Schwiizerdütsch: Exploring Swiss German

In this episode, we speak to Swiss German teacher and author Rahel Roth and bestselling cartoonist/author Sergio Lievano about Swiss German. We explore whether expats should learn this dialect or focus on standard German instead.

Rahel’s series of books, Swiss German for English Speakers, is one of the few resources that teaches Swiss German from scratch. Sergio has published six books in Switzerland, including the popular “Hoi” series and The Indispensable Illustrated Dictionary to Swiss German.

Join us as we tackle questions such as:

What exactly is Swiss German?

How does it differ from standard German?

Should expats learn Swiss German or standard German, and how can they get started?

And don’t forget to share this podcast with your friends and subscribe to our newsletter at for more great content about living in Switzerland.


Swiss German for Everyone (Rahel Roth)


Swiss German for English Speakers - number 1 on Amazon on this topic


Sergio Lievano


Sergio on LinkedIn

Migros Klubschule


Bergli Books


- Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Living in Switzerland. The series is brought to you by Rigby. We are a staffing and IT services company based in Zurich. If you or anyone you know of is looking for a new role in Switzerland, or if you're looking to hire, let us know. We'd be happy to help. The best way to do that is by sending an email to

Today we are joined by two Swiss German experts, Rahel Roth and Sergio Lievano.

Rahel is a Swiss German teacher and also originally from St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Her series of books, Swiss German for English Speakers, is one of the few resources that teaches Swiss German from scratch.

Rahel, welcome.

- Hi, thanks for having me.

- All right, let's start with you telling us just a little bit about your background and how you got into teaching Swiss German.

- So I've always been interested in languages, especially their structure. So I studied Spanish and English at university and attended several language courses just to get to know a little bit more about the structure of languages.

During my studies at high school to become… at the university to become a high school teacher for Spanish and English, I started teaching German. And I noticed that a lot of students were struggling with high German as they couldn't really use it in their daily

life. And they were therefore really frustrated.

So one day, a woman contacted me and she told me that everyone around her was telling her to learn high German. But she actually didn't want to. She needed Swiss German. And I decided to create material for her and made it my goal to teach her Swiss German.

- All right, so it all started with that one student.

- Exactly. She was the first one and the main one, which is why I started creating material. Yes.

- Right. And how exactly do your online lessons work? As I understand that you only teach online, right?

- Exactly. I work online. I usually use, in my classes, online screen sharing, which is great. It works very well because it shows students what we are working on. They see it right in front of of them. So it's like having a teacher right next to you.

And usually I take notes. I send out the notes after class. And that really helps the students to really focus only on the language. And on speaking, they don't really have to worry about the notes being perfect.

I usually complement my lessons with virtual games like four in a row or quizzes. And especially in a group, that's fun.

As Swiss German, as Swiss German is a spoken and very diverse language, videos and songs also allow to look at different accents in a realistic setting. So we also include videos and usually after a certain amount of classes I hand out learning assessments which actually gives me an overview about how the student is doing and it also shows the student how well he's doing and what he should review maybe.

- Right, so it's really quite a structured approach.

- Exactly, so I usually try to focus on a structure, so also the student knows where we are, and they feel kind of guided in their learning.

- Right. And as you know, I also teach German, high German, not Swiss German. And I also mainly teach online. And in some ways, I think it's almost easier. It almost works better than teaching in person, because you have this immediate screen sharing and the immediate feedback from the student online.

- Absolutely. Absolutely. Depending on what exactly you work on, you can even use

things like Google documents and you can work simultaneously. And that actually is a big advantage compared to classes in person because you don't see what the student takes notes of. So you don't see if what the student writes down is correct or not. And

actually virtually you see that and you can directly correct.

- And it's like a whiteboard and many people like myself included, I for example, can write more quickly online than on paper. So actually if I'm making notes, it's usually quicker on Google documents.

- Absolutely.

- So teaching Swiss German is very niche. So who is your typical student? Is there a typical profile of who you tend to teach or just anyone?

- It's basically expats. So anybody that comes to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and anybody that speaks English. So I have students from Germany, England, Australia, India, United States, they usually all come to Switzerland at some point. Sometimes they're even living already in Switzerland, they've moved there several years ago, and they're still struggling with the language.

