Zürich Language: What language do they speak in Zürich?

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Zürich is one of the most popular cities to visit in Switzerland and for good reason, it’s beautiful and the atmosphere is great.

But what is the main Zürich language? This is a common question people have before visiting the city…it’s an important question to ask too.

Switzerland has four official languages after all!

Luckily for you, I’ve spent a lot of time in Zürich and I’m here to answer the question of what language is spoken in Zürich once and for all.

So let’s get straight into it!

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💵 Hostels: Hostelworld
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🚗 Car Rental: Discover Cars
🚌 Transport: Flixbus
🏥 Travel Insurance: Safetywing
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💻 VPN: Surfshark

Zürich Language

As I said in the introduction, Switzerland has four official languages. They are German, French, Italian and Romansh.

These four languages are split up into four pretty distinct regions, except Romansh which is a bit all over the place in the east.

If you know your European geography, you’ll see why the language regions are the way they are. With Germany bordering Switzerland to the north, France to the east and Italy to the south, the languages regions match these exactly.

A picture of a map of Switzerland divided up into the language regions. Zurich is in the German-speaking region, making the official Zurich language be German.

As you can see from the map above, Zürich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, so naturally, the language in Zürich is German.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. The German spoken in Switzerland isn’t the same German spoken in Germany.

In Germany, it’s “proper” German which is spoken, known as High German or “Hochdeutsche”. Whereas in Switzerland, it’s a dialect called Swiss German (Schwyzerdütsch) which is spoken. Very fitting name indeed.

The best way of describing Swiss German is as German with some hints of French thrown in for good measure. An example I hear often in Zürich is “Merci vielmal”.

If you have any French or German understanding, you might notice that it’s literally one word from each. It translates as “thanks a lot”, taking the “thanks” from French and the “a lot” from German. It’s quite interesting to hear, especially if you speak both languages.

Don’t worry though, if you speak “normal” German, you will still be understood as it’s used in official things in Switzerland like for government documents and whatnot.

Some might say that an extra language spoken in Zürich is Swan, due to the hundreds if not thousands of swans you can see on Zürich Lake and along the river. Only joking, of course!

A picture of two swans on Zurich lake- I joke that Swan language could be a second Zurich language as there are so many of them.

But back in terms of Swiss German, another random example is cycle lanes. They will be marked as “velo” which is the French word for bicycle, instead of the German word “Fahrrad”.

Also, if you only speak English, don’t worry, as English is very widely spoken in Zürich and throughout the rest of Switzerland. 60% of the population speak English to some degree, meaning you will find more people than not who can understand you.

That being said, it’s always useful to learn some phrases in the local language just in case, and the small effort goes a long way. Locals appreciate you trying!

But to summarise, the official Zürich language is German, more specifically the local dialect of Swiss German.

A picture of the river in Zurich with the two main chuches on either side of the river.

Useful phrases to learn before visiting Zürich

Since we now know the official Zürich language is Swiss German, you may wish to learn some phrases in the language before visiting. You never know when they could come in useful, and the locals appreciate you trying too. So here are 10 phrases you should take some time to learn before heading to Switzerland.

EnglishSwiss German
Hello (formal)Grüezi
Thank youDanke/Merci (either work)
Thanks a lotMerci vielmal
How are you?Wie Gaats Dir
Excuse meTschuldigung

As you can see, there are lots of similarities between Swiss German and High German, which makes sense since Swiss German is simply a dialect of High German. But there are also a lot of differences too. As I said earlier in the article, if you speak normal German, the Zürich locals will still undersand you.

But all in all, it can be pretty fun to learn some phrases in Swiss German. It’s a unique mix of languages all put together in one, and even though there isn’t really a way to learn it in advance per say, you can pick up some phrases while you are in Switzerland.

That being said, if you take 10 minutes to learn the above phrases, it’s more than enough to get by in Zürich.

A picture of Fraumunster.

Zürich Language: FAQ

Below are some questions related to the official Zürich language along with my answers.

Do they speak English in Zürich?

Yes, English is very widely spoken in Zürich and throughout Switzerland. It’s taught from a very young age in schools and at home, so the majority of the population speaks at least some English. Especially amongst younger generations.

Is Zürich more German or French?

Zürich is in the German-speaking region of Switzerland, so it’s definitely more German. The dialect spoken isn’t the same as in Germany, as Swiss German features some French too. It’s like a combination of both languages.

How different is Swiss German?

There aren’t many differences between formal Swiss German and normal German, as most of the differences come in slang and informal pronunciations. Anyone from Switzerland who speaks Swiss German fully understands normal German too.

Why do people in Zürich reply in English when you speak to them in German?

The reason people in Zürich respond in English when you speak in German is likely because they recognise that you aren’t a native German speaker and they are trying to be courteous and speak to you in your mother tongue, presumably English. English is taught very well in Switzerland so most people are fluent in the language.

Can I live in Switzerland without speaking German?

Yes, you can definitely live in Switzerland without speaking German. For a start, there are three other languages spoken in the country (French, Italian, and Romansh) but English is also spoken across the country. Most people are fluent in English and can speak it really well, so you can definitely live in Switzerland without speaking German.

Zürich Language: Conclusion

And there you have it, a complete guide to the official Zürich langauge.

Remember, the language spoken in Zürich is German.

But not normal German, Swiss German which is a combination of French and German.

It’s so unique and in my opinion, it’s one of the many things that makes Switzerland Switzerland and it wouldn’t be the same otherwise.

Enjoy your trip to Zürich, it’s an amazing city, and hopefully, this post has left you with an understand of which langauge is spoken in Zürich.