Do They Speak English In Switzerland? Find The Answer Here

speak english switzerland

If you are planning on heading to Switzerland for a vacation or looking to move to Switzerland full-time, you have probably been wondering if many people in Switzerland speak English.

It is a fair enough concern as if you only speak English and none of the other official languages of Switzerland, getting around will be much easier if English is widely spoken, as would finding a job.

In this article, take a deep look at English proficiency across Switzerland including tourist areas, major cities, and lots more. By the end, you will know whether you need to learn any of the Swiss national languages to get around or if just knowing English will get you by.

English In Popular Tourist Areas

Tourists in Harder Kulm
Tourists in Harder Kulm

Tourists visiting popular parts of Switzerland such as the Alps, lakes, and major cities, will not have a problem getting around if they only speak English.

You will find the staff at hotels, restaurants, spas, mountain resorts, and bars all speak enough English to communicate and get you what you need.

The Swiss pride themselves on their tourism industry and strive to provide an incredibly good service at all times.

Since Switzerland is such a popular destination for lots of foreigners, a lot of them English-speaking, Swiss staff at establishments like hotels, restaurants and bars are trained to speak English to provide the best service possible.

In some parts of Switzerland, staff are actually being encouraged to speak English from the get-go, no matter who they are speaking to. It is thought that by speaking English they will get around the confusion of all the national languages and bridge the gap.

English in the Major Cities

The major cities of Switzerland are popular travel destinations and therefore they have a better English proficiency than the more rural parts of Switzerland. You should be able to find more than enough English speakers in the cities in order to get by.

But, English fluency differs from city to city, so let’s take a look at all of them in detail.

Zurich

Zurich view from Grossmünster
Zurich

Switzerland is the largest city and most international city in Switzerland. It is home to 3.42 million people, it has the busiest international airport, and the largest train station in the country too.

Zurich is also the financial center of Switzerland and is home to many large global corporations where speaking English is a necessity. Companies like Johnson and Johnson, Siemens, and General Electric are based in Zurich and their main business language is English.

While Zurich in the german speaking cantons of Switzerland the primary language is Swiss German, and a lot of the population speaks English for the reasons I mentioned above.

Statistically, close to 63% of the younger people in Zurich are English speakers. The older generations are not so into learning the English language, as it is less important to them. Overall about 64% of people speak English in Zurich.

Generally speaking, whether you are working at a global company, at a restaurant, bar, or hotel, or at one of the international universities, you will find plenty of English speakers.

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Basel

Basel is located in northern Switzerland and is on the border of the French-speaking cantons and the German-speaking part of the country. This means that the main languages in Basel are German and French, but most of the population are German speakers over anything else, or Swiss German.

Basel is not as international as Zurich but it still has a thriving tourist industry with beautiful sights and museums that attract tourists from all over the world. This means that in most hotels, bars, and other tourist attractions, you will find that almost all the staff are English speaking.

Similarly to Zurich, about 62% of the younger population in Basel speak and embrace English whereas it is a little different from the older generations. Overall about 61% of people speak English in Basel.

Bern

Bern old town
Bern

Bern is the capital city of Switzerland and one of the larger cities in the country too. Like Basel, it is also located on the border of the German-speaking region and French-speaking regions of the country.

The official language of Bern is German but most people speak Swiss German or Bernese German (they are the same thing) as their primary language.

Again, Bern is not as international as Zurich and again, the older generations don’t speak much English. But, around 60% of the younger generation do speak English as their primary foreign language with an overall proficiency of 59%.

Bern is also one of the big cities with a thriving tourism industry which means most staff in popular establishments will be able to speak English well.

Geneva

Geneva
Geneva

Geneva is the second biggest city in Switzerland with 627k citizens living there. It is also a hub for international organizations with a total of 41 major ones being based in the Lake Geneva area.

This includes the likes of the Red Cross, IOC (International Olympic Committee), the United Nations, and lots more. With over 30,000 international residents, and through hosting countless international events, Geneva is a hive of English as it is the primary language for international organizations.

Geneva is all a hive for tourists. The stunning lake, beautiful towns like Montreux, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and museums all attract visitors from across the world. This means almost all staff in the tourist industry will speak English well.

While most of the locals speak French as their primary language, around 57% of the younger generation speak English and 59% of the population is proficient overall.

Data on English proficiency

According to the EF English Proficiency Index, about 60% of the population speaks English in Switzerland. Now, the amount of English spoken in Switzerland differs from one canton or city to the next.

