Same language but still different

Studying and living in Göttingen (Germany) as a Swiss person isn’t that different to living in Switzerland in terms of the language. Luckily, I was able to communicate immediately with other people, be it in German, French, English or Spanish – I realized that speaking multiple languages is a huge advantage and makes it a lot easier to get to know people. Nevertheless, switching from our beloved Swiss German to High German definitely challenged me during the first days here in Göttingen.

Although we often speak High German in courses at the University in Bern and everything is also written in High German, it’s still different to speak it in my daily life – especially without the Swiss accent (^^). But I think I got used to it very quickly and I also looked for native German speakers so I could practice it a lot. Sometimes, I still have some typical Swiss words that come out of my mouth, for example “gäu” at the end of a sentence…

But I honestly didn’t think that it would be that easy to just give up my Swiss accent here, and also a lot of people wouldn’t believe that I’m actually Swiss. At home, it always felt strange to speak High German without an accent – I always thought it sounded a little bit arrogant…and anyway our accent just makes us unique, right? But here, I would feel ashamed to talk with my Swiss accent and I would also immediately stand out in the crowd – something I don’t really need…

I already knew that there were a few differences between the “Bundesländer”, but I didn’t think those differences would be so big!

What I really like about Göttingen is its internationality – there are people from all over the world and not only can I practice my High German with native speakers, but also every other language that I already know. At the same time, it can be difficult to always switch between languages…but I really like facing this challenge. I would even like to learn a new language, for example Italian. Luckily, there are a lot of different activities here in Göttingen that allow you to get to know said people from all over the world (for example, there’s a Tandem evening I’d like to participate in).

Did you know that Germans also have different dialects? I already knew that there were a few differences between the “Bundesländer”, but I didn’t think those differences would be so big! Some Germans told me that depending on the dialect, they really don’t understand each other. That really amazed me, since Swiss people all understand each other, even with a different dialect (ok, maybe some of us have difficulties with “Walliserdütsch”).

I realized that already speaking the native language in a country makes a big difference in how native people treat you – for example, I’ve only had positive encounters until now and everyone is very kind! On the contrary, I met an Italian who doesn’t speak a word of German and he lost his passport in the first week here. He told me that especially the authorities at the lost and found were rather unfriendly because he only spoke English, so he asked a German to come with him because they wouldn’t or couldn’t give him any information about the whereabouts of his passport.

Finally, it’s also much easier to get to know the city of Göttingen and learn how the University works here – so far, I’m very happy to be here in Germany!

Saskia Gurtner

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