The mother is in a language limbo, the eldest child now faced with Swiss German in kindergarten while the smallest only understands English despite being born and raised in Switzerland by Swiss parents. It’s been nearly two years since we left London Town. Time for an update.
For our children’s sake, our family language is still English. We want our kids to grow up bilingually, which is relatively easy since Mister M and I are both fluent in English and we have a lot of English speaking friends locally here in Zurich. But of course things have changed since we left the UK and the English speaking territory. Here’s how…
Two years into our life in Switzerland, it appears our language set-up has brought me into some sort of limbo. Most of the local mums I hang out with are English speaking – I didn’t actively search for this, rather it just happened. 80% of my week is being spent speaking English; to my children, mummy friends and husband. I have the occasional chat in Swiss German in the shops, to my old friends, relatives and Mister M which accounts to about 20%. Most of my social media interactions are in English, and I only read English newspapers, magazines and TV shows, just because their cultuture still feels closer to my heart. And here’s the language limbo: of course I’m still fluent in Swiss German, although even there I often struggle to find the right words. However, Swiss German is a spoken language only. For writing I use English and German. My English has become less complex and rich because I’m not fully surrounded by the language anymore. And my High German, which we Swiss use for writing, has become very lousy. I haven’t used it much during the past 8 years and it bothers me a lot that I can’t write in German properly anymore. Of course I can write stuff but I used to be able to write complex, intelligent things which my current level doesn’t allow anymore. So I’m a bit stuck with two inferior language skills. As someone who loves writing and the complexity of languages, this is bothering me a lot.
The 4.5 year old
Big Sister arrived in Switzerland as a three year old with poor Swiss German levels. For 18 months now she’s spent regular time with all four of her grandparents and a babysitter. While English is still her mother tongue, she’s become near fluent in Swiss German. Her English is flawless, the Swiss German still accompanied by many mistakes but she can talk fluently and her accent is a very Zurich town one. She started the local kindergarten last week and loves it. She doesn’t say much there yet since it’s all Swiss German and High German, but her German will improve quickly and she’ll open up soon. Also, the kindergarten offers free German classes twice a week to the non-native speakers which will help too.
The 1.5 year old
Little Sister is our other language guinea pig. She was born in Switzerland to two Swiss German native parents but has been raised in English since birth. She’s around Swiss German speakers sporadically only. During the past 6 months she’s been more interested in developing her physical skills (which is so often the case with younger siblings, it must have to do with walking being a more efficient survival skill than talking if you have to defend yourself against an older sibling all the time). She’s only very recently started to pick up new words every day, and they’re all English. She understands a lot in English but not much in Swiss German. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops but I’m sure her German will be better and the English poorer compared to her older sister once she starts kindergarten in three years time.
This is how things are here language-wise. Other than that I think we’ve all settled well in Zurich by now and enjoy the peaceful lifestyle here, compared to hectic London.