Language teaching

Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Therefore, in a multilingual country, the coordination of language teaching is particularly important. In March 2004, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education adopted a national strategy for further development of language teaching. The most important contents of the strategy are incorporated into the Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement):

  • Two foreign languages (a second national language and English) are taught from primary school level onwards.

  • Teaching of the first foreign language begins in primary school grade 3 at the latest (grade 5 according to the HarmoS counting method*) and the second foreign language in primary school grade 5 at the latest (grade 7 according to the HarmoS counting method*).

  • The cantons Ticino and Grisons can deviate from this staggered arrangement if they teach a third national language as a compulsory subject.

  • Which language is to be taught first is coordinated regionally.

  • The national educational standards define the fundamental competences which must be achieved by all pupils.

  • During compulsory education, needs-oriented optional teaching in a third national language is provided.

Supportive measures in the language of instruction are provided for children who are native speakers of foreign languages and these children are given the option of attending courses in their language and culture of origin.


The cornerstones of the 2004 language teaching strategy have been introduced in 23 cantons: in 22 cantons children learn the first foreign language from grade 3 of primary school at the latest, and the second from the grade 5 of primary school at the latest. The canton of Ticino requires pupils to learn three compulsory foreign languages and thus has its own model.

* New method of counting educational levels according to the HarmoS Agreement: The HarmoS Agreement (article 6) prescribes a two year pre-school attendance. Thus, compulsory education lasts 11 years. Kindergarten and primary level last 8 years. Lower secondary level lasts 3 years. According to this counting method, grade 1 of primary school becomes grade 3, grade 2 becomes grade 4 and so on. This is to be implemented by the start of the 2015/2016 school year at the latest.

This page in: Deutsch Français Italiano Rumantsch

Last update of this page: 27.08.2018

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