And even for many expats, high German is not required. So like when they work in an international company, or they don't need to take a test for residency or work, then the motivation to learn high German is quite low. And at the same time, they, they realize that without high German or Swiss German, they're simply not able to interact with locals, with Swiss people.

- So they learn only Swiss German? They don't have to start with standard German? That's interesting.

- Right. Yeah, usually…

- You wouldn’t typically think that.

- Yeah. Exactly. Most people would tell you you have to start with high German. And that's where external influence comes in. Because a lot of people are very influenced, and they think it's impossible to learn Swiss German without any high German, or that's it, that it's a stupid idea.

But it actually isn't. It's like another language. Of course, you have to consider how long you will be staying in Switzerland. But if you really want to live there, you want to raise your children there, then starting with Swiss German is a great opportunity.

- So you get a lot of people who have children and maybe the children are picking it up from peers or...

- Exactly. So usually the kids, they learn from kindergarten, Kita, with their friends. They usually, they grow up like Swiss children. But the parents struggle because the parents realize once they go to Kita, that uh-oh, my child is learning Swiss German and he will bring home friends that speak Swiss German. And I'm left out. And if you then also are married to a Swiss man or woman, then you have the majority of your family speaking Swiss German and you have no idea what they're talking about. And that's usually when

they realize, ‘I have to study.’

- That makes sense. Let's talk a little bit in general about Swiss German. What do you see as the principal differences between Swiss German and standard, or, what's called high German?

- Okay, so first of all, I believe it's very important to understand the difference because Swiss German is often taken as the Swiss standard German, which it's not. It's a dialect. It's an inofficial language. It's something that we speak and not write.

And there is, the thing that makes it quite complicated because apparently there are no spelling rules. So you can write the words the way you want. And usually for students that makes it very complicated.

However, it's also something that can make it richer because you're quite free in your spelling. You don't have to worry too much about how to spell things because it's a spoken language.

For example, the word Swiss German, "Schwiizerdütsch". When you say it, it sounds the same in almost all dialects.

But when you spell it, you can spell it with one "i", "Schwizerdütsch".

You can spell it with two "i's". It sounds the same.

You can even spell it with a "y".

You could change it even to "Schwiizertütsch" with a "t" in the front.

- Right, yes, I've seen that.

But you can’t spell it with a "tz”. "Schwitzerdütsch" with a "tz" doesn't work. Because we have some, kind of, rules that we know compared to high German that we still apply.

So there are not no rules, but some rules. And that's very difficult for learners.

- And that's where your classes come in and that's what you teach.

- Right. So we usually try to include different spellings, different words, so that visually the word looks different. But when you pronounce it, students figure out what it means, and that's actually what it's all about. It's something, it's about deciphering what it could

mean. It's looking for the meaning of the word. And once a student gets used to looking for the meaning of the word, it's way easier to understand all the different dialects.

- So you think people can eventually learn to communicate with locals from all over Switzerland, not just in their little region?

- Yes. Yes. Maybe not at the very, very high level. I mean, high level very technically because that's even for me as a native Swiss speaker sometimes difficult.

Okay, there are words that I learned that I didn't know before because I didn't grow up in that area.

But usually that are words that you maybe use once or twice in your life. So you don't really have to worry too much about that. You just ask ‘what's that?’

- Yeah.

- And you learn something new.

- If you know the basics, yeah, you can communicate then.

- Exactly.

- All right, so let's imagine that someone completely new to Switzerland is coming to live and work here. And they just get very confused because there’s French, there’s Italian, there’s German, and then there’s this Swiss German. They don't know where to start. So where would you suggest? Do you think they should learn Swiss German or standard German first? And what is more helpful for them in this situation?

- Okay, so first of all, they would have to decide where they would like to live in Switzerland. If they move to the German-speaking area, it's between, the decision is between High German and Swiss German. Now it depends on each student because they should consider, do they need German for work? Do they need to write emails or read texts? In that case, they would have to go for High German. Also, if they need a test for integration, because all these things are in the official language of the country, which is High German.

And then later on, you can also focus on Swiss German. You can compare, you can take a course and you adapt, you know, in high German. But if you study at the same time, it usually confuses because they're very similar. And then you're making more bad than good because you're confusing.

And what you actually have to do in a test is writing proper high German. And if you include Swiss words or Swiss spellings, that will all count as mistakes. So that's for you a disadvantage.

