Before moving to Switzerland, you have been busy brushing up your German – and so you arrive, feeling well prepared for your stay in Geneva or Zurich! You might still get the shock of your life, however...
Swiss Standard German is one of the country's four official languages, in addition to French, Italian, and Romansh. It differs only somewhat from the Standard German which is used in Germany and is taught in numerous classes around the globe.
About the Swiss German Language
If you have studied up on German before your arrival, you should be able to understand a newspaper headline or decipher a menu at a Swiss restaurant. But listening to people chatting on the bus or tuning in to a local radio station will probably leave you very much confused.
What on Earth is a Bütschgi (= apple core)? And what is a Chuchichästli (= kitchen cupboard)?
Swiss German is a special dialect which is only spoken in the German areas of Switzerland. It includes various dialects that do not have much in common with the written language. According to the Swiss federal census in 2000, over 60 percent of all German speaking Swiss nationals tend to use their regional dialect in daily life - rather than the standardized German language.
How to use a Smartphone to Communicate in Switzerland
For the poor foreigner who wants to go on a holiday or start a new life in Switzerland, the language situation can be an unexpected obstacle. But don't despair! Your smartphone could actually be a communication lifesaver in the streets of Basel or St. Gallen, if you know how to use it...
We have researched several smartphone apps that promise to aid you in learning the respective language of your new home. Here are the top six language apps to help you communicate in Swiss German, plus one bonus:
The free Grüezi Switzerland app is a handy iPhone travel guide for Switzerland including a Swiss German language guide covering no less than 19 dialects! Distinguishing among Swiss dialects from Ticino, Fribourg or Grisons is definitively what makes this app unique. The spoken audio recordings for common phrases allow you to communicate with the locals pretty much wherever you go in Switzerland.
utalk Swiss German
utalk Swiss German is the most expensive app on this list. As a commercial product at the price of nearly USD 10, it does have the nicest visual layout of all the apps we have tested. As an added benefit, the featured audio files are clear and easy to understand.
However, since the apps mostly include basic vocabulary and helpful sample phrases, it’s mainly useful for tourists and absolute beginners. Keeping that in mind, the price is a little steep.
Swissdish for Android phones is a fairly random smartphone application. As the weird name implies, it is basically a free vocabulary trainer for Swiss German to English, as well as for English to Swedish.
If you study Swiss German with another method and want a quick way to repeat new words while waiting for the bus, this is the app for you. And hey, you might pick up some Swedish, too!
Schweizerdeutsch Lernen is probably the best dialect app for German speakers. It is a dictionary for your smartphone that translates Standard German words into the Zurich dialect of Swiss German, offering a mobile pronunciation guide as well!
Those who already know some (non-Swiss) German will get a good bang for the buck.
The Dialäkt Äpp is rather targeted at native speakers of Swiss German. With a brief quiz on language usage, it quickly helps you pinpoint which regional variety a dialect speaker uses and which part of Switzerland they come from. It’s the Professor Higgins of Swiss iPhone apps!
You speak some Swiss German, but you really want to impress your Swiss friends by ordering a Stange tap beer? This could be your app...
The free Mundart app (which means as much as "mouth art") is still one of the best Swiss German dictionaries you can install on your Android phone. It contains more than 1000 translations, and growing... The cool thing about the Mundart app is that you can add your own words and translations to the app, turning this into one huge crowdsourcing project!
Bonus: Google Translate
If all else fails, you can use the nifty Google Translate app to communicate in Standard German! This free language app will recognize the words and phrases spoken and translate them into more than 60 languages, including German and English. And since most Swiss understand both of these languages, you will get by just fine.
A killer feature for many languages (including German, French, and Italian) is that you can speak phrases into your smartphone, and it will show you the corresponding translation! So when you are stuck in language limbo or are lost in translation anywhere in the world, Google Translate could be your local buddy to help you out...
(This post is a collaboration with Kuntal Patel from InterNations.org)