Switzerland, Languages, Personal Independence

Bounjour! = Hello! ¿Cómo estás? = How are you? Lasst uns essen = Let's eat

Bounjour! = Hello!
¿Cómo estás? = How are you?
Lasst uns essen = Let’s eat

Samy grew up in Switzerland. His first language is English. He is now fluent in English, German, and working on French.

Stephanie grew up in the United States and moved to Switzerland for five years. She is now fluent in English and French and knows a little German.

Both have given me some insights on what it is like to learn a second language as a child.

Switzerland has 4 official languages. The most common is German, which is spoken by about 64% of the population. French comes next, spoken by about 20% of the population. After that is Italian, which is spoken by roughly 7% of the people. The last official language is Romansh, spoken by less than 1% of the population. English is often spoken, mainly as a bridge between different languages. Children have opportunities to learn each language throughout their education. The process shows that it is entirely possible for children to learn second or third languages throughout school.

Many children in Switzerland are encouraged to be independent. The crime is low so it is common to see children playing outside in the evening and into the night. This characteristic is clearly visible in the adult behaviors exhibited by both Stephanie and Samy.

Stephanie moved to Switzerland when she was 10 years old. She only spoke English. Her curriculum started her on French language classes since she lived in the French-speaking area of the country. After a few years, she started taking German classes. She remembers being able to navigate rains and cities with her middle-school friends. They had all the tools necessary to communicate while shopping and hanging out in a second language.

Samy’s story is a bit different. His parents spoke English at home, though they lived in Switzerland. When Samy started school, he hung out with the foreign kids. This is understandable since there was a language barrier. It took a while for the Swiss peers to warm up to both Samy and Stephanie, but with adequate language skills, they were able to integrate into their classes. Their stories are filled with feelings of accomplishment.

I had the privilege of studying with Samy in Southeast Asia. One of his most striking attributes was his independence. Samy traveled by himself to Yangon, Myanmar for a weekend. This is a great undertaking considering Myanmar is one of the most turbulent countries in the world. They opened up their borders to foreigners to enter in 2011, mere months before we entered Southeast Asia. I was truly inspired by Samy’s feat. I followed his footsteps a month later, but went with three other travelers. Even with our strength in numbers, we felt uneasy and way out of our comfort zones.

America is surprisingly multilingual. It is more common to see children learning Spanish in school as well as having more opportunities to use the language in their extra-curricular environment. Interestingly, the United States does not have an official language, though most people speak English. Spanish is obvious second language, spoken by 28 million Americans. Following, we have French, spoken by about 1.6 million. After French, the most common are German, Italian, and Chinese.

There are many resources in the United States for children to learn languages. The skills will become more important as time progresses with technological advances and the globalization of the world. The business world will demand more language skills. There will be more peers amongst all people with different language backgrounds. Language skills provide excellent cognitive benefits in comprehension dynamic thinking as well as improved confidence and independence.

For a closing statement, Samy shared that “I use (Swiss) German in day-to-day life, English at university and when I’m at home, and French when I’m out and about in the city I’m from (it’s a bilingual city). It helps in dealing with various people in various situations by making it easier for us to communicate! Also, to me, it’s like two worlds that I can switch in and out of – because everything German is fundamentally different to everything I read, hear in English, so I always get to view things from different sides (also news).”

Stephanie would like to share that French has helped her in her career in the United States. She attended a global seminar earlier in this quarter with her employer and was able to meet several associates from Quebec.  She is exposed to more cultures, which helps her understand more people and their backgrounds when she runs into different situations and can use more resources within her career. Most importantly, a multilingual person can expand their horizons and develop their own personality in more numerous ways.


Submitted by Conan McEnroe

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