However, if they say they work in an English-speaking environment, they have kids at home, they need to do everyday tasks like do the shopping, they have to interact with caretakers and teachers. And then Swiss German is definitely the better choice because that's what we speak.

So usually Swiss people, they all know high German, they understand. But usually they probably will answer in Swiss German as well. So it's good to have some knowledge of the language.

- Okay, so it really depends on what the expat, the new person is trying to achieve in a way.

- Yes, absolutely.

- How, what is the best approach to learning Swiss German then? If someone's now decided, ‘yeah, I want to get started with Swiss German.’ Maybe they know a little bit of

high German, but not much. What's the most effective approach?

- To open up your mind. You have to be very open towards Swiss German and the different variants. So like we said before, it's about deciphering the meanings of the words. So you actually, you shouldn't too much worry about the visual appearance of a word.

A lot of students are used to, first of all, read and try to understand written things, which in Swiss German is actually not bad, but I wouldn't recommend it because you focus too much on writing and it's a spoken language. So from the beginning on, you should focus on speaking and hearing. So you get used to different forms. And usually I tell my students when you see a word you don't know what it means, pronounce it, say it out loud and it will help you a lot.

If I receive a message, I'm from St. Gallen, I receive a message from my friend in Bern. Sometimes I have to read it out loud to see what this could mean because when I see it it's like what's that? Because I've never seen so many O's and two dots or A's and two dots. I don't know what it means because we don't have a visual connection to the word. We have an oral connection to the word. So I think that's one of the most important points.

And then also including a lot of different variants. So the more different spellings you include, the more different versions you include, the more you get used to understanding different things. And then you pick out the one that you hear around you, that's the one that you use.

But you can compare it to a child. A child, when it learns on TV, it hears a lot of different people. And it still understands them, but it uses one form, the one that the family uses. And that's actually what you should do as a Swiss German learner.

- Yeah. And it doesn't really make sense to only focus on your area because a lot of people, Swiss people, they move around the country as well. So among your neighbors, you might have people from Basel and people from Zurich and people from Bern, even if you live in a different city, you'll have various variants around you.

- Exactly.

- And it's easy as well. You're in a different, completely different area within an hour or even half an hour. So.

- Yeah, yeah, or even less. Yes.

- Yeah.

And even on TV, so you have, for example, the weather forecast. Sometimes it's a person from, I don't know, Basel maybe that presents the weather forecast. If you've never heard someone from Basel, you will not understand a single word. And that's even though it's quite similar.

So the more you include these different forms with videos or different spellings and messages, the more you get used to it.

- Yeah, I think that's important. Let's talk a little bit more about the different variants. Does this confuse your students to have all these various forms and do you ever encounter issues or not so much?

- Usually in the beginning, yes, it has confused them because they're not used to it. It's a very unique language, Swiss-German, and I think that's also something that makes it very special because we have this richness in spellings in the different dialects.

- Yeah, very unusual.

- Yes, yes, exactly. So usually you have like a dictionary or something that gives you the guidelines for the language. You spell the word this way and that's it. You don't have any other option. And for people that learn visually, that's very important to have structure.

And then when they come to Swiss German, they suddenly say, ‘oh, you can have a lot of different forms, you can conjugate the verb in different forms.’ So the verb doesn't always appear in the same form for the same person.

- Yeah.

- And they need to get used to that. So usually in the beginning, I tell them, don't worry too much about making everything perfect. Because even if you make maybe a mistake, which is not a mistake in Swiss German, usually it's simply a different dialect. Leaving out an N somewhere or leaving out a D somewhere, it doesn't really have to be wrong. It's just a different form. And because they're not used to the different dialects, that's considered okay, that's normal.

So I think in the beginning, they should just start learning. And the more they advance, they will realize that their dialect is maybe a little bit different from another one, that they can take words from a different dialect, they can include them, they can choose which form they prefer best.

And then they construct their own form.

- I think, yeah, that's helpful. So you created a series of books. I think you said that the third one is coming out soon.

- Right.

- Swiss German for English Speakers.

- Right.

- Why did you decide to write your own books instead of using materials already out there?

- Because there is almost nothing. So you find some materials, usually the books that I've seen when I started creating material were usually for German speakers. They required at least the B1 level in high German. And that means usually until a student gets to a B1 level, either it's an intensive course or they need years.

