The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Learning Swiss German

This is how to start

If you are already catching up on your favorite German and Swiss TV shows, movies and pop stars to help you brush up your listening skills, why not start dipping into Swiss culture too?

I believe most Swiss TV shows will be in Hochdeutsch (High-German), but the presenters will usually have a distinctive Swiss accent, so they’re a good way to gradually acclimatize to the 7 Swiss key sounds (see below). If you’re looking for inspiration, check out 10vor10, a current affairs show. When you’re ready for TV in the Swiss dialect, tune into TeleZüri, an online channel dedicated to Swiss German. We also provide free online streams for SRF1, SRF2 and SRF Info (SRF is Switzerland’s national TV station), if you are located in Switzerland.

Another way to immerse yourself in Swiss German is to do word searches and crosswords. These will help you improve your vocabulary, pronunciation and will also help you learn how to spell words! You can buy a book of puzzles from Amazon, or if you’re ever in Switzerland you could pick one up on your travels. You can also have a look online and print off word searches and crosswords. Here’s a really good site for all your Swiss German puzzle needs!

And finally… get cooking! Switzerland has many traditional dishes, which are often cheese-based or 100 % veggie. Have a look at online recipes and take them into the kitchen. By reading a recipe in Swiss German, you’ll be honing those reading skills while picking up new useful vocab in the process! Not sure what to cook or bake? One obvious option is Fondue, Switzerland’s most iconic dish. This very popular dish is a large pot of melted cheese, into which you dip chunks of bread and potato. If you’re more into your baking, try baking Meitschibei biscuits, a delicacy from the city of Bern.

 

7 key features of Swiss-German

Swiss-German pronunciation is not easy at all, but after picking up these 7 key features of Swiss-German, you will be able to comfortably read and pronounce every word you will ever encounter. Even more, you will get a rough understanding of how German grammar works. So let’s get started.

1. The “ch” sound

The Swiss love “ch.” So much so, it appears in most words. Even if it isn’t usually in the Hochdeutsch version, they’ll probably find a way to squeeze in a “ch” somewhere. It’s pronounced exactly in the way a German would say the “ch” in acht (eight), so as you can imagine, it’s quite a tricky sound for us English speakers to master.

Try it out in these two words. These are super hard though, even by Swiss standards, just because of how often the sound appears in them. Once you’ve mastered these, though, you’d make any Swiss native proud!

Chuchichäschtli (kitchen cupboard)

Chäs Chüechli (cheese cake)

It’s important to note that a “k” at the start of any word is turned into the “ch” sound. You can see this in the two above examples—Käs becomes Chäs and the “kitchen” stem of the first word changes fromKuche to Chuchi.

2. There’s no “n” at the end of words

In standard German, infinitives end in an “n,” however this is not the case in Swiss German.

machen becomes mache (to do)

This also means that some words which are composed from two separate words lose the “n” from the middle.

Lebensgefährlich [Leben + gefährlich] becomes Läbesgeföörlich (perilous)

3. The diminutive is “li”

In Hochdeutsch there are two diminutives: chen and lein. When you add these suffixes to nouns, the final word describes a smaller version of the original noun. So Tischlein means “small table” and is the diminutive of Tisch (table).

However, in Swiss German, you create the diminutive by adding “li” onto the end of the original noun.

Heftchen becomes Heftli (little books)

 

 

4. “S” becomes “sch” when it’s before a consonant

Remember that whenever an “s” appears before a consonant, it usually changes to a “sch” sound. This is always the case, and you don’t have to remember any rules about when it doesn’t happen—phew!

Wespe turns into Wäschpi (wasps)

5. An “e” at the end of words often turns into “i”

This was the case in the above Wespe example. In Hochdeutsch there are many words that end in “e”—just one example is Kuche (kitchen). In Swiss German, these—and many of the other words that end in “e”—will be pronounced as if they end in an “i.”

Küche beomes Chuchi (kitchen)

Remember the “k” switches to a “ch” sound as explained in the first point.

6. Diphthongs become single vowels

A diphthong is when two vowels come together to create a new vowel sound. An example in English is the “i” and “e” together in “lied.” Many Hochdeutsch diphthongs become single vowel sounds in Swiss German.

Haus becomes Huus (house)

Raum turns into Ruum (room)

7. “ß” doesn’t exist in Swiss German.

There’s no “ß” in Swiss German—it was abolished a few centuries ago! So you don’t have to worry about when to use it or when to use “ss.” In Swiss German, you always just use “ss.”

heißen turns into heisse (to be called)

The most common Swiss-German words

Swiss-German English
1 Grüezi Hello
2 Widerluege Good bye
3 Merci vilmal Thanks a lot
4 Pröschtli! Cheers!
5 Z’Morge breakfast
6 Z’Mittag lunch
7 Z’Nacht dinner
8 Wii wine
9 Gömmer? Shall we go?
10 Velo bicycle
10 poschte to shop
10 Chuntsch? Are you coming?
10 Es Bitzeli a little bit
10 Kolleg / Kollegin friend (male / female)
10 Hüüsli toilet

What’s next?

 

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Learning Swiss German
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