by the Geneva Department of Public Education, CIP and

Geneva University, Teaching Technologies Unit, TECFA


Language Learning in Switzerland

A few words about the Swiss Educational system is perhaps in order, to understand the difficulties met by any comprehensive overview. Made up of 26 states (cantons) with quite a lot of independence as regards education policies in one hand, and, having four official languages to deal with, it is no mystery that as soon as one tries to evaluate global access to study and learning tools, one encounters a plurality of peculiarities and of solutions imagined to respond to this situation.

To take the issue of language learning (LL) issue, the practice of a second language is, as a matter of fact, pretty much ingrained into the educational system. Namely, French and German are each other's second language for most of the Swiss going through school and University. And this situation is reproduced between Italian and French, or between German and Italian.

Making the picture even more complex, the growing penetration of English as a de facto trans-national idiom to be taught at an early stage, is still not recognised as a priority by the public school system. It is only perhaps at the college and University levels as well as in continuing education that the necessity of additional training in a trans-national language is felt as a necessity.

This important fragmentation of the language learning educational demand - and, for that matter, offer - explains largely why Switzerland, at least as far as this study has managed to analyse it, is faced with a double handicap.

1 The unequal statistical weight of each language spoken in the country induces a corresponding inequality in access of LL material and bound to this situation, the relative and low-level critical mass of each linguistic region, explains why most, if not all, of the available material is radically dependent on foreign providers. German-speaking Swiss students will naturally buy most of their LL material (whether printed or electronic or network-based) in Germany, and the same scheme applies to an even higher extent to the French and Italian-speaking regions.

2 The prominent places where some productive effort is being encouraged - and possible - are higher education state-run institutions, in very specialised niches (we have fond only a couple of example, as yet), be it in normal schooling or in the world of research and development in Academies. Moreover, the results of these R&D efforts or not aimed at a grand scale distribution, since there is no big enough market to sustain it.

A further example of these difficulties in the field of foreign language teaching, is showed by the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne who has very recently decided to commit it's whole LL department to outside private sub-contractors...

These elements explains why this report can only be very patchy, as any study that tries to have a nation-wide point of view education and training in a multi-cultured country. We will therefor seek to give a snap-shot of the situation as regards multi-media and network-based LL material and providers in Switzerland.

A Word on the Authors and their Institutions

Raymond Morel is the Director of the Educational Technology Centre (C.I.P.) of the Department for Public Education (DIP) of Geneva. This centre is operated by teachers and specialists for the development and implementation of new technology activities as well as for applying new technology and electronic networking in learning and training. The range of services provided supports all actors of the teaching community.

P. Dunand Filliol is research associate at TECFA is an academic unit active in the field of educational technology. It belongs to the School of Psychology and Education (Faculté de Psychologie et des Sciences de l'Education) of the University of Geneva. It is directed by Professor Patrick Mendelsohn and includes about 12 collaborators. TECFA's research covers a large area of interests, including: cognitive issues in learning technology, applications of artificial intelligence to education, cognitive effects of educational software, computer mediated communication and information systems in education, multimedia courseware, and distance education.

1 Overview of TEL*LINGUA

The objective is to have an inventory of available electronic and digital resource (Internet servers) to be able to make them available to the users of the G7 Pilot server. The data gathered must be usable for tans-cultural language learning. The following servers have been analysed:

The fields studies can vary wildly: educational systems (in order to facilitate exchanges and mobility), work and living conditions, geography, history, tourism, law, economics, cultural heritage, terminology, etc. all have been deemed suitable subject within this framework.

2 Methodology

Let us outline the procedures used.

1 Designated National Co-ordinators from the different participating countries will write a "national" report and synthesis of the state of the art.

2 A second approach is to write to persons within identified networks, such as book shops specialised in ICTs. They are asked about either data or database references (server-based) or even about additional contact persons susceptible of giving such information.

3. A last procedure is to perform a search on the WEB, on the basis of the information gathered through the informers of point 2 and additional data known by the national co-ordinator, which may provide additional links to other resources. With the further help of WEB search engines, still more relevant information can be gathered for a better description of available resources.

3 The Work Packages

Switzerland has committed itself only to the WP 4 and 8, within a very short time span that means that is study seeks to illustrate both content providers (WP 4) as well as the identification of existing/upcoming databases and resources (WP 8).

