Integration Through Dialect

The following article concerns a policy recently implemented in German-Swiss kindergartens that requires the teaching of children from all ethnic backgrounds in the Schweizerdeutsch dialect. JLH, who translated the piece, includes this brief note:

This article attracted me because it reminded me of the “bilingual” arguments in California and elsewhere and I thought, how much better to make sure that new citizens and their children can deal confidently with their neighbors, business partners and shopkeepers in their own tongue.

The translated article from

Dialect in Kindergarten: Foreigners Are Happy About the Ban on High German

ZURICH: There has been compulsory dialect* study in Zurich kindergartens for two years. This makes not only conservatives, but also foreign parents happy

Brigitte Fleuti has been a kindergarten teacher for 30 years and is in favor of the dialect initiative in Canton Zurich.

Lea Hartmann
June 2, 2014

“Chaugummi” or “Chätschgummi”**? The class is divided. After the kindergarten teacher, Brigitte Fleuti, has sung about “Chaugummi” in the song “The Policeman’s Tire,” which has a hole and can be repaired with chewing gum, a boy raises his hand and says: “Hey, Mrs. Fleuti, that’s not ‘Chaugummi,’ that’s ‘Chätschgummi’!” Several of the children in the circle nod in agreement.

Since August 2013, teacher and students in Langnau am Albis — as in the entire canton of Zurich — have been speaking Schweizerdeutsch, as will also soon be the case in Aargau, following a similar initiative This continues to instigate discussion from time to time.

Brigitte Fleuti, a kindergarten teacher and president of the Zurich Kindergarten Organization, is happy to lead these discussions.

Schweizerdeutsch is the Basis for Integration

Twenty children from eight countries are in her class. They come from Switzerland, Albania, Spain, Brazil, Chechnya, Germany, Italy and Russia. Fleuti — who has been a kindergarten teacher for 30 years — says: “Schweizerdeutsch is the basis of integration for all of them.” She calls the dialect the language of the heart and of connection, which is crucial for small children.

This is the same argument made by the initiative committee composed of kindergarten and other teachers, and confirmed in the election a year ago. The dialect initiative was opposed but in the end passed with 54% of the vote. “Fortunately,” says Fleuti. “The pressure from certain parents to have their children speaking perfect High German by the end of kindergarten has abated.”

Foreign parents especially profit from this. “Many of them have told me how much it means to them that their children are learning Schweizerdeutsch in kindergarten,” Fleuti says.

Foreign Parents Value the Dialect Requirement

One of them is the mother of 5-year-old Valerie. “I think it is very important for my child to learn dialect in kindergarten,” says her German mother. “That really helps with integration.” She seems “stupid” compared to her daughter when she tries to speak in the dialect. “I still try, but my daughter has to laugh.” Her daughter corrects her, especially in pronunciation.

In the meantime, the chewing gum problem is solved in the sky-blue annex in the center of the village Langnau am Albis. “‘Chaugummi’ or ‘Chätschgummi’ — you can say either,” Fleuti explains to the children. But one question remains unanswered: Can the tire of the policeman’s motorcycle that the class is singing about really be repaired with the pink gum?

*   The “dialect” mentioned here is “Schwyzerdütsch,” an Alemannic variant of German and in contrast to the Swiss variant of Standard German, which is called Hochdeutsch (High German) or Schriftdeutsch (written German). Schwyzerdütsch is essentially the everyday language of the majority of Swiss who are descended from the German-speakers who expelled the Habsburg Empire. Anecdotes indicate that it was used during WWII as a kind of test for any German-speaker who claimed to be a native Swiss.
**   “Ch” is an aspirated “k” sound. The standard German word is “Kaugummi”.

19 thoughts on “Integration Through Dialect

  1. They are not talking about “Schwyzerdütsch.” There is no such thing. They’re talking about Zuridutsch. The dialect spoken in Zurich. The reason they taught Hochdeutsch in school was because every Canton and city has its own dialect. The dialect in Bern is different from the dialect in Basel, which is different for that in Zurich, and if you go out to a farm outside of town its something different still. Often a person in one city can’t understand the person from a town 30 miles away. Without Hochdeutsch (traditional Germen) they can’t talk to one another, let alone someone from Germany. Hochdeutsch is the language of integration, without it there won’t be any integration in Switzerland, just a bunch of illiterates who can’t talk to people in the next town. This is a mistake for the Swiss. Children will pick up the local dialect just fine on the playground as they always have, but they need to learn Hochdeutsch in school.

