If you’re coming to Switzerland for work, being able to communicate with locals is key. And you’ll soon find that many locals in this country of romantic scenery and chocolate live in cantons where the dominant language is Swiss German. Even if you struggle to understand the local dialect, knowing some basic Swiss German phrases will surely come in handy.
With that in mind, let’s look at nine useful Swiss German phrases to help you greet locals, introduce yourself, exchange common courtesies and even tell someone that you love them. After all, you never know what the future may hold!
- Merci/Merci vilmal
- Wie goots?/Wie goots Ihne?
- Hoi, mi name isch…
- Wie sait me “XY” uf Schwitzerdütsch?
- I hätti gern es…
- Ich liib dich
There are many ways to say hello in Swiss German, but Grüezi is the right choice to address someone in a more formal setting. It’s also the preferred greeting if you’re meeting someone for the first time.
When you visit the German-speaking part of Switzerland, you will hear Grüezi everywhere. To address more than one person, use Grüezi mitenand, which translates to “hello together.”
To keep it more casual, you can also use Hoi, Hallo or Sali.
2. Merci/Merci vilmal
One of the most important skills in any language is knowing how to express thanks. The Swiss German expression Merci is the same as in French, which should come as no surprise given Switzerland’s proximity to France and the fact that French is also one of the four official languages of Switzerland.
If someone did you a big favor and Merci does not seem strong enough, use Merci vilmal. This translates to “Thanks a lot.”
3. Wie goots?/Wie goots Ihne?
Wie goots? (or the polite form, Wie goots Ihne?) is a good conversation starter that roughly translates to “How are you?”. Heads up: Depending on your location, it could be pronounced as gaats instead of goots, as pronunciations often change from canton to canton.
If someone asks you “Wie goots?,” you can answer, “Mir goots guat. Und dir?” (I’m doing well. How are you?). You could alternatively say, “Mir goots nöd so gued” (“I’m not doing very well”).
4. Hoi, mi name isch…
Introduce yourself with Hoi, mi name isch…, meaning “Hi, my name is…” (and try not to get that Eminem song stuck in your head!).
Exgüüsi is phonetically close to its English translation and means “Excuse me.” You can use this word to sound more polite when asking for directions, or if you have to pass someone in the street.
6. Wie sait me “XY” uf Schwitzerdütsch?
When you’re new to a language, it’s helpful to know how to ask for certain words that you don’t know yet. Wie sait me “XY” uf Schwitzerdütsch? translates to “How do you say ‘XY’ in Swiss German?”. This phrase is often accompanied by excessive pointing gestures to improve communication and avoid mix-ups.
Widerluege roughly translates to “Until we see each other again” and is used to say “goodbye” in Swiss German. It can be used in formal and informal settings. If you want to mix it up, you can also use Ade or Tschau, which the Swiss borrowed from their Italian neighbors.
8. I hätti gern es…
When you’re visiting Switzerland, make sure to try Swiss culinary specialities such as fondue, rösti and chocolate. To order these items at a Swiss German shop or restaurant, use I hätti gern es Fondue, for example. The phrase means “I’d like to have the Fondue.”
9. Ich liib dich
You never know what the future holds. Maybe you’ll find the partner of your dreams during your stay in Switzerland. It’s best to come prepared, so add Ich liib dich to your vocabulary. It means “I love you.”
Useful Swiss German phrases: Basics matter the most
No one expects you to speak perfect Swiss German right away, and many Swiss people speak very good English. This means you probably don’t have to worry about feeling lost during your stay in Switzerland, whether you’re spending most of your time in Swiss cities or in the countryside.
However, knowing the most important phrases — like Grüezi and Wie goots? — will make it a lot easier for you to connect with people. As Swiss German is not one language, but a conglomerate of different Swiss dialects, it makes sense to learn it from someone local. If you’re considering a language course in Swiss German, be aware that the pronunciation of some words and phrases can change from canton to canton.