English and an Alpine Nation

Published on 4th March, 2010 in Global Bloggers by Amy Jost

swissIs global traveling possible without the use of English? My students would have difficulty traveling outside of central Europe with only their mother tongues of German, French or Italian. The Swiss generally welcome English and the ease it lends them when relating to the outside world, especially when traveling. I read that after their mother tongue, the Swiss speak English best, and it is often the preferred language of communication between the German, Italian and French speaking Swiss.
So, armed with English and our Global textbooks, it was time to get packing and hit the road discussing travel, tourism and language using “Home & Away” from Unit 8.

Lucerne (a breathtaking nearby city), the local mountains, and the local lakes (followed by a bonfire in the forest where they’d grill a popular local sausage, a Cervelat) were the sights my students chose to show a foreign visitor. Two of these suggestions have historical links to the English, who have influenced Switzerland strongly.

If the internet is to be trusted, it was English mountaineers who rediscovered the Alps. It’s claimed that the first man to climb the famous Matterhorn, the legendary summit of the Swiss Alps, was an Englishman, as well. It seems Carl Jung, an influential Swiss psychiatrist, would have agreed. He said of the English, “They even taught us Swiss how to climb our own mountains and make a sport out of it.”

Another famous Anglo-Alpine connection is Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. He’s reported to have introduced the sport of skiing to Switzerland with some skis that he brought here from Norway. Perhaps the Swiss Olympic team, which fared so well this year in Vancouver, owes their thanks to him.

Lord Byron, a famous English poet and swimmer, was drawn to my favorite local attraction, the pristine Alpine lakes. He settled in Switzerland near Lake Geneva, which also enticed other famous Brits to its shores, including Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. As the story goes, one night when a storm was raging over the lake, Shelley and her husband were challenged by Byron to create ghost stories, but Shelley had writer’s block. Later, after Mary Shelley had had an inspiring nightmare, she wrote the classic novel. One of my students, a big fan of horror stories, would have relished spending those days with Shelley and Byron, possibly around a bonfire munching on a Cervelat.

The teachers’ book suggested I bring guidebooks along to class. Most of my students said they used them, but usually only while they are on city tours. Otherwise they use the internet: surprise, surprise! My favorite guidebook, filled with photos and graphics, prompted one of them to suggest it was written for illiterate people, like me. So, the pleasant topic of the travel bug wasn’t motivation enough to keep some people from taking a friendly jab at the teacher.

Next week we’ll discuss happiness. I’m hoping to find the (pictorial?) key to it to bring along to class!