In this article you'll find all the pros and cons of bilingual schooling when compared to monolingual or public schooling in the local Swiss language, and also our recommendations for the best bilingual schools in Switzerland. Let's dive in:
Bilingual Schooling in Switzerland: main pros and cons
Main benefits of bilingual education
Bilingual education allows your kids to integrate smoother in their new environment. They have the familiarity of English, but also quickly and seamlessly learn one new Swiss language. Studying in English is also a great advantage in case you're in Switzerland on a short assignment or if you'd like your kids to continue their education abroad.
What to look out for
Expect higher costs versus public school, since all bilingual schools are private. Costs range from CHF 15,000 to CHF 30,000 per year, depending on the school and the services offered. Another thing to look out for is that not all schools are truly bilingual. More on this and costs, further down.
Why Bilingual Education is truly great for your kids
We're huge fans of bilingual schooling, because it's such a smooth way to ease your kids' integration in their new environment. Let's face it - moving to a new country with kids is a massive disruption and you can keep calling it 'a new adventure' until you're blue in the face - the truth is your kids will be deeply saddened to lose their close friends and safe routine.
Here's why bilingual education might be your best choice if you're an English speaking foreigner who's just landed in Switzerland or if you don't know how long you're planning to stay here:
Your kids will have time to gradually learn their new Swiss language, instead of suddenly landing in a public school and not be able to exchange a word with their new colleagues.
The familiarity of English instruction has a double benefit: it gives kids a much needed safety net and also, the programs in English will probably be compatible with those in your home country. If you suddenly have to leave Switzerland, re-integration will be much easier.
Your kids will still be exposed to an international environment and meet students who have multicultural backgrounds.
Continual school day since bilingual schools are usually day-schools, which means a full day programme, with lunch included. The fact that your kids have continuous instruction is a great advantage over the public school structure, where instruction stops before lunch. For working parents who send their kids to the public after-school, fees are calculated based on income and employment level and they are not as cheap as you might think.
Ties with the local community. A monolingual international school will isolate you from the local culture, community, and activities. Bilingual international schools on the other hand integrate the local culture and community into day-to-day school life. Students are taught in both the local and international language with an international and local curriculum.
Bilingual schools prepare your kids for continued international education, International Baccalaureate in Europe and worldwide, or Advance Placement in the USA.
In case you decide to stay in Switzerland for a longer time or permanently, a bilingual school which combines an international curriculum with the local Swiss curriculum, will enable your kids to follow the Swiss education system.
Bilingualism makes your kids smarter, more self-confident and more independent, to put it simply.
Why bilingualism is great for your kids - and the science to back this
Bilingualism has numerous psychological and neurological benefits. Experiencing cultures can help your child speak to and relate to a wide range of people, feel comfortable in diverse social situations and adapt to changes faster. Studies have shown that learning in different languages helps to develop increased brain pathways for more flexible learning capacity. Other studies show that immersion in a foreign language may have beneficial effects on the development of other cognitive skills, self-confidence and learner autonomy. If you don't take our word for it, go ahead and check with the language scientists: Dr. Simone Pfenninger, Assistant Professor of Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics at the University of Salzburg can certainly enlighten you on the beneficial effects of second-language acquisition.
Any disadvantages to Bilingual Education?
Of course, there will be some downsides or rather things to consider and reflect on:
We've mentioned you should expect higher costs versus the public school system, where you will only need to pay for after-school and lunch options and only during school weeks (during the school holidays public after-schools are closed - which is an advantage on the one hand, as you do not pay anything, but also a disadvantage as you need to find alternative child minding solutions). Private school fees vary from CHF 15,000 to CHF 30,000 per year, only for basic tuition. In addition, there are costs that may not be included in the basic tuition fee: fees for meals, lunch time supervision, after school activities, after school supervision, school trips, sports competitions or festivals abroad, books, uniforms, or school transport. If you work full time some of these may be essential extras so make sure to take these expenses into account.
The school might be located at a significant distance from your home, which means you might have to pay for transport, in case you don't want to drive every day. Also after school play with friends will need a bit more organization, as will after school extracurricular activities and rehearsals.
An application for admission is required and acceptance depends on places available.
Changing classmates. International mobility brings an element of change to the classroom, as parents' careers move families to new destinations. A core student body of long term international school students does exist, but you must expect some change, even if you stay in one place.
Now that you're probably as big a fan of bilingual schooling as we are, let's see...
The best bilingual schools in Switzerland
SIS Swiss International School currently operates 8 schools in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. A bilingual education pioneer, SIS Swiss International Schools are truly bilingual, following a deep immersion method for teaching German.
