Pimsleur Swiss German

5 German, Audio Lessons

February 10, 2014

Series  Pimsleur
Publisher  Simon & Schuster
Price  $41.95 for all 10 lessons
Skill Level  Beginner

Pimsleur, part of Simon & Schuster, offers 10 excellent roughly half-hour audio lessons for Swiss German, and I did all 10 of them in 24 hours. I absolutely do not recommend this approach—you are supposed to do one per day—but I was in a particular mood. A Pimsleur mood, I guess.

I was also in shock. I have years of German study behind me, and I had no idea there was a variety of German floating around that sounded so very different. Throughout the lessons my vowels were redirected, my consonants stolen, my vocabulary replaced.

Don’t get me wrong: there are still lots of similarities between Swiss German and standard German, the latter being what you would normally study in a high school or university German course. Still, the differences far exceeded my expectations, even in just five hours of studying.

For example: the ich of standard German sounded like ee in Swiss German. The bin of standard German—meaning “am”—sounded maybe halfway between bi and bay. So when I had to say “I am,” I felt as though I was saying “eBay.” 

“Something” is etwas in standard German, but öppis in these Swiss German lessons.

“Hello” is grüezi, “excuse me” is exgüüsi (double umlaut!), and “thank you” is merci. The merci does not sound at all French, but neither does it, or the other two, sound at all like my previous notion of German. 

Further muddying and muddling things in my brain was the way the s sounds of standard German frequently popped up as sh sounds in my Swiss German Pimsleur lessons. Instead of ist—standard German for “is”—you say isch.

One more weird thing is the singular neuter indefinite article. In standard German,”a beer” is ein Bier, and “the beer” is das Bier. In Swiss German “a beer” is es Bier, which sounds a lot like das Bier, especially when one is talking fast. So I felt as though I was repeatedly requesting “the beer” instead of “a beer” (which is just plain strange, since it kind of suggests there is only one beer left on the planet, or at least in the bar where the beer is being requested).

But don’t take my word about Swiss German. Try a free lesson! Although bewildering, this dialect is also pretty and melodic and totally worth checking out!

Hochdeutsch Students, This Could Blow Your Mind!
Hochdeutsch Students, This Could Blow Your Mind!


Comments (2)

Martin • Posted on Mon, February 17, 2014 - 6:29 pm EST

As Swiss German - Bernese - is my native tongue I dare to comment your review. I hardly ever stumble on teaching material for Swiss German or correspondent reviews :-). Your perception of the differences between Swiss German and standard German is adequate. But only a minority of all Swiss German speakers use “Grüezi” to say hello - that’s one of the clichés continuously repeated in German TV shows. I guess that the Swiss German dialect used by Pimsleur might be the one spoken by people living in or near Zürich. But the diversity of Swiss German dialects is large - you can travel 30 miles and already get into problems with understanding the local dialect spoken by “real natives”.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, February 17, 2014 - 8:54 pm EST

Thank you so much, Martin! I decided to do these Pimsleur lessons because a language-loving pal raved about the sounds of Swiss German. You are correct about the dialect. The Pimsleur website notes, “Pimsleur’s Swiss German uses speakers with urban intonation and pronunciation spoken in cities such as St. Gallen, Zürich, and Basel.”

I was aware when I began writing this review that Swiss German was heterogeneous, but as a newcomer to it, I didn’t feel equipped to walk down that winding linguistic path and try to explain the variety. I should have made it clearer that these lessons were not a universal representation of what one might find under the umbrella of Swiss German, though, so I really appreciate your post! Merci. :)

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