Generally speaking, the German-speaking parts of Switzerland speak English more than the French parts, and the Italian-speaking region has the lowest proficiency in English. But on average, 50% of people will speak English no matter where you are in Switzerland.

The highest English proficiency is in Zurich with 64% followed by Basel with 61%, Bern & Geneva with 59%, plus Lausanne & Ticino with 57%.

The reason so many people in Switzerland speak English, according to the Federal Statistics Office, is that the most commonly chosen first foreign language learned is English.

20% of Swiss nationals over 25 learn a second language, and 35% of them choose English as their foreign language to learn.

Is English Increasing in Switzerland?

Bern old town arcades
Bern old town arcades

Yes, English is most certainly on the rise in Switzerland and this is the result of a few different factors.

The main influence is the world of education. Switzerland is home to private English-speaking schools, which is a big start. But in Zurich, they have made learning English mandatory and all pupils must now learn English from grade 2 of primary school.

This sees a knock-on effect as students choose to learn English by choice over the Swiss national languages. English is the most popular language that students between the ages of 15 and 24 choose to learn.

This is because lots of jobs require English and the best media in the world, such as music, TV shows, movies, and more are all in English too.

This means more and more schools teach English and more and more students choose to learn it over other foreign languages.

Another thing causing an increase in the use of English are increased immigration of foreign nationals to Switzerland who use English as their primary language.

Plus, there are more and more multinational companies basing themselves in Switzerland that use English as their primary business language, making it become more of a prerequisite in Swiss employment.

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What languages do they speak in Switzerland?

There are four official languages in Switzerland. Talk about making things complicated hey. The four official languages include German, French, Italian, and Romansh.

Of the national languages of German, French, Italian, and Romansh, not all are not spoken equally across the cantons of Switzerland. The local language or most commonly widely spoken language depends on where in Switzerland the canton is.

German

German Language
German Language

More people in Switzerland speak German than any other language. Around 62% of the population of Switzerland, which equates to over 5 million people are German speaking.

Predominantly, the German-speaking parts of Switzerland are in the north, close to the German border, and in the center.

French

About 2 million people speak French in Switzerland which equates to about 23% of the population. It is the second most popular of the four national languages and is spoken most in western Switzerland, close to the French border.

Italian

The Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland are centered around the south of Switzerland, close to the Italian border. Only about 8% of the population speak Italian or Swiss Italian which makes it number 3 out of the official languages.

Romansh

Romansh is the native language of eastern and central Switzerland, and under 50,000 people speak it, which equates to 0.5% of the country. While it is considered a national language and is one of the true local languages, the chances of you hearing it are minimal.

English

Now, we already know that 60% of the people in Switzerland speak English which equates to over 5 million people. It is spoken by more than three of the official Swiss languages and it is closely trying to take first place, but it is not a national language, for now.

There are some calls to add English as one of the official languages of Switzerland but the conversation is still ongoing.

Language Map of Switzerland

To help you understand which languages are spoken in Switzerland and where they are spoken, the following map shows where each language is spoken.

language map of switzerland
Language map of Switzerland

FAQs

Can you survive with English in Switzerland?

Tourists in Lucerne
Tourists in Lucerne

Switzerland is a country where you can quite easily travel only using English. The Swiss learn many languages from birth and English is becoming far more important as I mentioned above.

On top of this, there is a huge range of expats and foreign immigrants living in the country, driving the use of English even higher.

When you consider that 60% of the population are English speakers and only 23% speak French, generally speaking, it will be easier to travel around Switzerland using English compared to French and Italian.

Can you get a job in Switzerland if you only speak English?

You can certainly get a job and live in Switzerland even if you only speak English. Having lived in Switzerland for 20 years, starting only with English, I can speak from experience.

You may be limited to jobs in larger companies and larger cities, however, with more and more international organizations being based there, options are increasing.

There are a lot of high-paying opportunities for expats in Switzerland and finding a job while only speaking English should not be that difficult.

Which Swiss city do people speak English in?

People in every Swiss city will speak English. However, they are more likely to speak English in the major cities of Zurich, Basel, Zug, and Geneva where there are more foreigners and multinational companies.

As I already mentioned above, Geneva has the highest percentage of English-speaking people in the country but the other cities mentioned are not far behind at all.

Is English an official language in Switzerland?

Although English is widely spoken, it is not the official language of Switzerland. There are actually four official languages in Switzerland: German, French, Italian, and Romansch.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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