GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – In fact, I, the editor was too cautious! For the past six years I have been insisting, with everyone I meet, that GenevaLunch exists because of a strong need for news in English in the Lake Geneva region and the rest of Switzerland because there are at least half a million people who speak English regularly in this country, a large number of them in western Switzerland.
It turns out there are some 739,000 of us.
The census bureau has measured this for the first time, and today the Federal Statistical Office published the 2010 figures that show 4.1 percent of the resident population calling itself fluent in English: we think in the language and consider that we have mastered it. But a much larger group, 16.5 percent of the working population, speaks English regularly at work.
A crucial point is who these people are: some are of course expatriates from English-speaking countries, but this is a minority. Look at the numbers:
- 513,775 Swiss use English at school or on the job
- 166,000 foreigners come from the European Union (Ireland and England are the only 2 English as main language countries)
- 14,000 from elsewhere in Europe
- 44,000 from outside Europe (US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, etc.).
GenevaLunch was created to provide news for the international population in Switzerland, broadly defined as anyone who uses English regularly, as well as for Swiss English-speakers. Many of the latter are Swiss who have traveled widely, or who work in international companies or attend Swiss universities, and they want to maintain a certain level of English. A demonstration of the real need for quality news in English is that we now have 105,000 pages viewed monthly, all this by word of mouth since, as a small non-profit community service organization we spend almost nothing on marketing.
A word in support of WRS here, which provides news and other programming in English for Switzerland: the public radio station is being threatened with closure by its parent, Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, which must make cutbacks. The station has support from what is generally considered the expat population, but the Swiss would do well to reflect for a moment on how many Swiss people also need to hear English regularly, given its importance to the economy.
The international population includes people who have lived in Switzerland for years, many of whom are fluent in German, French or Italian. We provide news with a different slant from Swiss media; we don’t replace newspapers or radio or TV in French, but we supplement it and help people who are still trying to improve their Swiss languages skills by making it easier to follow the story in another language.
The 2010 census survey covering language and religion covers permanent residents of Switzerland:
• foreigners with a residence or work permit for at least 12 months: B, C or Foreign Affairs pass (international organization workers, diplomats and their families)
• foreigners with short-term stay permits with a cumulative time of more than 12 months
• registered asylum seekers (F or N) who have been resident in Switzerland for at least 12 months.