English language in Switzerland
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Traditionally, Switzerland is home to a large anglophone community. The English language is very widespread and is used as a link between Switzerland's various linguistic communities. Switzerland is extremely open culturally and economically, and thus has all the services an anglophone could possibly want. So much so that some English speakers who have lived in Switzerland for years have not felt the need to learn one of the national languages, since they are able to deal with any situation in English.

The bulk of the anglophone population is concentrated in the Lake Geneva area (31%), where the cities of Geneva and Lausanne are located. Other thriving communities also exist in large cities such as Basle (12%), Zurich or Zug (9%). The percentage of anglophones has reached as much as 13 to 15% of the population in some communities such as Founex or Bogis-Bossey, near Geneva.

The English language is very widespread in Switzerland. After their mother tongue, the Swiss speak English best, since it is used as a link and the language of communication in this multilingual country of germanophones (65%), francophones (20%), italophones (7.5%) and Romansh (0.5%). The Swiss English-language skills shown in the following table indicate that two out of three German-speaking Swiss and one out of two French-speaking Swiss speak English.

Swiss English-language skills (Grin: 1999)


  Germanophones    Italophones  
Perfect 13% 16% 6%
Good 22% 30% 6%
Basic 17% 22% 18%


The tourist industry and the presence of many international organizations and businesses make English a must in Switzerland. English dominates the worlds of business, commerce and finance. The Swiss are used to English, which conveys a young and positive image. It's the language of choice for advertisers wishing to avoid multilingual campaigns. And it's not by chance that the recently privatized Swiss telecommunications firm adopted a single English-sounding name: Swisscom. The same goes for the major Swiss airline, which is called Swissair. As a general rule, "Do you speak English?" is greeted with a smile and a well-spoken reply in this multilingual country. Proof of this is the fact that many anglophones who do not speak any of Switzerland's national languages have lived there for years without the slightest communication problems.

English is really en vogue with young people. Most of the successful films are American and the music that is popular with the youth is almost exclusively anglophone. English is also the language of the Internet, which many Swiss use as a means of communication.

You can be understood in English in almost any shop or business. At the post office, the bank or the train station, all the employees speak English. In all the major urban centres there are English-language bookstores and video rentals as well as English grocery shops. Most of the cinemas show films in the original English as well. The anglophone community in Geneva benefits from a dozen or so cultural organizations, notably the American library. Several English-language radio stations broadcast in this region, the main one being World Radio Geneva on 88.4 FM. And of course, all the English newspapers are available at any news stand.

You can find English churches in all of the linguistic regions, and anglophone schools are located throughout Switzerland. The most renowned are along the Genevan Riviera and in the Vaud Alps, giving Switzerland its excellent international reputation for private education. Young people from around the world come here to study. Princess Diana studied in Switzerland, as did many other members of the Royal Family. So it's not surprising to find the gliterati taking part in the joys of skiing each winter in the Vaud Alps and Gstaad ski resorts.

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