To follow the guidelines proposed by the project, the material considered relevant for this study includes materials, documents, software and methods for teaching and learning as well as texts giving cultural and scientific information. Wherever we could identify these, we list and quote existing national or international activities. To be added to these, we mention the existence of new projects or plans for innovative efforts in LL software. Hybrid teaching and learning practice such as distance education efforts including an important dimension of foreign language use or new twists given to old uses, like a networked dictionary, including a played-back pronunciation of the words are worth mentioning as signs of the future dimensions of the application of true multimedia technology in language learning matters.

4 Content Providers and Suppliers & Identification of existing/upcoming databases and resources (WP 4 and WP 8)

4.1 Products

4.1.1 On-line Products

The offer in this line of products is essentially based on databases of products, off-the-shelf, so as to say, to be ordered from distributors or sellers. For obvious reason of royalties, there is little direct access to actual LL tools on the NET, except through big teaching institutions like Universities and/or Public Research Institutes.

Moreover, most of the links we managed to visit, propose links to server outside of Switzerland. In France for French resources and, respectively, in Germany for German speaking dictionaries, etc.


The ECOLE POLYTHECHNIQUE DE LAUSANNE or Institute of Technology in Lausanne (French speaking).

...EF BRIDGE: "Talking and Expandable HyperSurfing English - French Dictionary with Contexts ":


is a private Internet provider who just began to build a (free) multilingual list of expressions and quotations, that even includes translations in Russian. The page is a mere list of a few words, promising more to come, obviously as a way of attracting more customers to the site.

4.1.2 Miscellaneous cultural materials (libraries and museums)


We consulted the home page of the library of the Geneva University Institute for Interpreters and translators which contains a short list of CD-ROMs related to translation, interpretation but no material on LL.

Museums on line in Switzerland offer a surprisingly dry and severe interface with preciously little on-line information. No LL-bound material was found to date.

4.1.3 Information's on existing products

Under the heading of information on activities carried out by organisations or associations, The UNIVERSITY OF ST GALLEN on its page

proposes a series of dictionaries... through links that point to major foreign servers in Finland, UK, Germany, France and the US.


A major Swiss newspaper publisher, Ringier Inc. has an outstanding and regularly up-dated web site on news, sports, health, cultural and political events of interest in Switzerland and elsewhere. Additionally, it publishes regular ratings of new WEB sites, nationally and internationally on a wide range of subjects, including schools on-line, language immersion projects, cinema, ethnic events, etc.

It is worth noticing that this same site is also animating and running forums on the issues raised by important/relevant news about the growth, evolution and development of the WEB within the Swiss context: this site is called the "green window" (mostly in French). It is fueled by regular articles by it's Web Master and journalist (giussani@webdo.ch) and offers a choice of interesting material to explore trans-cultural issues raised by the use and development of the WEB, in a stimulating attempt to interface global information with local preoccupations and impact. The following site, add on this preoccupation by promoting the use of local languages on the WEB:


This site includes an interesting link to a server (based in Canada) called Centre for the Development of the Information Highway in French, promoting the use of French-speaking internet tools and sites (http://www.cidif.org/; Centre pour le développement de l'inforoute en français). A welcome idea as an exercise for the practice of French as second language...


is devoted to bringing together information about the languages of the world. The language resources listed here come from all around the world, and range from dictionaries to language tutorials to spoken samples of languages.

4.1.4 Off-line Products

This chapter ought to covers the offer in CD-ROMs. This market is, in Switzerland, dominated by European or American providers, for the reasons already invoked in our introduction: small size of the market, multiplicity of languages spoken, emphasis of potential providers on other fields than LL.

This field is too large to be covered with any efficiency within this report, as there is - as yet - no national survey available on the state of the electronic multi-media market in Switzerland.

4.2 Providers

4.2.1 Publishers and distributors

This survey, based both on personal reference and on WEB searches, is a further sign of the wide availability of international electronic-media-based material. And the servers are also, as a matter of fact, organised according to linguistic regions, with a clear dominance of German-speaking servers.

We shall quote here a choice of the most prominent commercial distributors/providers present on the network aimed at the Swiss market.