    • BTW, you demonstrated Maher’s liberal indoctrination re guns. He just can’t accept the fact that he and the rest of the allergic-to-guns crowd are not permitted to decide to have a cafeteria-style Constitution. They lie, mislead, and generally ruin their own integrity in their pursuit of a gun-free totalitarian state. Ain’t gonna happen. We are headed toward the same totalitarian democracy that has made British freedoms a fond memory, but we’re not there yet. And the guns stay. Notice that most of the nay-sayers have plenty of gun-toting body guards to protect them from harm.

      Paul Weston should come to America and read his Churchill quote from the steps of a thousand town halls across the land. Of course he’d have to do it the same way – with no announcement ahead of time to give the liberal-anarchist silencers time to show up and shut him down or cause a melee…

      • Not sure why you posted this here, Dymphna, but Maher made the point that there was no point to the carrying of arms in restaurants as the right to do so remains in the Constitution.

        • I posted it in an oblique reply to your several points. One about pot, another about guns. Maher’s point is trivial. Since one CAN carry a gun constitutionally, why does it matter where one decides to carry it?

          Visit You Tube. Chock a block full of stories about people with guns in public places who prevented mayhem by bad guys. Bad guys with guns are trouble. And that includes bad guys in church.

          The mentally unstable with guns are another category. I was married to one of those once, but he wasn’t unstable when he qualified for his weapon, which he used for hunting during pheasant season. He did mean things to us, but the gun was never even an issue.

          You appear to have arrived at some of your conclusions by listening to people like Maher. His ideas are not based on Reason but on how he feels about situations or by the group think influence of his fellow talking heads. It would cost him his career to step an inch over that line.

          At any rate, it is my doing that I followed you Off Topic by responding to your Off Topic “joke”. I don’t think pot addiction is a joke, and I sure don’t want people thinking we grow it.

          Nor would my response re Maher be anything more than that: a response to someone else initiating the conversation. Mr Maher is an overpaid triflin’ person of little integrity and almost no grasp of history.

          De gustibus, etc.

          • Certainly had no intention of dropping you folks in the ordure, Dymphna.

            A topic for another day might be why the Left (here as well) produces so many more clever and witty satirical commentators than its opponents. Where are the Bill Mahers (lightweight or not) of the Tea Party? Or the Jeremy Hardys (apologies to non-Brits) of the UK Conservatives?

            In the 1970s British tv comedy “Steptoe and Son”, Steptoe senior remarks, “Book reading leads to communism”. But the hosts, and many contributors here on GoV, are well read, and sometimes drily humorous, yet only occasionally do I guffaw over my computer. Not complaining, just curious.

          • Mark says below:

            why the Left (here as well) produces so many more clever and witty satirical commentators than its opponents.

            Sheesh. We have to take your hand and lead you to Google again?

            Lots of the Left is mean-spirited “humor” that gets its jollies thru ridicule…de gustibus.

            If you want a change, try P.J. O’Rourke, or Mark Steyn. Greg Gutfield, etc. Dave Barry is a libertarian. He was at the Miami Herald, not sure where he is now…

            Here you go: Debunking Liberal Myths about Conservative Comedy:


            Liberals live in a bubble. They are the majority, not in real life, but in the people who hold the reins of power in the media, academy, and politics. But it’s not enough to have the microphone, they want to silence us. Just watch those leftist students shout down a conservative speaker. Equal time? No way. Our ideas are too scary.

            Nothing scares a liberal more than a level playing field…unless he was in charge of the method for making it level in the first place.

            A famous movie critic, on hearing of Reagan’s victory in his first election, was aghast: “he couldn’t have won. Not one single person I know voted for him.”

            Conservatives have learned to hide, much the same way homosexuals used to have to do in order to stay employed and connected. The few who are big enough – witness David Mamet’s conversion in Hollywood – are so well established they can’t be touched.

            If you find Bill Maher amusing, you may not understand Greg G.

    • That’s fascinating. We need “High English” in this country so the various dialects can communicate. In some places we do. Thus, some blacks speak in their own dialect, but in school they write English. Same goes for Cajuns and the French in Maine…If it weren’t so politicized, that’s what would happen with Hispanics, too. Any other route ends in, as you say, “a bunch of illiterates”.

    • Gene you’re wrong. First of all, speak in kilometers. Second, Züridütsch and Bärndütsch, or Walliser and Appezäller, Are NOT that far apart from each other that people NEED to speak Hochdütsch with each other. People understand each other fine.