So also in language schools, a lot of language schools, they require a B1 level at least. And I think for some people, it just doesn't make sense to go through high German first.

- Yeah…

- You could start…

- Just wastes a lot of … they have to spend a lot of time, and by the time they speak Swiss German, maybe…

- Yeah, time and money and effort. Yeah. So they start with Swiss German maybe, and then later on they can include things. So I start already in the first book, for example, when we talk about the calendar, I include high German words for the weekdays and the months. Because when they see a calendar, they will see the high German form. And they need to understand that for example, ‘Montag’ is Monday, but when they talk to someone else, they would say "Mäntig".

So we practice that in class that they are used to seeing ‘Montag’ on the paper, but then when they talk to each other, they say "Mäntig". And then in Book two a little bit more, and in Book three it's already about understanding maybe a message from someone that writes in high German, but they respond in Swiss German. And then with that, they get used to understanding.

There are also transformation rules. You can transform words from high German to

to Swiss German, not 100%, but that helps you a lot to understand the changes.

- What's an example?

- For example, house. ‘Haus’ in high German is the same. You spell it a little bit

different, but it's house. And when you transform it to Swiss German, you say

"Huus". So the AU, the combination of the AU usually changes to "UU". So if you

know that rule, you can transform "Maus".

- Oh yeah.

- Which turns into?

- "Muus".

- "Muus". Yeah, right. Okay, and then you have other words like this, prepositions, ‘auf,’ turns into ‘uuf.’

- Oh, right.

- Instead of going from high German to Swiss German, you can go the other way around. So you say the ‘uu’ turns into ‘au’ and then you go from "Huus" to "Haus".

- Oh, right. Yes. So that's really helpful for learners. As a native, you don't think about

these things. But when you're learning, you can progress much faster once you know the rules.

- Right? And then actually you're learning one language instead of two. I mean, probably they're not going to speak high German, okay, maybe with time. But at first they focus on comprehension.

So when they read a text that they receive from the government or a Gemeinde, that they at least understand what is written here, even though maybe they can't pronounce or respond.

- Right. How did you compile all these materials? So I imagine writing a whole language book from scratch must be very challenging. So how did you go about doing that?

- So it's basically thanks to my first student that asked me to do that. When she asked me, I said, "Okay, we try. I will come up with something that I think is interesting for you." Or based on what she told me about her life, things that she would need. I tried to come up with exercises, with rules.

And then you basically think about examples and then you figure out the rule. The more sentences you compare with each other, you see, okay, this could be like this. You form a kind of a rule  and then it either confirms the more examples you have or in class you see there is something you need to add, there's something you need to take out.

Maybe there is something that you skip the part and then you realize, oh no, the students struggles, and you include a new exercise. So I actually, before publishing the first book, I did the book several times with my students.

- Okay.

- And from the the draft from the very first class with my first student up to the public… when I published the book, it underwent a lot of changes. So when you compare the two forms, that's a whole world in between.

- Lots of, sort of, trial and error, experience, learning by doing.

- Absolutely.

- And so obviously you use your book together with your classes, but can someone use it without a teacher?

- Yeah, you could try. It's, the idea first was that students can use it on their own. It's quite self-explanatory, so you can do that.

You also receive, together with the book, access to a Google Drive folder. You can download there the audio files for the book, for pronunciation and exercises. You have a vocabulary list, you have the solutions, you have the transcripts, you have something like an alphabetical word list to look up words in the book.

And you also have access to flashcards. So actually you could study on your own. The advantage of having a teacher is guided learning, that you have the structure of a teacher. You can ask questions anytime. You can include things that you maybe hear on the street or when talking to other people. And that usually helps a lot. That can bring you a lot further.

- Yeah, it would make sense that then you can go back and ask your teacher if you get confused or, yes. All right, Rahel, that was really interesting. Thank you so much.

- You too.

- Tell us as a last thing, how can listeners find out about you and contact you if they're interested in either your book or your classes?

- All right. So on my website, you find all the information. It's www.swissgerman

then hyphen for ( And there you find all the information about the book, about my classes, about me.You also have a demo lesson where you can see more or less how it works.

Yeah. And anything else you can contact me by mail through the website.

- Okay, perfect. That's great. And as always, we'll link to that in the show notes

so you could just click directly.

- Perfect.

