This is a question that cannot be answered either with a clear yes or a definite no. Some Germans can understand it quite well. Others do not understand a word – literally.
Test your knowledge
Let us pose a question: Do you understand any of the following dialogue?
– Hyvää huomenta. Minun nimeni on Gritli.
– Hyvää huomenta. Minun nimeni on Ferdi.
– Mitä sinulle kuuluu, Ferdi?
Did you understand that? If you do not speak Finnish, you had no way of understanding it. And what about this one?
These simple sentences are undoubtedly easy to understand for all Germans. Gritli and Ferdi do not appear in the context of foreign words any more, but are recognizable as persons communicating with each other.
If we were to hear this conversation without reading it, understanding would be more difficult. However, if you familiarise yourself with Swiss German pronunciation rules which are easy to study, it will soon no longer be a problem.
One example is the concise X-Laut, which sounds so charming to non-Swiss people. In simplified terms, the following rules of pronunciation apply: Stock [ʃtok͡x], Sack [z̥ak͡x] Karibik [k͡xaˈrib̥ik͡x], Kunst [k͡xʊnʃt]).
Another example: in German-speaking Switzerland, the diminutive form is used much more often than in Germany. This very likeable warm form of speech is made by adding the charming „-li“ to the end of a word. The object of the miniaturization does not have to be really cute or small – whether it is a Tüüfeli (de: Teufel), a Hüüsli (de: Haus) or even a Rüüschli (de: Rausch). You can apply the same guidelines not only to understanding, but also to speaking the language. But be careful, this rule cannot be applied to every word.
Languages in Switzerland
Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansh, although Rhaeto-Romansh is the least widely spoken language in the Alpine state.
It is generally accepted that four languages are spoken in Switzerland. However, this is not exactly correct. There is no such thing as a unified Swiss German. The term is used to describe many Alemannic dialects and there are indeed some striking differences in the various regions. All Swiss Germans can, however, understand each other. Do not be put off learning the language by the multitude of dialect subgroups; it is learnable and it is well worth doing so.
Advantages for Germans
The fact that these are Alemannic dialects makes the language easier for Germans to learn. The alternative term “westoberdeutsche Dialekte” (Western German dialects) makes it clear that it is a dialect group that belongs to the German group of languages. As it is similar to other southern German dialect groups, Swiss German is more easily understood by southern Germans. All Germans can easily learn to understand and speak German as well because of the many common linguistic features. Northern Germans are already familiar with many of the peculiarities of southern dialects through films, holidays or friends.
You can frequently, but not always, figure out the meanings of individual or multiple words. This is why, even when learning Swiss German, you cannot avoid the need to learn new words.
If you also familiarize yourself with grammar and pronunciation rules, nothing will stand in your way to master the language. The same rules apply here as with other languages: practice, practice, practice. Swiss German music, radio plays, audio books or radio broadcasts can be listened to as well. Soon, speaking the language will come naturally to you. And if a sceptic should say that Germans will never be able to speak like natives of the German-speaking part of Switzerland, don’t be discouraged. An accent is always charming. And even though they understand our High German, the vast majority of Swiss people will be impressed by the fact that you are making a real effort to learn Swiss German.