Embracing German in Switzerland

This is a work in progress

I’ve recently moved to Switzerland, more specifically to the German part of Switzerland.

Even though getting an apartment is incredibly complicated, I managed to find something small close to the city center. While living in the city center means that I can get by just fine by speaking only in English, the fact that everything around me is written in German and I don’t understand it leaves me a bit uncomfortable.

One other thing that I’ve noticed is that even though people are okay with speaking English, some of them don’t seem very comfortable doing it. In a handful of times, I felt that I was making people uncomfortable by putting them in the hard situation of explaining some complicated topic in a language they don’t fully dominate.

It is very common for someone to tell you that they don’t speak English very when, and then proceed to speak perfect English.

Anyway… Given all that, after 1 month after settling in, I decided I wanted to learn German.

This post describes my Journey of “Deutsch Lernen” 🇩🇪🇨🇭

German vs Swiss German

If you do any kind of research about Switzerland, you will rapidly realize that German in Switzerland and in Germany are not quite the same.

In Switzerland, everything is written in “standard” or “high” German or Hochdeutsch, public services all communicate also in High German, but Swiss people speak Swiss German.

So, the first thing you have to accept is that you’re going to learn a language, but you still won’t understand most of the surrounding conversations - at least not at first.

Swiss German is something that you can learn after being comfortable with High German.


If you’re just beginning, or if you’re seeking resources to learn German, I recommend the following pages:

Both are excellent resources that I frequently revisit in search of new tools, videos, reading materials, courses, and more.

To understand the scope of what learning a language entails, consider the different levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This is where the A1, A2, B1, etc., designations originate. As I’m learning a European language, this is also how I gauge my progress.

A1.1 - Migros Klubschule

Switzerland excels at welcoming newcomers. In my case, a few weeks after registering at the Emigration Office, I received a welcome package from the City Council. The package is available in various languages, including your native one. From what I understand, the contents vary significantly from council to council. My package offered (not for free) a small introductory course to German. However, by the time I received my Welcome Package, I had already conducted some research and decided not to join the Introductory Course recommended by the City Council.

During my research, many blog posts, forums, and subreddits mentioned Migros Klubschule as “the place to go”. So, that’s where I started.

I enrolled in one of the Deutsch Niveau A1 (1/3) courses at the Klubschule nearest to me. This course consisted of 28 classes held twice a week over nearly four months. During this course, I completed one-third of the A1 level, meaning I must take three such courses to complete the entire A1 program.

Upon registration, you also need to purchase the course book. For this course, I needed the Menschen A1 series from Hueber. The full pack includes the Kursbuch (Course book), Arbeitsbuch (Work book), and Intensive Trainer.

One thing I read about Klubschule - or language learning classes in general - is that your experience heavily depends on the teachers. In my case, I had two different teachers for my twice-weekly classes. Both were excellent!

Something I didn’t appreciate initially, but which I believe made a significant difference, was the fact that we strictly followed the program from the book. This might seem obvious, but it’s not guaranteed - more on this later.

During A1.(1/3), you learn to introduce yourself (name, age, job), discuss your family structure, express that you don’t speak German (in German), say thank you, etc…

To be completely honest, the first 3-4 weeks are quite challenging. The teachers will only speak to you in German - at least the good ones - and you won’t understand a word. But after those initial weeks, everything magically changes. One day, you’re walking outside, and you recognize a few words put together. Suddenly, everything starts to make sense. The next day it happens again, and again, and again…

Learning is great!

A1.(2 & 3) - Take 1: Remote Learning with Migros Klubschule

By the end of spring, I had finished A1.1. I knew that I would be doing some traveling within the next few months - to visit family, work, and holidays. However, my goal was to continue learning German. Unfortunately, with the class that I was part of, it was not possible to have remote lessons.

During my initial research, I saw that Migros also offered some remote courses. Since my initial experience had been so positive, I decided that this was the way to go - at least for a while.

I’ve mentioned before that the learning experience heavily depends on the teacher. The teacher for this class had a completely different style, and after 2-3 weeks into it, I realized that it wasn’t working for me 😕.

It’s not always easy to pinpoint with 100% certainty what’s not working. But at the time, I identified the following differences compared to my previous learning experience, which I believe were much more effective.

  • The new teacher spoke in English 99% of the time.
  • The classes felt like large dumps of random grammar. This contrasted with what I had been doing so far, where my class and I were mostly following the book. Each module in the book slowly introduces some grammar and vocabulary for us to use and practice.

Life is short, and my goal is to learn. I considered pushing through and taking this course to the end - it will eventually get better, right? However, after some consideration, I decided that investing 6+ months into something that doesn’t suit my learning style was not worth it.

I emailed the support team at Migros Klubschule to explain the situation, and they were fantastic. They gave me a voucher to spend on another course. Since my plan is to eventually return to in-person classes, this solution was perfect for me.

Takeaways from this experience:

  • I need a teacher who follows some kind of program, ideally the program from Menschen A1 - the book that I’ve been using until now.
  • I need a teacher who speaks German 99% of the time. When starting, it’s very hard to get any kind of immersion. I felt like I didn’t have enough vocabulary, and my brain stopped trying to decipher any kind of German. This was the first time that I felt the difference of having the teacher speak in German.

A1.(2 & 3) - Take 2: Remote Learning with Italki

To be continued...