Language schools and linguistic tour operators have become a huge industry in Switzerland, and many people are willing to shell out anywhere from hundreds to thousands of francs for linguistic lessons or tours.
If you don’t have that kind of money – or prefer not to spend it – don’t despair. Switzerland with its four official languages is a linguistically diverse country and with foreigners making up more than 20% of the population, a cheap solution to your language learning needs may literally be lurking in your own back yard.
Check out these simple language learning tips from moneyland.ch:
1. Find a language-exchange buddy
A single apartment house in Switzerland may easily be home to native speakers of five or more different languages. That makes your neighborhood a great place to learn a foreign language. Many foreigners are keen on learning a local language and many Swiss are keen on learning foreign languages, so finding someone willing to swap their linguistic knowledge for yours is easier than you think.
If you do not have a wide social circle within which to find a language buddy, try posting an ad on your local bulletins, forums and classifieds pages. Free online platforms like sprach-tandem.ch make it easy to connect with other people looking to exchange language skills.
2. Join a conversation group
If you like making new friends and you already have some basic conversational skills in the language you want to learn, consider joining a conversation group or language exchange. These are usually informal gatherings of people learning a language which are coached by at least one mother-tongue speaker. You will find them in many Swiss cities (particularly local language conversation groups). Social networks and forums are a great place to find these groups.
3. Find linguistic hangouts
Switzerland is home to many migrant groups and in larger towns and cities, these groups often congregate in certain restaurants and bars, or even form clubs where they can feel comfortable conversing entirely in their native language. If you want to immerse yourself in a foreign language without leaving Switzerland, these hangouts are the place to do it. Websites like migrantenvereine.ch and vereinsverzeichnis.ch are good places to find actual associations, but learning about meetups or casual clubs often requires active investigation or an insider tip.
4. Look into integration programs
If you are a foreign resident and are interested in learning German, French of another Swiss language, it is worth noting that a number of non-profit organizations offer very affordable language courses aimed at assisting people who are just starting out or looking to improve their local language skills. The fees charged for these programs are much lower than those charged by conventional language schools but you still get a language teacher and learning materials. The language lessons offered by non-profit organization HEKS in Zurich and other cantons are a good example of these.
5. Travel within Switzerland
Switzerland is likely the only country in which you can fully immerse yourself in French-, German- and Italian-speaking societies without crossing the border. The relatively short distances make weekend getaways or even day trips to various linguistic regions totally realistic. Check out the moneyland.ch guide to cheap travel inside of Switzerland for ideas on how to get around for less.
If your primarily interest is in the practical application of a language, then volunteering can provide a cheap alternative to linguistic tours. While working abroad may be complicated due to legal restrictions, there are few restrictions on working voluntarily for room and board. Typically, volunteering involves some form of community work, but this is not always the case. Individuals often offer food and lodging to volunteers willing to help with a private project.
Right within Switzerland, Swiss clubs and associations are often looking for people willing to volunteer in sectors as varied as sports coaching to environmental projects to marketing. These can provide great language learning opportunities (both local and foreign). Refugees from dozens of countries call Switzerland their temporary or permanent home, and volunteering for integration programs or recreational activities provides a great opportunity to make new friends and language exchange partners.
7. Plan your own linguistic tour
An alternative to paying for expensive linguistic tours is to plan your own tour. Portals like couchsurfing and homestay make it easy to connect with people in many countries who are happy to have visitors stay at their homes for low prices, or even free of charge. Staying with locals puts you in a good position to practice the local language.
Booking a language school or tutor at your destination directly rather than as part of a package deal may work out cheaper than booking as part of a tour. Planning your own trip also gives you the freedom to avoid the prime tourist hotspots usually favored by linguistic tours in favor of more affordable destinations.
8. Use the Internet
The Internet lets you access a huge amount of music, film and literature in most major languages. Listening to music or watching videos in your target language is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with that language. Loads of classes and other content is available for free on popular streaming portals and online libraries. If you are willing to invest some money in your language-learning experience, online language tutoring provides a cheap alternative to hiring a private tutor.
9. Avoid reverting to a lingua franca
Try to avoid taking the easy way out by using English or another shared language to communicate with speakers of the language you want to learn. Doing this can be a major hindrance because it prevents you from directly immersing yourself in the language. As a result, learning the target language will take longer and cost more in the way of time and money. Make a point of communicating with people in the target language even if they respond to you using a lingua franca.
10. Libraries, charity stores and flea markets
If you are looking for interesting, varied and (above all) cheap literature in your target language, it’s worth knowing that Swiss public libraries often stock a large number of foreign language books in addition to books in Swiss languages. Switzerland’s many charity or second hand stores (German: Brockenhaus or “Brocki” French: brocante) and flea markets are great places to find books in many different languages going for a song.
Learning languages in Switzerland does not have to be expensive. Taking advantage of easily available resources can get you where you want to go at minimal cost to your wallet.