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38% of Swiss speak more than one language at work

In many places one language is all that is required at work. In Switzerland, 37.7% of workers surveyed reported regularly using two or more languages at work, according to data published by the Federal Statistical Office on 6 September 2022.

38% of Swiss speak more than one language at work

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While 62.3% used only one language at work, 22.2% regularly used two and 15.5% used three or more.

These figures are somewhat boosted by a linguistic quirk of Switzerland. In the majority German-speaking region, the language taught at school is standard German. However, the majority converse in a Swiss German dialect. This means that German/Swiss German bilingualism is nearly universal in the German-speaking region. When Swiss German and standard German a counted as one language, 25.6% rather than 37.7% regularly use more than one language at work – 74.4% use one, 17.7% use two and 7.9% three or more.

Men are more likely to use multiple languages at work (27.9%) than women (23.1%) – when Swiss German and standard German are lumped together. The type of work makes a big difference too. Among managers and directors multilingualism rises to 35.4%. Other categories with high multiple language use include academic and scientific work (32.8%) and administrative staff (25.5%). The lowest rate is among agricultural workers (8.2%).

Age plays a part too. Only 20.8% of workers over 65 use another language at work. Those under the age of 25 are also below average users of additional languages at work (22.6%). The sweet spot for multilingual work is 25-44 (28.3%), followed by 45-64 (23.7%).

The most commonly used second languages at work in Swiss German-speaking Switzerland are standard German (42.8%), English (21%), French (8.5%) and Italian (5.2%).

In French speaking Switzerland they are English (19.8%), German (6.9%), Swiss German (4.4%), Portuguese (4.4%) and Italian (3.2%). Interestingly, Swiss German speakers are more likely to use French at work (8.5%) than French speakers are to use Swiss German (4.4%) or German (6.9%) despite the dominance of Swiss German and German in Switzerland – 63% of Swiss workers speak Swiss German (34% standard German) at work compared to the 28% who speak French while working.

Between 2010 and 2020, the use of English at work grew from 17% to 21%. Use of standard German was also up from 32% to 34%. While the use of all of Switzerland’s national languages fell at work. Swiss German usage fell from 67% to 63%. French from 29% to 28% and Italian from 8.7% to 8.0%. These shifts reflect the further globalisation of Switzerlands population and work.

The most common work language pairs are German (Swiss + standard) and English (8.3%), German and French (2.5%) and French and English (2.2%). 2.9% of the workforce used English, German and French.

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