      Third, how insulting can you be saying ‘without it they’re just a bunch of illiterates”, or “there won’t be any integration”. There’s plenty of integration, it’s called multicultural enrichment and the Swiss people are doing a fine job bending over to every foreigners’ enrichment demands.

      Swiss people are far from illiterate. Even when I was six years old forty years ago, and barely spoke Hochdütsch, only my dialect of schwyzerdütsch, I was probably taught better education than most other countries.

      Swiss are not “illiterate”, that’s impossible. Switzerland expands a relatively superior education to a population which is made up of 30% foreigners, who for the most part *seem* to integrate.

  2. No one is talking about continuing this instruction beyond kindergarten, Plenty of time for standardized German. And the reaction of a German-speaking mother underlines the value of being able to relate to the local population

    As to “Zurideutsch,” what you describe is true throughout German-speaking territory–and immortalized in various ways, like Strauss’s send-up of the “Piefke” in Wiener Blut or the original Berliner sounds of the introduction to Mack the Knife in Drei Groschen Oper, or Reagan’s reference to “Berliner Schnauze” in his tear-down-this-wall speech. And as there are some differences from one city to the next, there are even broader distinctions from section to section. I once heard a Viennese on a Danube cruise ask three times for the “Kren” before the Hamburger at the other end of the table realized he was asking for the “Meerrettich” (horseradish). A dialect map will show the larger divisions, and I have witnessed the use of Schweizerdeutsch to close a German out of a conversation, at a time when WWII was not completely forgotten by most Swiss and the Germans were also mildly resented as ubiquitous, inveterate and intrusive tourists.

    Schriftdeutsch originated as a written language and is a standardizing influence, but moving from one large dialect area to another is similar to, but much more noticeable than moving from, say, Georgia to Vermont and learning the intonations, pace and variant vocabulary.

  3. Whether “Chaugummi” or “Chätschgummi,” note that the “ch” is closer to the English “ch” in “chewing gum” than the High German “k” in “Kaugummi” is.

    When I lived in Switzerland, a grad student studying English told me that Old English (Anglo-Saxon) was easy for Swiss-Germans because it was close to Swiss-German dialects.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • Ok I promise not to get all green with envy just because you did graduate work in Switzerland.

      BTW, we have a German-Swiss “colony” in our part of the world. Into third generation now. Prosperous. Creative. Nice people.Tall and handsome. The Future Baron interviewed one of them for his Eagle Scout oral history project on WW II veterans. That was the only general in the group. Most were enlisted men.

      One second or third generation fellow ran a convenience store and his collection of European food oddments was to die for. So was his deli section. Imagine getting Westphalian ham or cornichons or real muesli out here in the middle of nowhere…(back when I could eat grain). He taught me to enjoy those huge rounds of indestructible rye “crackers” – I forget their name, but I think they were Scandinavian and you probably could have used them as a spare tire in an emergency. As long as it wasn’t raining… He had elderberry juice too, and another dark one I’ve forgotten that he told me was good for colds.

      A good American-German Swiss story: the Baron used to help this man with his computer problems back when personal computers were beginning to proliferate. He told me that it was like flying: he needed the B to help him take off and to land. Once he was up and running, he could do the rest. He remarked in passing that if anything happened to the B we could just put his brain in a nutrient bath and ask him questions…

      Oh, and he was a skilled butcher. People would come from quite a distance to buy his beef.

      That store also had my favorite European candies like All Sorts and that Italian nougat made with honey and almonds. Things I hadn’t seen since childhood. I sure miss the place.

      Tbe CJ had a meeting one year in Zurich, iirc. The Baron said: “Beautiful. Expensive.The gypsies have arrived there too.” Now I can’t remember which city…just that he was careful about the prices.

      I love to read about that whole area. A special people who have outlasted the 20th century.

  4. Is this anything akin to “I ain’t ” vs. “I am not”? Is it not the contraction of verbs? Just asking since I speak English.

  5. Wow. A love fest for schwyzerdütsch.

    I don’t even know why or how this has gotten to be a topic. But here goes. I, after living in the USA for almost twenty years, have recently returned to my home in Zürich with my 7 year old daughter.

    She is going to a regular public school where over 60% of the kids are Arabic, Eastern European, or African. They learn Hochdeutsch, as I had to as well when I grew up in Maienfeld (where “Heidi” is from), and they learn English as well. The so-called dialect that you mention, our language schwyzerdütsch, always has been an integral part of the school. No kid speaks German on the school ground or in regular conversation with teacher and other students. German is only spoken when the teacher is standing in front of the class teaching.