SIS Swiss International School
SIS Swiss International School is a Bilingual Education Pioneer
The 7 SIS schools in Switzerland are part of the SIS Group, which has been a pioneer in the bilingual education arena since 1999. What distinguishes SIS Swiss International School from other schools in the high-quality and diverse Swiss education landscape is its highly effective and consistent educational concept. Teaching at SIS follows the full immersion method with half of the lessons being taught by a native speaker of English, the other half by a native speaker of German. Bilingualism, however, is not a requirement for entry at any level.
International Baccalaureate (IB) and Swiss Matura
SIS is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School. The carefully developed SIS bilingual curriculum prepares students for both nationally and internationally recognized qualifications such as the Swiss bilingual Matura and/or the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB).
Full day schedule
SIS offers a structured day school and extracurricular programme including lunch, homework supervision, flexible drop-off and pick-up times, as well as activities and clubs, even during school holidays.Find out more
ISB International School Basel
At International School Basel, each student is unique and so is the way they learn. Our International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, for children 3-19 years old, now includes a new English-German programme for our youngest learners in Junior School. In Middle and Senior School, we offer German, French and Spanish as secondary languages.
Our holistic approach to education fully develops students’ intellectual, socio-emotional, physical and creative skills. We empower them to think critically and independently and have the confidence to take action and make a difference.
Click below to learn about our new English-German programme and our entire curriculum, including a wide range of after school and co-curricular activities, covering arts, athletics, technology, service and more!Discover ISB
Haut-Lac International Bilingual School
Your local international school offers a truly bilingual French-English programme for ages 3 to 18, culminating in International Baccalaureate and/or the US High School Diplomas.
Overlooking Lake Geneva on the Swiss Riviera, the school also provides English and French-only programmes, as well as boarding and nursery options.
With a 100% pass rate in the IB diploma in 2020 and 2021, Haut-Lac students consistently succeed with results well above the world average. Many actually go on to study at reputed universities worldwide, such as Russell Group, Ivy League and Oxbridge universities.
Dedication to sports & fitness
Accredited by the World Academy of Sport, Haut-Lac was the first official athlete-friendly education centre in Switzerland. Its tailored Sport & Study programmes enable student-athletes to complete their schooling whilst training intensively.
After School programmes & Holiday Camps
With over 150 after-school clubs on offer, Haut-Lac students are able to continue working on their personal and social skills even after the bell goes. The Haut-Lac Camp team also guarantees 4 to 15-year olds enjoy exciting, new experiences every day during the Winter, Spring and Summer holidays.Find out more
Academia Bilingual School
Academia Bilingual School supports students to develop and achieve their full potential from kindergarten to the end of primary or lower secondary school. At Academia, your child enjoys an attentive and respectful environment, small classes, bilingual teaching in German and English by mother-tongue trained teachers as well as personal support which provides the foundation for your child’s further education – be it in Switzerland or abroad.
Academia runs three bilingual schools in Switzerland:
In Basel, the Academia Bilingual Day School with kindergarten and primary school opened in 2010 and is located in the beautiful Schifferhaus surrounded by a lush garden.
Academia Bilingual School in Winterthur opened in 2021. It offers kindergarten, primary and secondary schooling. Its brand new classrooms offer all amenities needed for modern teaching.
Terra Nova Bilingual School in Küsnacht (canton Zurich) is a pioneer in bilingual education. For more than 25 years it has provided excellent bilingual teaching from pre-kindergarten to the end of primary school.
Obersee Bilingual School
Obersee Bilingual School is a German and English school located in a newly built state of the art campus in Wollerau, Canton Schwyz. All Obersee students are educated in small classes by both native German and English teachers in an innovative, inspirational and international setting, promoting a student-centred and future-oriented approach.
The Obersee Bilingual School programme is designed to meet the needs of expatriate parents who want to give their child the chance to integrate into the local community. Children are prepared to become critical, creative thinkers, independent and problem-solving individuals, to face the challenges of an ever-changing world.
Obersee is also an excellent choice for local parents who want their children to develop native-level English skills, and for those parents who need all-day schooling and after school care for their children. The school offers a fully-immersive educational programme from Babycare through to Grade 13, all on one campus. Students are able to choose either the national Swiss Matura or the internationally recognised IB pathway.Find out more
Do you have questions about what it means to study in Switzerland or about bilingual education?
Our top schooling experts will clarify everything for you in this 1 hour call. You'll be able to discuss your own family situation - and receive advice that is centered on the actual needs of your family and those of your kids.Talk to an education expert