Swiss Statistics on Languages – by Jenny Mostyn & Michelle Findlay


The language makeup of Switzerland can help contextualize the findings and improve the understanding of the individual blogposts overall. In this contribution, we aim to summarise and point out relevant information concerning English in the workplace.

Language Profile of Switzerland

The Swiss authority of statistics published statistics concerning language use in Switzerland. They included small edits to the change of data over the years and note that the amount of German and Swiss German speakers decreased by almost 4%. The percentage of Italian and Romansh also decreased from 11% to 8% and from 0.8 to 0.5% respectively between 1970 and 2020. However, French experienced an increase of 5% from 18% to 23%. The most significantly increased is the language that is not the official language of Switzerland. One explanation is that people can specify one or more main languages.

Graph 1. displaying the L1 language of Swiss people

Languages spoken at work

Graph 2 displays what languages are being spoken in the workplace and their frequency. There is a distinction between the use of Swiss German and standard German. French and English are used more frequently in the workplace compared to Table 1 with the main languages. Table 2 indicates that people can speak multiple languages on a daily basis. This might be because the Swiss school system incorporates at least two foreign languages in the mandatory schedule.

Graph 2. Languages usually spoken in the workplace

Number of languages used in the workplace

Here are graphs concerning the number of used languages in various communication forms. The first graph is a summary of all the communication forms, and more than half are used in one language alone. Orally, there is almost 60% in one language, but around 30% are in two languages.

Graph 3. Number of regularly used languages in the workplace, sorted after usage

Desire to acquire additional languages

Graph 4 displays the languages that working people would like to learn for their professions. The biggest portion of more than 25% is taken up by English and indicates a desire to be more internationally orientated. More than 20% would like to learn German. If one cannot speak the dominant language of Switzerland but works in Switzerland, it complicates finding a job depending on the region. Almost the same amount feels the same way about French, as 19% would like to learn French. This is rather surprising considering that the German-speaking parts of Switzerland learn French as an L2 in the school frame. Interestingly, Swiss German is not widely popular to learn, which implies that the code-switching of Swiss people from Swiss German and German is fluent, and it is not necessary to learn Swiss German in order to be fully integrated into the workplace.

Graph 4. Languages of working people that they would like to learn

To put the four data sets together, it is important to note that although English is not widely spoken as an L1, working people would like to learn English as an asset. The distribution of L1 languages and the languages people would like to learn often have a cross-reference to each other. The main languages of this concept are (Swiss) German, French, and English. Minor language roles are taken up by Portuguese, Spanish, Albanian, and Serbo-Croatian. The mentioned four languages are listed as L1 languages and languages that are spoken in the workplace. However, except for Spanish, the languages are not listed as working people’s languages that they would like to learn.
This can be connected to some of the blogposts, such as “Too Old to Learn English” where the blogpost investigates adults learning English and their professional motivation behind it. Specifically, the third and fourth table helps to understand the importance of English as it is considered an international and universal language and thus access to a global employment chance.