English?
Can I speak English in Bern?
Absolutely you can.
Apart from having a lot of foreigners in the city, you will find the Swiss very friendly and accommodating and most speak at least some basic level of English.
But, as you might know, I am a big fan of immersion and connection to enhance your trip to Switzerland.
So, that means let’s learn a little Swiss German before you arrive.
C’mon it is easy, I will keep it really Easy
Do I Need To Learn Swiss German Or French Before Going To Bern?
Not at all, but it will help you connect a little with the people and the culture, so we will learn some basics today.
5 Swiss German Words You Should Learn Before Bern
Nice little rhyme in the heading above, time to learn Swiss, it’s easy to love.
Ok, enough of the corny rhymes, let’s get into it.
1. Hello – Grüezi
You can’t get more Swiss than this ( oh another rhyme, sorry).
Grüzi is polite, it is friendly and it is so Swiss. Say this with a smile on your dial for ultimate respect in Switzerland.
Pronunciation is like “Grooetzi” (say it like it reads and roll the “r” a little if you can)
Well done, next up.
2. Enjoy Your Meal – En Guete
With a collection of lovely restaurants in the city and food being such a big part of your experiences, you are bound to use this phrase.
It is said casually before enjoying a sandwich and a drink or before a beautiful fine dining meal. It is really a nice little thing to say before eating and the equivalent of bon appétite, in French.
Let’s give it a go.
Pronunciation goes a little like “En-Gooettarh”
Next up, is something to go alongside the above.
3. Cheers – Proscht
An important word? Well, I think it is.
With the amazing mix of local and international beer and wine, you are bound to get some good practice with this.
This word comes directly from the German language, with minimal Swiss changes this time.
Pronunciation goes like “Proshht” (with a small roll of the tongue on the “r”, if you dare)
Ok, this next one is important, and underused, in my opinion.
4. Thanks – Danke/Merci
Ok, so I am throwing both French & German at you here.
Why, you ask? Because throughout the German and bilingual-speaking part of the country, these two little words are used interchangeably.
So say what comes naturally to you, or what you find easier.
Let’s give both a go.
Danke is like “Dunkarhh”
Merci is like “Miersee”
Ok great, time to go, but I have one last one for you.
5. Goodbye – Tschüss
This is easy to say and barely changed from High German.
Pronunciation is like “Chooos” the “T” is basically silent.
Well done, you have now learned some Swiss language basics.
As an English speaker that has lived and traveled extensively throughout Switzerland, I can safely say that you can get by speaking English. But learning a few words will help you connect with the culture, so give it a go.
Want to learn more about the languages spoken across the country, check out our article here.
5 Fun Facts About Bern, Switzerland
1. Seriously Famous Chocolate
Is there Swiss Chocolate that stands out when you think of Swiss Chocolate, potentially with a gold package and red writing?
How about Toblorone!? Toblerone is from Bern and still produced there to this day!
2. The Name is Bond, James Bond
Ok, Pierce Brosnan is not from Bern and neither is Sean Connery or Daniel Craig. But Bond’s very first accomplice was played by a Bern girl, Ursula Andress!
3. It’s Green, Consistently
Bern consistently ranks as one of the greenest cities in Europe. With over 50% of the land mass covered in green spaces, you will likely be relaxed visiting this city.
4. Bern Is The Largest City, Or Is It?
Unlike many countries around the world, the Swiss don’t follow suit. Bern is by no means the largest city, in fact, it is only the fifth largest with around 120,000 inhabitants. Also, nowhere is it stated that Bern is the capital city.
There are basically two laws that infer that specific things take place in Bern and therefore it is the capital. These days, with the presence of parliament and the foreign embassies, you can’t argue it!
5. Rebuilt With Sandstone
Bern is a beautiful looking city and you will notice a lot of sandstone.
The city was actually originally built predominantly from wood, but after a huge fire overtook the city in 1404, the city was then rebuilt with sandstone.