Are you a “road less traveled” kind of person?
Then maybe a German program in Berlin isn’t exactly right for you.
You’re looking for something a little more unexpected, a little more out-of-the-box…
How about traveling south?
I’m talking way south—all the way to Switzerland!
The German immersion options are just as exciting in Switzerland, and you’re sure to fall in love with the food and culture from day one.
Does Switzerland sound a little more like your style? Then let’s take a look at what German learners can get out of this lush and exciting country!
Why Learn German in Switzerland
When you’re learning a language, you’ll hear teachers and other experts tell you over and over just how important it is to visit a country in which the target language is spoken. That’s because it’s a completely immersive experience; one that’ll ensure you’re totally surrounded by the language at all times. You’ll be in a situation where you’re forced to flex your language skills, which will greatly help them to improve.
But why is Switzerland in particular so good for your German?
Well, for starters, most of the Swiss speak German. French and Italian are also official languages, but represent a smaller population. And even if you choose to visit an Italian- or French-speaking area, you should still be able to find some German speakers.
The German-speaking region is spread across central, northern and eastern Switzerland. Once you’ve managed to book a trip to one of these areas, you’ll find that it does wonders for your German, no matter where exactly you may be.
As a language learner, you should be aware that there are so many different dialects used among German speakers in Switzerland. This can be a little overwhelming at first as even advanced German learners may have trouble deciphering the different vocabularies and accents!
However, exposing yourself to all these various dialects is a great way to fine-tune your ear and make it easier to understand any form of German when it’s spoken.
Studying in Switzerland will also broaden your perspective on German-speaking cultures. You might think you know everything about German culture, but how about Swiss culture?
More often than not, schools and colleges in the U.S. will focus primarily or exclusively on teaching German culture, as it’s the main country people associate with the language. Many people think that’s enough German-speaking culture. Not so fast, though! There’s plenty of interesting Swiss culture for you to dive into.
For instance, have you read the great Swiss authors such as Hermann Hesse and Johanna Spyri? And do you know all about popular Swiss foods, such as cheese fondue and saffron risotto? Don’t forget to do some travel research with a quality guide so you can really get exploring and absorbing as much as you can—Lonely Planet is a smart option due to its independent writing, essential first-hand advice and both digital and print access.
You certainly won’t learn about all this amazing culture if you only explore Germany!
5 Immersive Options for Learning German in Switzerland
If you’re considering studying in Austria but aren’t sure if you’re ready, you can bring the immersion to you before you even leave home with FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Since this is the content that native German speakers actually watch, you get the chance to experience how modern German is spoken in real life.
Here’s just a brief example of the variety of content you’ll find on FluentU:
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday German by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles.
This way, you get German immersion online without ever worrying about missing a word.
Just tap on any subtitled word to instantly see an in-context definition, usage examples and a memorable illustration to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to your vocabulary list for later review.
Once you’ve watched a video, you can use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.
FluentU will even keep track of all the German words you’ve learned, then recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know. Plus, it’ll tell you exactly when it’s time for review. Now that’s a 100% personalized experience!
Language Studies International, Zürich
Right in the heart of German-speaking Switzerland, the city of Zürich is known as a global center of banking and finance. So it’s no wonder why you’ll see so many suited and booted businessmen on the flight over! This is also a fantastic destination for learning German, as once classes are over, you’ll be able to explore this exciting, cosmopolitan city.
Language Studies International offers one of Zürich’s top language programs, and it’s an awesome option if you’re looking for variety and flexibility in German programs.
LSI offers a range of courses designed to suit the various needs and requirements of all its students. There are intensive courses that are suitable for those who need to improve their skills quickly, as well as a complete program of lower intensity courses and night classes. There are also more specialized programs including exam preparation, and premium courses that offer smaller classes or individual tutoring.
It’s also worth mentioning that LSI has schools in Canada and the U.S., so if that’s where you’re from you can continue studying with them once you return home.
ESL Language Studies Abroad, Zürich
Another Zürich-based option, the ESL Language School won the prestigious Star Agency Western Europe award for the fifth time in 2016. Just like at LSI, you’ll find a variety of English courses at ESL. You can join general classes that’ll feel just like being back at school, or high-intensity classes that claim to get you fluent in hardly any time at all. There are also courses in business German and ones that can prepare you for specific language exams.
Think you’re too old to go back to school for German? One excellent benefit of attending ESL is that there’s also the option of having one-on-one lessons in a teacher’s own home. This is a thoroughly immersive experience, as you’ll also be living with the teacher and using your German every single day!
ESL offers comprehensive support to all its students, and provides free advice regarding students’ time abroad before, during and after their stay in Switzerland.
One option for teenagers and college-age German-learners is to take part in German Summer Immersion in Zug. As part of the immersion program, students live and study at St. Michael College, which is located just five minutes from the center of Zug.
Along with a busy program of classes and studying, the school also organizes cultural activities and weekend excursions, giving students a fantastic chance to immerse themselves in the local culture.
The college features comfortable accommodations and recreational amenities, including pinball machines, a skating ramp and sports fields and courts. The lessons (20 per week) all take place on site in bright classrooms with modern facilities.
Academia, Multiple Locations
If you’re looking for highly personalized German lessons, you might like the idea of studying at Academia. The school prides itself on its ability to tailor educational concepts to each individual student’s needs, and there’s also the choice of taking lessons in a small group or one-on-one with a private tutor.
The school can also work with companies to teach professional German. Or if you’re just looking to boost your German speaking skills, there are dedicated conversation lessons you can take.
There are 12 Academia schools in various Swiss towns and cities, so you can choose where you study. Options include Zürich, Bern and Basel.
Become an Au Pair in Switzerland
Not too keen on the idea of taking classes and lessons while you’re abroad? There’s another option that can greatly improve your German! And that’s to become an au pair.
As an au pair, you’ll work for and live with a Swiss family. You’ll be responsible for helping them with childcare and some housework, but you’ll be financially compensated for this. However, don’t expect to earn big bucks during your stay. For many au pairs, the chance to live in a foreign country and practice the target language is what makes the experience worth it.
As long as you continually use your German with your host family, you’ll find that your speaking and comprehension skills improve significantly. You’ll also get a lot out of this experience if you throw yourself into the local culture. Watching Swiss TV and reading Swiss newspapers will help to improve your listening and reading skills.
Ultimately, the goal with this method of learning German is to dedicate yourself to a fully immersive experience, with no excuses to use your own native language!
Most au pairs stay with a family for a year or longer, but it’s possible to find shorter appointments, especially over the summer. The best way to find a placement as an au pair is to sign up with an agency, such as AuPairWorld and GreatAuPair.
So, where will you visit in Switzerland to practice your German language skills? As you can see, you’ll have plenty to choose from. And by the time you get back your German will be much improved… you never know, you may even become fluent in Swiss German as well!
Viel Spaß in der Schweiz! (Have fun in Switzerland!)
Laura Harker is a freelance writer based in North Yorkshire, UK.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.