Switzerland has four official languages, so what language do they speak in Zurich, the country’s largest city?
Swiss German is the primary language spoken in Zurich. It is a German dialect and more often than not, if you speak German, you won’t really understand Swiss German. Something that cheekily the Swiss love, but there is more, read on.
Arriving in Zurich you will hear Swiss German and have little to no idea what people are talking about. So can you get by with English? Can you get by with German? What about French, we know French is spoken in Switzerland too.
Let’s look a little further into the languages spoken in Zürich and what you need to know before you go!
What Is Swiss German?
As previously mentioned Swiss German or (Schwyzerdütsch) is a German (High German) dialect, which doesn’t mean the Germans actually understand it.
Being an English speaker, often you can hear a conversation in German and have an idea of what it’s about. Swiss German is a little bit different, often you can hear a conversation and have absolutely no idea what it’s about, which is part of the fun.
Swiss German can range from quirky and song-like to guttural and slightly confusing, not to mention the accent changes between each canton (state)!
Either way, it is an amazing language that holds a lot of cultural heritage and history.
However, can you speak German in Zurich? What about English?
Can I Speak German in Zurich?
Absolutely you can, German is widely spoken in Zurich, aside from it being an official language of Zurich, 10% of the population are from Germany.
Many Germans come to live and work in Switzerland due to the far higher average monthly salaries and quality of life. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “living costs are so much higher in Switzerland” and that is true. But, you get what you pay for, Switzerland is incredible!
So, if you speak German, aside from not understanding things here and there, people will understand you and if you are lucky, they’ll reply in high German too.
What Other Languages Are Spoken In Zurich?
As we talked about in our other post here, there are four official languages in Switzerland. Zurich, as a city or state has taken on German. That aside you will find hints of French, the rare person speaking Romansh (the 4th official language) but most importantly, you can get by with English.
Yes, you can speak English in Zurich and be just fine. Actually, the Swiss speak very good English, especially in the German-speaking city of Zurich.
From the airport to the train station in Zurich, aside from Swiss organization and efficiency, you will find signs & audio announcements in English, and importantly the train ticket machines have an English menu too.
But does this mean you shouldn’t learn a little Swiss German before you arrive?
Do I Need To Learn Swiss German Before Going To Zurich?
No, you don’t, but it always helps to learn the basics and immerse yourself a little.
You don’t need to learn how to recite a bible verse in Swiss German, but the basics of any language are important, in my opinion.
Why? It comes back to basic human connection. Making the effort to speak basics to someone in their own language, shows care and thoughtfulness. Well, most of the time. Disclaimer: Be careful trying to speak French in France without perfect pronunciation. Just joking – not really.
Back to Zurich.
So, let’s flip this, If someone from a foreign country comes to you and tries their damndest to say, “please” or “thank you”, you respect that, well I do.
So let’s learn a couple of basics in Swiss German, cmon I know you want to.
4 Easy Swiss German Words You Need To Know
There are 4 things we are going to learn in Swiss German, that’s it.
Let’s learn some basic manners, in fact, think about this, I wish more people would make an effort to use these more often in English!
1. Hello – Grüezi
Aside from being the most common greeting in Switzerland. This is a conversation starter, and the Swiss will love you saying it. I don’t know a word that is more Swiss or more common in Switzerland. Pronunciation is like “Grooetzi” and ‘r” is rolled a touch. Give it a go!
Now, the Swiss have many ways of saying the same thing, I mean many ways. For the purpose of simplicity, in this article, we will just tackle the most common.
2. Enjoy Your Meal – En Guete
There is so much amazing food in Zurich, you are sure to be saying this a lot. It is the equivalent on “Bon a Petit” in French.
It is not really typical or customary to say “Enjoy Your Meal” in the U.S or U.K, but in Swiss, it is, so give it a go.
Pronunciation is like ” En-Gooettah”
Well done! I know you tried that out loud!
3. Cheers – Proscht
Ok, now this is important to know. Taken from the German word “Prost” and thrown into the mix as you cheers and hit glasses.
Pronunciation is like “Proshht”
4. Thanks – Merci/Danke
A word that is underused in this day and age. It takes no effort but means so much, especially when it is not your mother tongue and you make the effort to give it a go.
Well, in Zurich you hear both “danke” & “merci ” used throughout and both are fine to use. Danke stems from German but is pronounced differently and merci comes from French, but is also pronounced differently.
Let’s go through the pronunciations.
Danke is like “Dunkarhh” said moderately fast.
Merci is like “Miersee”
That wraps up our extremely basic Swiss Language crash course. There is so much more to learn about this incredible language, but this is neither the time nor the place.
The basics are all you need to get started.
Let’s wrap this up so you can get to Zurich.
The Final Word
Zurich is an amazing city, its history is vast, its nature is spectacular, and its culture is rich.
Although the main language spoken is German, you can get by speaking English as most people in Zurich speak it too.
But, give some basic Swiss German a go, swig a beer, enjoy some rösti, and go and immerse yourself in the beautiful culture and if you are checking out Zurich, make sure to head to Lucerne too! Jump on a train, it is easy!
Check out my article on the Top 10 Things Switzerland is Known For, you will be amazed, for a small country it offers so much!