    It is misleading to say basically say they just now discovered the value of our language, the schwyzerdütsch, in school. It’s always been integral. I am not quite sure who or why this is suddenly in the news. This strikes me as an attempt to ‘blame Swiss conservatism’ since Switzerland recently got into some hot water with our stand on immigration etc.

    The only problem there is with schwyzerdütsch, and that’s why kids HAVE TO LEARN GERMAN, is that there is no grammar in the local language. There are a lot of different dialects within the schwyzerdütsch, but exactly zero rules on how to write it. It has ALWAYS been spoken in schools, just never written. You can’t learn to write it either, you just kind of make it up. It’s a lawless language! 🙂

    Something about Swiss schools I have to mention:

    I am absolutely shocked about the behavior of school kids. I lived in the USA for very long, and I have never seen such downright nasty dirty behavior from kids below teenage years.

    My daughter still doesn’t speak the language very well, which invites bullying of the worst sort from older boys, from calling her ‘bitch, whore, ass, pig’ all the way to pulling down her pants and throwing rocks at her.

    When I go to the teacher, they refer me to the principal. Principal tells me there’s nothing they can do because they’re not allowed to discipline kids under 12 years. I was told under very certain terms that this was mostly my daughters problem because she is shy and provokes that sort of behavior, and that ‘we’ have to accept such behavior for these kids come from different cultural backgrounds that also need to be respected.

    Originally I returned to Switzerland to give my daughter the benefit of seeing where it is I grew up, and a great education. But the multi cultural enrichment in our schools has convinced me now that I will return to the States by the end of the year, burn all bridges, and forget where it is that I come from. Switzerland is buried in a multicultural overpopulated sea of political correctness. It’s just that no one talks about this like they do in other countries.

    Because, well, Swiss people are polite.

    I hope this won’t be too traumatic of an experience for my daughter. She will get over it I’m sure. But I am not going to.

    • Kids don’t necessarily just “get over” what you describe – and what you are determined to protect your daughter from. I would imagine you feel deeply disappointed and also worried about her welfare.

      Kids get over stuff like that by having a safe adult who will listen and ask compassionate questions. This process will help her metabolize an ugly, helpless feeling…can you afford to send her to a private school for a little while or are they too expensive? The so-called “adults” where she is now are worse than being no help. They are cynical cowards.

      • Yes… I know what you mean.

        I’m actually looking into the private school I went to 30 years ago. It’s solid. But extremely expensive.

        Summer vacation starts I three weeks, and I think we can hang until then. And then I think we have maybe three more months to go after summer vacation, I may be able to pull her out of school until we leave.

        It will be semi legal since they really lay a claim on your kid here in Switzerland. But I may be able to shake it by moving to my aunts place in another canton and just delay the school registration until we leave.

        • I just can’t get over how bad things got here. The other night there were about 15 kids fist fighting right outside the building where I live. They were all around 10 to 12 years old, all males and all culturally enriched. The words were terrible. I contemplated calling the police but my neighbor said they wouldn’t come until it’s over.

          This. Is. Switzerland.

          It’s a harsh reality. I’m still in shock about what has become of my beloved country.

          • It’s must be even harder for you, returning to a country that doesn’t exist anymore. I thought that at least outside the cities Switzerland had pockets of normalcy. But they must be the expensive enclaves, or places where there are few jobs.

            How particularly sad for your daughter. We love our parents’ stories but when they turn out to be living nightmares?? Disorienting, to say the least. I hope she gets to hear from other relatives about how it used to be.

          • Yes it’s really sad.

            The smaller villages aren’t as bad, but it’s expensive to live. There are pockets of normalcy, yes. It’s just hard finding them.

            The one feeling I can’t shake anymore here, is, that you’re owned, controlled, and enslaved. It sounds ridiculous, but you’re watched all the time. Everywhere.

            It’s too bad that the whole world is going that direction, some faster, some slower…

  6. Dympna- after Nash Montana and his daughter’s sad experiences, and your compassionate replies, I hope it’s not unfeeling to return to the subject of left/right wing comics.

    On BBC Radio 4’s “News Quiz” yesterday, an unscripted (apart from the chairwoman) satire, the recent Republican election came up. Jeremy Hardy remarked that some of the Tea Party don’t believe in evolution, and looking at them, you can see why. No, it’s not Oscar Wilde, and Jeremy can be much funnier over extended periods on a good day- but it was quick and spontaneous. Maybe there are equally clever comics on the Right, as per your link- but maybe also many public figures on the Right lend themselves to ridicule?

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