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Swiss are multilingual in their workplace

Swiss are multilingual in their workplace

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – In many countries, one language is sufficient to communicate at the workplace. But in Switzerland, 38% of workers surveyed regularly use two or more languages.

Swiss are multilingual in their workplace

Swiss people are very adept at juggling their four national languages (© Pixabay).

Working environment

Switzerland has three official languages at the national level with equal status – German, French, and Italian. A fourth language, Romansh, is used in dealings with people who speak it. At work, 18% of the working population speak two languages and 8% speak three or more languages – standard language and dialect are counted as one language.

The most common language combination in the workplace is German and English (8.3% of the workforce), followed by German-French (2.5%) and French-English (2.2%). Compared to ten years earlier, combinations with English are increasing, while those with national languages (German-French or German-Italian) are decreasing.

Age as a factor

German/Swiss German bilingualism is nearly universal in the German-speaking region because schools teach standard German, but the majority converses in a Swiss German dialect. When Swiss German and standard German are counted as one language, 25.6% of all Swiss regularly use more than one language at work.

Among managers, the share of multilingualism rises to 35.4%. Multiple language use is also common in academic and scientific work (32.8%) and administrative staff (25.5%). Agricultural workers report the lowest use rate (8.2%). Age is another factor. Multilingual work most happens in the age group of 25-44 (28.3%), almost one-third higher than with workers over 65 (20.8%).

German decreases

Slightly more than half of the Swiss permanent residents’ names are in German or Swiss German as the language or one of the languages they know best in 2020. French is cited by 23% as their main language, Italian by 8%, and Romansh by 0.5%. Compared to 2010, German in particular was mentioned less frequently (-3.2 percentage points), also according to the new publication “Language Landscape in Switzerland” by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.

There was also an increase in the proportion of the population who indicated a non-national language as their main language (23% in 2020, compared to 19% in 2010). English was mentioned the most, followed by Portuguese and Albanian. However, English is the most frequently used noncountry language not only as the main language but also in the context of the family as well as in the workplace.

Languages in the family

Besides, a good fifth of the population usually speaks several languages at home or with their relatives. These percentages are higher in the Italian- and Romansh-speaking regions (31%) than in German- and French-speaking Switzerland, at 21% and 23%.

The two Germanic languages are also the most common combination spoken at home. 8% of those who speak Swiss German at home or with relatives say they also usually use High German in this context. Again, dialect and standard language count as two separate languages.

Text: SCCIJ based on a press release of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office

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