for Belgians and Swiss, a matter of multilingualism

Thirty-five times selected for the Swiss team between 1998 and 2008, tenured against England at Euro 2004, Fabio Celestini had an honorable international career. A fortiori when we know that his level of college student in German did not allow him to understand in detail the instructions of the coach. “Frankly, during the seven years with Köbi Kuhn, I did not understand anything from his pre-match talks”, admits the former midfielder of the Olympique de Marseille. The language barrier in the national team? “For you French, Spanish or Italians, it seems surprising. But when you’re Swiss, you know that’s how it is, so you get on with it ”, sweeps the native of Lausanne, French-speaking and Italian-speaking.

Now a trainer in Lucerne, a club in German-speaking Switzerland, Celestini has learned German. But, at the time, failing to master the language of Goethe, the Romand player had developed his understanding of signs: “When the manager spoke to me in German, even though I couldn’t hear his words, I deciphered what he meant by the tone of his voice and by his body language. At worst, if I wanted to ask for details, I went to his assistant, Michel Pont, who spoke[ait] French. “

Selected 82 times with Switzerland at the same time as Celestini, Patrick Müller had the advantage of being bilingual in French and German in a mostly German-speaking locker room. The former Olympique Lyonnais defender remembers card games between French-speaking, German-speaking and Ticino teammates. “Even if we didn’t all speak the same language, we managed to understand each other”, assures the native of Geneva, of Austrian ancestry on his father’s side.

Juggle languages

At Euro 2021, in the Nati group, the German-speaking majority is overwhelming. And the few Romand players (French-speaking, therefore) selected – Kevin Mbabu, Denis Zakaria, Becir Omeragic, Jordan Lotomba, Yvon Mvogo, Edimilson Fernandes – all play (or have evolved) either in the German championship, or in the clubs of German-speaking Switzerland.

Even among the German-speaking Swiss, Swiss particularism requires adaptation: to make themselves understood by French-speaking and Ticinese interlocutors, they must switch between the Swiss German dialect and standard German (that we speak in Germany and that we written in German-speaking Switzerland). “The players are used to making this effort. Most play in the Bundesliga. They can speak German very well, but it is not their natural language, notes the French-speaking journalist Valentin Schnorhk, who writes for the Geneva Tribune and for The morning, among others. Sometimes, we ask questions at a press conference, and they respond by reflex in Swiss German, before correcting themselves in Hochdeutsch, the “good German”. “

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