So you’re thinking of learning Italian, but have a desire to go somewhere other than Italy. Italy, of course, is the heart of the Italian language, but that’s where everyone goes to learn Italian. Why not Switzerland?
While the main languages spoken in Switzerland are Swiss, German, and French, 8.1% of the population actually speaks Italian as their first and main language. In Ticino and the four southern valleys of Canton Gaubunden, Italian is the madrelingua.
Sound like your kind of adventure? Read on for tips for planning a trip to learn Italian in Switzerland.
The majority of Italian courses in Switzerland are taught by language schools and academies.
Courses are generally offered in two formats:
- One-on-one/individual sessions
- Group sessions
The duration of each course varies anywhere from 1 to 24 weeks -- or possibly even longer -- depending on the school and course.
Some courses are full-time; others are part-time. Other academies aim for a full immersion experience for their students.
The course types are generally tailored from beginner to very advanced based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:
- A1: Beginner
- A2: Elementary
- B1: Intermediate
- B2: Upper intermediate
- C1: Advanced
- C2: Mastery/proficiency
Typically, you'll find options for adults (18+) or teens. Teens and adults aren't usually placed together in the same class.
Where to Go
While you can find language academies in main cities like Basel, Geneva, and Zurich, the best place to study Italian in Switzerland is the canton of Ticino.
Located in southern Switzerland on the border with Italy, you really feel as if you’ve stepped into a new country the moment you enter this region. It is a land of contrasts: the majestic peaks of the Swiss Alps, the beautiful lakes, and the verdant valleys make this one of the most beautiful parts of Switzerland. It's also the canton where Italian is the dominant language
The main three places to study in Ticino are:
A medieval town that is, in its essence, Italian, Bellinzona is known for castles and fortifications -- many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Found on the northern shore of Lago (Lake) Maggiore, Locarno has the balmiest climate in the entire country. Stroll through the narrow streets, underneath the palm trees and lemon trees, and you’ll definitely enjoy the Mediterranean flair of this Swiss city.
In addition to being the largest city in Ticino, Lugano is also one of the most picturesque. It borders Lake Lugano, has a gorgeous promenade, and delivers the perfect mixture of culture and small town charm.
Planning Your Trip
Available accommodations vary by school and academy, but they usually include the following options:
- Homestays: The best way to learn a language and soak up a culture is to be fully immersed in it. You’ll find that many programs offer homestay options. They cost about 300-350 CHF (Swiss francs) per week.
- Hotels: For shorter courses, you might have the option to stay in a nearby hotel. These can cost anywhere from 70-100 CHF per night.
- Private apartments: Some schools have apartment options available as well. They can cost as much or more than a homestay, averaging about 615 CHF (or more) every two weeks.
Citizens from the U.S. or Canada are not required to have visas if they are entering Switzerland and planning for staying there for up to 90 days. If you are a Canadian or American citizen and are planning on staying for more than 90 days, however, a visa is required.
The course costs vary depending on the location and course duration, but expect to pay anywhere from 175 CHF to 2,000 CHF for your tuition and fees. Note that housing costs are usually separate. Students should expect to pay around 1,200 CHF monthly for food and upkeep as well as transportation and insurance, among other daily expenses.