CD-ROM JAKOB: provider for resellers and large companies. It offers both hardware and software around CD-ROM technology. As a part of it's general policy, it also offers consultancy and solutions for multiplication and access. The LL learning offer is not presented as a specialised chapter.


is a distributor of electronic media who covers a very wide range of CD-ROMs including in the field of LL. Distributes Syracuse, Bertelsmann, Berlitz products. No on-line modules for testing or even browsing is offered. No excessive effort is made to offer more than a simple list of the available material.

CD-ROM SHOP NYFFENEGGER above, is a comprehensive network-based catalogue, with a pretty comprehnesive offer of eletronic material in LL, dictionnaries, general cultural material, all bound to LL.

4.2.2 Bookshops on line

The sites visited are mainly well (or less well) organised catalogues of products, that can be ordered electronically. We shall quote two of them, one for each of the main linguistic regions of Switzerland:


This bookshop, specialised in computer sciences resources, offer a site with a humorous graphical interface. It offers a limited choice of LL aids on CD-ROM technology. Elipse has been one of our major informant for this study on resources in the CD-ROM market in Switzerland.

On the question of the quality of the actual offer, he has emphasised on the fact that too many of these CDs are mere reproduction on an electronic medium of book-based courses and that the technology remains to be illustrated by true innovative efforts for an effective use of interactive multi-media.


Is a German-speaking bookshop with a pretty classical site showing a mere catalogue of CD-ROMs, with links to language learning material (dictionaries, ESL package, etc.). An order form is included.


This company is a prominent cartographer with a comprehensive offer of road maps on CD-ROM and well as traditional maps.

BUECHER UND MEDIEN MARKT, is a web site consisting of a search tool on books, bookshops, products over a comprehensive catalogue (260'000 entries) of the "Swiss Book Centre". An interesting example of a specialised search engine.

4.2.3 Specialised Centres

a) Private Centres

The 1% for culture of the MIGROS.

In Switzerland a major food distributor (MIGROS Genossenschaft AG) is since a long time involved in continuing education, reserving 1% of its income in culture and education. A good part of this financial commitment concentrates on affordable language learning resources. The MIGROS network sites are basically showing their LL courses offer, without any direct (or advertised) use of digital tools or CD-ROMs.

b) Public Resource Centres

Under this heading, we would like to quote public resource centres that offer LL courses, on an academic or continuing education basis. This will not include resource centres for the training of language teachers.

The UNIVERSITY OF LAUSANNE has a comprehnesive course of Spanish as second language, for University students in Arts. This course relies on language immersion travelling to complete the necessarily patchy learning of a foreign language outside of it's cultural area.


The Swiss Federal Office for Arts & Crafts, Trade and Employment has a pretty conservatively organised site, that lists, by domain, the current offer in professional/occupational training and continuing education. This directory merely lists LL resources without any pointer on means and/or technologies used.

c) Distance Education Centres


This site merits a special mention as a virtual language centre, offering a wide range of resources on-line in relation with seven languages (including Hebrew) and with links to networks on education, culture and LL sites. It offers a variety of links to interactive databases, gopher servers, etc. It also represent one of the liveliest interactive WEB interface encountered during the research phase of this project, with plenty to learn cleverly put in mind-savvy bits.

d) Forums

SWISS FORUM FOR MIGRATION STUDIES (FSM Forum Suisse pour l'Etude des Migrations)

A special mention goes as well to this Forum, sheltered by the University of Neuchâtel and various NGOs, associated with the UN. This site has a search tool on Forums, programs, resources, courses and studies related to migrations. It's "The World-Wide Web Virtual Library Migration and Ethnic Relations" is a rich source for literature on language and migrations and points to world-wide links on these matters.

Another WEB forum, based, in Switzerland, is the


...a European federation of national higher educational associations for the study of English. The Society endeavours to reflect the cultural and geographical diversity of Europe in its institutions. It seeks to advance the education of the public by promoting the European study and understanding of English languages, literature in English and cultures of English-speaking peoples.

Let's quote its aims:

- arrange regular conferences for those researching and teaching English languages, literature in English and cultures of English-speaking peoples in Europe;

- foster research-networks in specialist topics which will bring together higher education teachers, scholars and writers and facilitate intellectual co-operation. A scholarly journal, to be called EJES, is projected for the near future.