(upbeat music)

- Now, we'll speak to Sergio Lievano. Sergio is a cartoonist, creative artist and bestselling author, originally from Colombia. He has been living in Switzerland for many years and has been working for Swiss companies like Swissotel, the SBB and Syngenta. And most importantly, he has published six books in Switzerland and two in Colombia.

Sergio, welcome.

- Thank you, Kathrin. Hello. Good morning.

- Let's start by you telling us just a little bit about your expat journey and what brought you to Switzerland.

- Okay. Well, as for many, many foreigners here in Switzerland, I fell in love. I fell deeply in love with a Swiss nurse. And we were living in England, in Canterbury.

- All right, okay.

- And one day we just decided to, I was… I’m an economist, that's my education. And then one day I decided to change to be a cartoonist and my Swiss wife said, "Now that you're going to change to be a cartoonist, why don't we go to Switzerland more?"

- Oh, right, yes. It's less location-dependent.

- Yeah, it sounds very obvious. So, okay, perfect. So we came to Switzerland and I started this journey of Switzerland and Swiss German and everything that came with it, which has been amazing.

- So, presumably you didn't know any German before you came. So how did you start?

- No, no, actually I was a little bit naïve because I really, really thought that German was just German. You know, that you could find different accents like in Spanish,

that the Spanish from Ecuador, Colombia or Spain, they're different but basically the same Spanish.

So I thought that German was going to be the same. So I went to my first classes in Migros Schule and there, I mean, my wife always told me about Swiss German, but I kind of understood the concept, but I was absolutely wrong.

So when I went to Migros Schule, they made it very clear that one thing was high German and another world was the dialect that they were using.

- Yeah,

- The Swiss German. Yeah. And I say, no problem. I will start to read and learn about Swiss German.

They say, no, that's the thing. No, it's a dialect. It's not a language. It’s a dialect.

And from there things started to be very strange for me.

- Yeah, it is a bit strange if you don't know about it, right?

- Oh, absolutely. I mean, I really thought that. I really can understand it, but then people started to talk to me in Swiss German trying to help me to kind of like, synchronize my ear to the environment, if you can say it like that.

And it was not bad at the beginning. I tried to follow my wife talking and her family. But then I very, very soon realized that everyone has a different way to speak this Swiss German.

- Yeah, that's right.

- And in the same region, they have different ways to say things. So it's kind of like a roller coaster adventure in language.

- So do you think it's necessary to learn Swiss German if you want to settle for a long time in Switzerland?

- Absolutely. I think that Swiss German, I mean, although the Swiss will always tell you

as soon as you arrive to Switzerland, the Swiss are very nice, they will always tell you, ‘Look, don't worry about Swiss German. Concentrate on high German. You can move around with English, if English is your main language or you know English.’

And it's fairly true. And it's true. However, the Swiss will not push you in any moment to learn Swiss German, because there is no way to say ‘you have to learn this Swiss German or that Swiss German.’

They just assume that you will get it in the street when you go and buy things. They assume that thing.

And so I thought I was easy, perfect. So I will try to connect to that Swiss German.

However, it's very important for the foreigner that as soon as you start to use words or try to, it's kind of like an acceptance to say, ‘Okay, this is the Swiss German, this is the Swiss German world’ and people actually, because it's the language in the streets, people actually will be happy - not that you speak in Swiss German, but that you understand Swiss German, which is different but more important than to speak it.

They don't care if you don't talk Swiss German, but it's very important for them that you understand their Swiss German, because if you make them talk in high German, they're not going to be very happy. I mean, yes, it's...

- That's right, yeah. They sometimes even prefer to speak English, don't they, than high German.

- Totally. Because they know that with high German, they're going to be evaluated in a way, because of their high German knowledge. But with English, when you use English good or bad, it doesn't matter, but they make themselves better understood. So yeah, absolutely.

-  So do you think Swiss German is quite hard to learn or a little bit easier than high German?

- It depends on the groups where you are. I mean, it depends on the people around you. It depends how active you are in Switzerland.

Before I arrived, there was no really good books about Swiss German. To be fair, the books that I found about Swiss German were written by kind of academic people. It was more like dictionaries. There's nice red books with a lot of words there and everything like that, but nothing to tell you, "Hey, don't worry. This cannot be that difficult.”

So it was a little bit difficult for me. Of course, I'm a cartoonist, so my interaction with people has been always very, very little. I basically sit down and draw, so I don't have a face-to-face. I don't go a lot to talk to people and things like that.

