Switzerland is a cultural fondue pot, squeezing several different languages into a relatively small country. Here you'll find native speakers of French, German, Italian and Romansch - a language descended from the Vulgar Latin spoken by the Roman era occupiers of the region and spoken by just 0.9% of Switzerland's 7.7 million inhabitants.
Zurich is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. This is fortunate for us seeing as I speak some Deutsch having spent a placement year in Bavaria during my studies.
The slight issue is that the Swiss don't speak German like the Germans. Swiss-German or 'Schwiizertüütsch' is bonkers. And I can hardly understand a word. It's not just an accent, it's full of it's own idioms and phrases which make it pretty much a language in it's own right.
However, in my experience so far, you can get by with 'high German' as is spoken in Germany - the locals understand it and are often, like our landlady, kind enough to soften their swiss accents when they talk to an immigrant like me.
As you don't learn Swiss German as such (it's not taught in schools and the written word in Switzerland is usually in high-German) if I want to improve my language skills here I need to carry on trying to improve my Deutsch. Therefore, given my search for a job is going surely but slowly, I enrolled on an intensive German course. I started at the beginning of March and plan to carry on through April. Learning German from 8:30 to 11:00 each day isn't only good for my language skills but also gives me the push I need to get up and seize the day.
Zoe has just kicked off evening classes too and after a bit of a false start she has a new teacher who she really likes. Those that know Zoe will know that she is very dilligent - real grafter who tends to follow the rules (and has gone far as a result). Unfortunately, the one time she rebelled against something was when doing her AS Level German, when she skipped most of the lessons. So, although she speaks a bit of Deutsch she's starting from scratch to ensure she fills all the gaps in her knowledge from when she was sneaking to get chips and gravy instead of in class (this may not be true. In fact, I don't even think you can get gravy from the chip shop in Surrey, but as Zoe's not here and my only reference is a childhood in the Northwest I ask you not to question too much).
Like everything here, language lessons are expensive, but after a tip I received I signed up with a school that offers courses at a price that seemed too good to be true. The deal is that the teachers are not necessarily fully qualified, and the course is part of their training to become fully fledged, so as a result you pay less.
It's turned out to be exactly as I'd hoped - challenging but fun with a talented teacher and small class size. There are six of us in total, all from different parts of Europe. I'm the only bloke, so, as you might expect, it can be hard to get a word in edgeways, but it's a nice group and we have a laugh discussing topics from youth crime to healthy eating and gender stereotyping (had to be careful with that one given the level to which I was outnumbered).
The problem I often come across is that I struggle with the grammar. I think this has much to do with the fact that, unlike my peers, much of my German wasn't learnt not in the classroom but in the pub. Unfortunately when my good German mate Norman was helping me with my Deutsch over a wheat beer he didn't go into detail about the perfect tense, just the perfect pint. And apparently the singing of FC Nuremberg songs isn't part of the end of course assessment.
So, in additon to attending the lessons and completing my Hausaufgaben (homework) I've also been trying to enhance my language skills by reading the German freesheet on the tram each morning, watching German TV and also reading a German comic book that my mum gave me some time ago.
The 'graphic novel' is a good way to practice as the cartoons help with the context (well that's my excuse). However, I'm not quite sure my dear mum knew the the nature of the story she'd given me. Entitled 'Der bewegte Mann' (roughly 'the emotional man') the story, which has since been made into a film - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_bewegte_Mann - is about a man who, having broken up with his girlfriend, ends up befriending a group of gay blokes who fancy him.
I'm not sure how often I'll get to use most of the vocab, and I don't believe this sort of text is part of the assessment either, but it's certainly a novel way to improve my Deutsch.
In the excerpt shown above is all the vocab I'd ever need to invite someone to a gay party.
It will certainly make for an interesting blog post if this ever comes in handy. I'll keep you posted.
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.