Languages in Switzerland
Switzerland is a rare nation in that it doesn’t have a language exclusively of its own. Instead it has four national languages including German, French, Italian and Romansh. Each of the languages receives equal rights but according to the Federal Constitution German, French and Italian are classed as official languages whilst Romansh is used as an official language to solely communicate with Romansh speaking people. Depending on which part of Switzerland you visit you may need to learn one or multiple local languages. You should also e aware that the Swiss way of speaking French, German and Italian may be completely different to what you are used to.
Today, languages are distributed as follows: (Swiss-) German 63.9%, French 19.5%, Italian 6.6%, Romansh 0.5%, others 9.5%. Cantonal school regulations require that every child learn a second national language starting in primary school. English is increasingly taught at an early age, sometimes taking priority over a second national language.
Swiss German is the language spoken in the country’s German-speaking areas however, confusingly it is not a single language but in fact a wide variety of local accents and dialects.
French is predominantly spoken in the cantons of Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel and Vaud as well as in parts of Bern, Fribourg and Valais cantons. Be aware that the French spoken in Switzerland is slightly different to that spoken in France proper.
Italian is spoken in the southern valleys of the country and is mostly spoken with a Lombardy accent.
The many valleys of Rhaetia (today’s Graubuenden/Grisons) were conquered in 15 B.C. by the Romans, and this resulted in the latinisation of the original inhabitants. The isolation of the numerous valleys led to the development of at least five distinguishable idioms besides Italian in three southern valleys – a unique linguistic phenomenon in such a small area with no major cultural and commercial centre. Efforts such as the creation of a single written language known as Rumantsch Grischun have been made to try to stop the erosion process due to migration and tourism. As a foreigner, you will not need to speak Romansch to communicate.