But the people I met that they immediately interact with the Swiss German world, they connect with the language very fast and it happens something very unique, very, very nice there.

Unfortunately, I was not in that, I didn't have that opportunity.

- Right, so people who maybe spend more time with others or with natives, they'll have a much easier time picking it up.

- Totally, absolutely. I mean, Swiss German, you can only learn Swiss German going out, talking, asking for things, going to Migros to buy the bread because the woman at the till will say the price to you, how much you have to pay, and you absolutely are not going to understand what she's saying. And even if you say, "Please, again," and she's saying again with the same tone, with the same speed, and you still don't know, but the more you are outside there interacting, the better.

But books, it's a key thing. I mean, if you find like the books I did, the Survival Guide that I call, because it's something that really, really needs to be there. It helps you to say, "Ah, what I'm saying is more or less this."

- So, you think a mix of actually speaking to people, but then also going home and having a look at the books and thinking about it. So that would be the easiest way. Is that how you would start? So if you were to come again to Switzerland as a brand

new expat, what would you do or what would you do differently to make it easy for yourself to learn German, Swiss German?

- I mean, of course, I'm the author of a great Survival Guide, which is great

because I love it. So maybe it's biased what I'm saying, but if I had  to come back, I would get a book like this one. There's something that I say to you, "Don't worry, look, the easy things, if you want to say hello, this is the way, normal way to say hello, but this is also another way."

Or if you want to say a little phrase to be polite, then say this, say that. So basically, if you start to understand these words, these sentences, these key things. And then you come to Switzerland or you start to interact in Switzerland and then you realize that, that is not that difficult, that it’s not that weird, then it's a big, big help. It's a really, really big help.

- Right. So get some context before you even move maybe or just right away.

- Yeah, I mean, the important thing is to come here with, with just the heart of getting involved with the Swiss German and everything like that. Not, not contact. I mean, if you can get books to help a little bit, great. But the only way to, that helps is to be in the streets to talk with people, to interact with the Migros lady, although you don't understand what they're saying, which today I still struggle, but that's another story.

- But over time it gets easier, I suppose, the more you interact. So just put yourself out there in a way.

- Yeah, I met a bartender. I mean, he’s from Norway and he said that he arrived, he told me that he arrived to Switzerland three months ago. But the guy was working in front of the bar and talking to people in Swiss German. And although he was not very fluent according to him because I didn't really get it, but he was really swimming.

No, he was perfect, he said to me ‘Look, talk to people, interact to people, you need to get to a place where you can be, you can just interact, interact with all these things.’

Which is beautiful because nowadays people are not interacting that much, so it's a … German in a way, it's making you go out and enrich people.

- Yeah, exactly. So even maybe as you said, a job is a good idea like that being a… that bartender or something that's very people focused. But I suppose if you don't have a job

like that, you could also do it with just everyday interactions, maybe volunteering or joining a group or something.

- Yes, yes. One thing that I discovered in Switzerland is that people actually like to talk a lot. It's just that they are reserved. They kind of like, I mean, they have this face, this poker face that you that yeah, they like… like actually, in a way, ‘Don't talk to me,’ but if you interact with anyone my experience is that people actually talk to you, that they actually like to talk to you.

You cannot just jump on top of them or you cannot invade their space, but if you say something funny or something polite they would react to that what you say. In my experience Swiss Germans, they really talk. I mean, they're really actually polite, very, very nice.

- Yeah, if you approach them politely or have something just about the circumstance to say.

- Yes. So that's a nice experience. Of course, I have been always a little bit shy when it comes to people outside. But people talk to me. I draw a lot in coffee places. I like to put my papers and pencils and actually people come around, they see what I’m doing, they say two or three things.

There was this nice old man that he brought me, the next day he saw me, he brought me his collection of pencils drawing pencils.

And he said, "Look, maybe this can help you." And things like that. I'm like, "Oh, thank you."

- So, tell us a little bit more about the books and the work you do and why specifically you decided to write books about Swiss German.

- Well, as I was telling you, I was in Migros Schule, so I mean, I decided… I love drawing. I mean, in Barcelona I was studying comic strips and cartoons and all this world of humour in illustrations.

