How different is French in Switzerland to France?

by | Sep 22, 2016 | English, Regional Linguistic Differences

Switzerland is a landlocked country in the middle of Europe with some of the most beauty scenery that the continent has to offer.

In terms of languages, the country has 4 official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.

In Switzerland, around 1.8 million people or 22.5% of the population speak French as their first language, mainly living in the west of the country (called ‘La Romandie’).

Another Romance language called “Franco-Provençal” is also still spoken in Switzerland although primarily by the older generations.

The most widely spoken non-official language in Switzerland is English, which is important in the country’s financial sector, in particular.

Swiss French differs from Standard French in a couple of ways as outlined in the following video:

Numbers

The most obvious difference in the French language that a visitor to Switzerland will immediately notice is the more logical Swiss numbering system.

France stills has some vestiges of the old vigesimal (based on 20) as opposed to the decimal (based on 10) numbering system.

Frustratingly for those learning French, the number ‘eighty’ requires some calculating as ‘quatre-vingts’ literally means ‘four-twenties’ or ‘four-score’ in antiquated English.

Simiarily, the number ‘seventy’ is ‘soixante-dix’ which translates as ‘sixty-ten’ and in France ‘ninety’ is ‘quatre-vingt-dix’ (or literally ‘four twenty ten’).

In Switzerland, however, the numbering is fortunately more rational and easier to grasp as “soixante-dix”, “quatre-vingts” and “quatre-vingt-dix” do not exist! 🙂

Instead, the Swiss say “septante”, “huitante” and “nonante” for “seventy”, “eighty” and “ninety”. This more logical numbering system is a lot easier to remember.

The Swiss numbering system is similar to that used in Belgium with the exception that the Belgians maintain “quatre-vingts” for “eighty” (as you can see in the video on Belgian French below).

On my trips to Switzerland, I’ve had little problem communicating in French and Italian (as opposed to Swiss-German, which I found a lot harder to understand).

So I have to conclude that aside from the simplified numbering system, the slight difference in accent and a few local expressions, Swiss-French does not differ that much from Standard French (and definitely less that the Belgian and Quebecois equivalents).

Have you previously listened to the French language in Switzerland? Noticed any other differences there to the French spoken in France? Write your experiences and opinions in the comments section below the article! 🙂

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