- provide an information network, in the form of a newsletter (The Messenger), about matters related to English studies in Europe, such as curriculum developments, national conferences, specialised research projects.

4.2.4 Research Centres

We shall quote here a number of academic resource centres that are involved in language learning matters.

IRDP, INSTITUT DE RECHERCHE ET DOCUMENTATION PEDAGOGIQUE (Institute for Research and Documentation on Pedagogy)

This Institute, part of the Neuchâtel University has a section devoted to second language learning (SLL) and inter-cultural education. The project includes a dimension on "accompanying innovation in bi-lingual education".


This centre offers a unique on-line language dictionary that pronounces the words found out, called the DICOvox. Additionally, it offers an on-line translator synthesising the pronunciation and reading of written texts in French (FIPSvox). LATL's research activities are focused on the following domains:

- treatment of natural language (analysis, generation and translation), whether in writing or spoken;

- interactive aids for translators (dictionnaries, sentence analysis and automatic translation) and

- developing cognitive models of syntactic analysis.


This centre has three main project themes that are of importance to TEL*LINGUA-related material :

- Semantics and Pragmatics of Language (on the role of the beliefs and intentions of participants in a dialogue for proper understanding of the dialogue);

- Language Corpora (collection of textual corpora and their use as well as projects on language analysis tools);

- Evaluation of Emerging Language Processing Systems.

The ISSCO is further involved in the "European Corpus Initiative Multilingual Corpus I (ECI/MCI) CD". «ECI was founded to oversee the acquisition and preparation of a large multilingual corpus and supports existing and projected national and international efforts to carefully design, collect and publish large-scale multilingual written and spoken corpora.»

«ECI has produced a multilingual 98 million word corpus (ECI/MCI) covering most of the major European languages, as well as Turkish, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Malay and more. The primary focus in this effort is on textual material of all kinds, including transcriptions of spoken material.»


As we are writing this report, the Swiss Telecom have announced their arrival as an Internet provider. To do so, they have launched their so-called BLUE WINDOW. This site which is barely a few days old is a repertory of addresses, a little bit like the Yellow Pages for the phone book. Under the heading of CD-ROMs we find 16 entries (some of which are described here). As a matter of fact, none of them is specifically based on LL material.

The time is missing to give a detailed report of this site, but it is worth mentioning, since it testifies of a nation-wide effort to organise the access to WEB sites, on the basis of subject area, and domain of interest.

5 As a Conclusion

Let us quote from the summary of a research project led by Ms. Claire de Goumoens at the IRDP, mentioned above. She talks about schools but we feel that this obviously applies to the global information society such as the one the TEL*LINGUA project is hoping for :

«Today's multicultural society is emphasising plurilingualism. Indeed, opening a newspaper is enough to realise that most jobs opportunities insist on mastering several languages. However, despite the steady increase of bilingual pupils at school, plurilingualism is still not easily integrated to the Swiss school system.

It is time today to break with the monocultural tradition in schools and to look for new ways. Today, different experiments try to depart from monolingualism by recognizing, in the school, the diversity of the languages spoken by the pupils and by giving to these languages a space to be expressed in. Furthermore, many researches show the psychological and social interest of such experiments.

Hence, we are entering a new period in which old concepts are shaken and lead to new experiments. In these times of mutation it seems essential that the different protagonists of the school system should have the opportunity to make themselves heard and to share in the same reflection. At the conference which lead to the publishing of this brochure, experiences and researches have been presented to a public coming from various horizons (teachers, parents, politicians, school authorities, researchers, and so on). All have collected material to try, together, to draw new perspectives.»

6 A Bibliographical Pointer

Lieti, Anna, Pour une education bilingue; Guide de survie a l'usage des petits Européens. Lausanne: Petite Bibliothèque Payot, 1991.

Pierre Dunand Filliol, TECFA

Raymond Morel, CIP

This document is regularily updated during the period of the research project (August 96 to December 96). Inquiries, commentrs, suggestions and additions are very welcome : send a word (dunand@uni2a.unige.ch or Morel-R@bal.ge-dip.etat-ge.ch) !

last update 14.10.96


© Université de Genève, TECFA; CIP Genève, Geneva (SWITZERLAND)