And so when I came to Switzerland, I kind of connected with the first thing that I did, was to connect to this, to learn German in Switzerland. And I'm not a very good student. I have to admit that I have a problem learning at school because I, what's the word,

fiddle. I cannot concen…, I have to have to do something meanwhile, I'm in class, so I drew a lot during those times.

So I drew my German class, my German teacher, I drew my experience, and slowly, slowly as I was working on the high German things, a book came, I mean a book about the struggles of a foreigner learning high German in a Swiss German world.

- Okay, yes.

- And that helped me to... I mean, my wife, bless her, she's very, very nice. She took all the manuscript and she sent it to several publishers and Bergli Books, they love it.

They love the concept and everything like that. But they said, "Can you do it more about Swiss German than the struggles between high German and Swiss German?"

So like, yeah, perfect, no problem. And that my, I mean, Swiss German has been in my life all the time, I mean, since I'm here, Swiss German has been a very, very important part of the puzzle, of my personality puzzle.

And it's not because I talk Swiss German, but because Swiss German has opened me great things, drawings, illustrations, and these books, I mean, when I finished the first book, when that Bergli asked me, Bergli books was a little bit hesitant how people would react to that because Swiss German is something very personal for the Swiss.

- Yeah.

- Sorry.

- Can you just tell me which book that was, or tell us?

- Yes, it's "Hoi". The first one was called Hoi - Your Swiss German Survival Guide.

- Okay, okay. Just to be clear which one it is, that's it.

- So that was the first one.

So the first one we published and at the time the publisher was not sure what's going to happen, but in the first three to four months all the printing went. There was a very big sale. Everyone really loved it. There was a big connection. So it was great. So they never expected this reaction because the way it was built, it was like what I was telling you, it's just not a dictionary, which it has a dictionary at the end.

But it was more like, what to say when you say hello, when you say bye bye, when you fall in love, when you want to go with friends, what to say when you go to the train station, how to… the tickets, all these type of things.

And it was drawn in such a nice way. You know, the problem with academic books about languages is that it's, I mean, boring in a way because they put photographs, they put people smiling and things like that.

- Staged. It's very staged.

- Yeah. Totally. So what I said now, I have to... So I did a crit… a funny, but a critique to the Swiss mentality, mixed with learning Swiss German. Me in a way as a victim of what was happening. And the result of that combination and the fact that Nicole Egger, which I haven't mentioned, but Nicole was my German teacher at the time.

She studied languages in the Zurich University. And when I asked her to help me with the Swiss German, she was totally on board. She was really, really excited with the idea of creating this book and… and it could have never happened if it was because Nicole  was really in tune with, ‘Okay, let's do this Swiss-German world.’

So we basically, we both were very nice to make this happen.

- Right. And then you have a second book, The Indispensable Illustrated Dictionary to Swiss-German. And that's more of a word list, but presented very differently to dictionaries, isn't it? It's by topic.

- Yeah, I mean I didn't mention that because “Hoi” was a very big success. It was done between English and Swiss German. So they say, “Okay, now, let's do one for High German to Swiss German”.

- Okay.

- So in that one highlights better my struggles between Swiss German and High German. So it's very good. It’s called Hoi Zäme.

And then we did a French version.

- So French to Swiss German.

- Exactly, French to Swiss German. So with all this “Hoi” saga, we managed to sell more than 50,000 copies together. So it was a great, great, great success. After that, we sat down with my publisher and editor and they say, "No, let's work in something more visual, more that helps people in a more visual way, not so many texts.”

Because in “Hoi”, we tell the story about Swiss German, where it comes, the different variations. We went a lot through the grammatics, how people use the verbs and how people use the adjectives and things like that.

In this one, we left that apart and we concentrate in words, basically the words. But then the idea was to do great big illustrations. So we did great, great illustrations.

And in those illustrations, we start to mention, well, this is a pencil, and this is a book, and this is a boy, and this is a girl, and so on.

- Right, yes, exactly. And that's how it's structured.

- Yeah. And the result was great because then it was not replacing the other one. It was kind of complementing the other one.

- And the idea is that people would use them potentially together.

- Exactly. Exactly.

Going back to your question, what I would do if I have to return to Switzerland, certainly these two books together would really, would have helped me a lot.

- I think it says 3,000 words inside the dictionary, so that's obviously amazing and I just want to highlight two quite amusing ones. So the first one is the eternal "Chuchichäschtli". Tell us a little bit about that.

