Could English Ever Become a Swiss National Language?

It seems very much hard to argue that English is not the main global language. English is worldwide the most prioritized language to learn. Not Chinese, not French and not Spanish. Currently English, possesses a threat to the status quo of the Swiss education system. The issue: Should English take preference over a national language?


English is a big deal

Before we look at Switzerland as being a unique situation let’s look at how grand the scale of English is outside the small landlocked nation. There are more English students in China than there are people in the U.S. English native speakers might only amount to 400 million people, nevertheless globally there are five times that amount who speak English as a second language.

The ex president of Uruguay, José Mujica, predicts that in 30 to 40 years the whole world will be bilingual; they will speak their local language and English as a second language. One can only imagine that this would have a profound effect on the way we communicate internationally.


English vs national languages

As for Switzerland, due to having four national languages the situation in education must be different. Amongst the cantonal primary systems the overall agreement has been to learn a second national language and then English by the seventh grade. This has been adopted by 23 cantons (except Aargau, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Uri).

Other Cantons are challenging this agreement. The reasons are not yet so clear. Some say that it is because they think learning two languages at primary level is too demanding whereas other arguments are because they believe French is simply not as important as English.

Turgau for instance caused uproar from the Swiss French speakers when they completely cut out French from primary education. Such a move has been seen by Swiss Romands to be catastrophic in terms of Swiss cohesion.

To add to this, in May Zurich will vote whether or not to have one language at primary level. The most controversial point is that the initiative does not clearly state which language should be taught, English? or French? The clash is that parents are said to prioritize English over French whereas the Zurich educational board has said that they would favor French over English!


Two sides to the argument

It could be argued that both sides make valid points. Maybe it’s true that learning another national language is something that brings the Swiss closer together as nation. It enables people to move freely and work within different regions. Citizens can therefore connect easier as a result.

On the other hand, English is more global and can be better for international business. Today 16.5% of Switzerland uses English daily in the work place. It is the language of commerce, finance and Science. English is even the operational language for many of the Swiss humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross.

So, which language do you think should take priority? And why? Also, could English ever become the new language of cohesion for Switzerland? or would it separate people? Feel free to leave a comment or even bring the conversation up at the next language exchange on Thursday 😀

One thought on “Could English Ever Become a Swiss National Language?

  1. What education boards don’t take into consideration is that most Deutschschweizer speak too little French for any meaningful conversation, the same with Romands for German. The level learnt in school is utterly useless. I work in a bilingual company in Basel, but we have switched to English (from German/French) because this is the only language in which we all can actually really talk with eachother without having to fish for words.

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