- Well, one of the things that you will find when you arrived to Switzerland is that you're going to find, it's kind of like you waiting for the first person that mentioned "Chuchichäschtli" to you.

- You're doing it very well, so you've clearly spent some time on it. It's quite challenging, isn't it?

- Totally. But what I managed to, but of course, very soon after I arrived everyone was like, "Oh, please say “Chuchichäschtli”. Say it again, say it again.

You have to say that. Do you know what it means? Do you really know what it means?”

- And what does it mean?

- Like kitchen cupboard.

- That's right.

- Little kitchen cupboard.

- That's right. Or cabinet. Yeah, exactly.

- Which is beautiful because then I learned something. Then I learned that Swiss German and Spanish, or at least Colombian Spanish, has something very, very similar.

You know, like there's a little link, which is, we use diminutives a lot.

- Oh, yeah. The “li” in Swiss German. It's “li”. Yeah.

- Exactly. So it's beautiful because the Swiss German, I mean, the Germans don't do it so much, but the Swiss Germans, they use the “li” a lot.

And you can, and I really understand why they use the “li” is to make it friendly, to make it, to simplify things, to make it cozy in a way.

And Colombians or the Spanish that we use in Latin America, because let's not talk about Colombia, Latin America, the “ito” or “ita,” which is at the end of the word, if you say, let's have a coffee, you say, “Tomemos un café.”

But if you say, “Tomemos un cafecito”, then it sounds so nice. Doesn't sound that it's going to be very complicated. It's sort of--

- That's right.

- The Spanish will not, people from Spain, they will not do that. They can do it, but they will not do that because the Spanish from Spain has a different structure.

And it's very nice that, that was my very happy surprise.

- Yes, that Swiss German has it as well. Yeah.

- Exactly. It's beautiful, beautiful.

- Then another one that I… I went through all the words myself just to have a look. And one that I was surprised at was "Chröttäpösche", because I didn't know what that meant.

And you know, I'm Swiss, I grew up speaking Swiss German and I was like, "Why is that… there a word in there in my native language that I don't know?"

And it turns out that it means "dandelion", right? And there are so many words for that, that some of the Swiss will use a completely different word for that.

So, "Chröttapösche" and "Chrott" that's a toad. And then in my Bernese dialect, we would say "Söiblueme". So that's "pigflower". And then in German, like standard German, you say "Löwenzahn", so "lion’s tooth".

So you've got this one flower and three animals associated with it just in German. So I found that just quite interesting to also mention.

- It is it is a challenge. Of course, that was the concern of my first… the first time I, we

came out with this book that people will react negative to the words.

No, said no, in… in Bern we say this or in Basel we say that or in St Gallen and so and so. But, but we never received any comment, any bad comment about the book. Is kind of like saying, “Oh yes, yes, this is… is used in this place, but not, we don't say it like that.”

Like 'Hoi', for example. Hoi is used.

- Not everybody says it like that, but…

- Exactly. Or other people say 'Salut', no?

- Yeah, we say that in Bern because we're quite close to the French-speaking part, so some of our words are like French, so we might say 'Salut'.

- So people say that 'Hoi' is not very used here. Is it okay?

But it's not an issue. And that was the beautiful part that these books tend to not to impose a language or not to impose a dialect is kind of like… help everyone.

- Yes. And even the Swiss can find something to learn inside the book. So that's interesting. Yeah. So just as a final question, how can people find you and connect with you if they want to maybe ask you a question or buy your books. What's the best way?

- Well, my books can be bought in all the bookshops in Switzerland, very likely in all the main buildings, I mean the landmarks around Switzerland. They have always shops and my books will be always there.

But in Orell Füssli, you can buy, in Ex Libris, you can buy it in all these books… Online.

People can just type my name, Sergio Lievano, and just Google it and everything will appear there, all my books, my work.

I'm very welcome to receive critics and comments. I actually enjoy that very much. So people are very welcome to send me a message and everything. But just Google my website, is Sergio J Lievano, all together dot com ( and with that you can see my work and my links and everything.

- And of course all that will also be in the show notes, so you can just check out the show notes of this episode.

- Oh great, great.

- All right, that's it for today. So thanks once again to Rahel and Sergio for joining us and to you for listening. We'll include links in the show notes to our two guests and to further materials about some of the topics that we've spoken about today.

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