Interview with Philipp Alexander Weber (founder) in the Kovive newspaper:

How did the idea of offering a language camp come about?

I myself was rather mathematically gifted and had trouble with languages. That's why I always attended language camps as a student: In Australia, Tasmania, Cannes and Hyères. It suited me very much to learn a language in this way - in direct contact with other people. Later, I worked as an escort in a camp and soon after, the desire arose to offer such camps myself. 

What is special about this way of learning a language?

Learning languages is back-breaking work: you have to learn a lot by heart, cram words and grammar. At a language camp, you are confronted with different ways of learning a language. You listen to the language, you read and you often get to talk in the small group - you can really immerse yourself in the language because you spend several hours a day intensively studying it.

Learning during the holidays? How do you see it? How do the young people see it?

The young people are often not enthusiastic at first - many are also a little scared because they don't know what to expect. On the first day, everyone is a little nervous. But already on the second day, the mood barometer rises. Most of them come with mixed feelings, some of them really stink - and they go home with a very nice experience because they have met a lot of likeable people, experienced a lot and even learned something. 

What makes your offer different from tutoring?

With us, the camp experience is in the foreground. For many young people, it is the first time they are in a new environment with lots of new people. It is a positive and formative experience to be able to hold your own in this situation. We often receive feedback from parents that their child has matured significantly during the two-week camp.

What does a typical camp day look like?

At 8 am we get up, at 8.30 am we eat breakfast. At 9 am, classes start in small groups until 12.30 pm. After lunch, there is either an intensive course, workshops or an excursion. At 6.30 pm we have dinner, followed by the evening programme with, for example, a campfire, football tournament, disco or karaoke. For the under 13s, the camp ends at 10 pm, while the older ones can stay up until 11 pm.

For which young people is a language camp particularly recommended?

A camp is recommended for all young people. A shy young person can learn to approach others, a person with difficulties in the area of languages it helps to close gaps. 

What is your motto? What do you want to pass on to the young people?

Our motto is: Joy teaches languages. It's about having a positive experience with the language. Of course, it is also about improving one's language skills - but the most important thing for us is that the young people enjoy the language and are motivated to continue learning. Many young people are disoriented at this age. Our leaders are mostly students and closer in age to the young people than parents or teachers. They therefore have a very direct approach. The young people feel close to them, but they also take them seriously and often see them as role models. Young people who see everything negatively in this difficult phase often respond well to our young leaders who try to make them see the positive sides of life as well.

Link to the article Mit Kindern Lernen

Article in the Tages Anzeiger 2015 

"Exgüsi, je ne comprends nüt!"

With fRilingue, young people leapfrog the Röstigraben: in the language camps from 29 June to 15 August 2015. 

"I always thought grammar books were stupid," recalls camp organiser Philipp Alexander Weber, "fRilingue is supposed to teach French, English and German in a fun way". At the fRilingue language camps, there are lessons in groups of 6, excursions and workshops. 

Since fRilingue was founded in 2007, over 3000 young people have had an unforgettable summer with fRilingue and made friends from another part of the country or from abroad. 

During the workshops, participants learn a new hobby. The following workshops are available: graffiti spraying, cake baking, hip-hop, theatre, making a film, DJ workshop, photography or songwriting. 

Every week, fRilingue organises two afternoon excursions and one full-day excursion in the Fribourg region and around Lake Neuchâtel. 

At fRilingue, the participants not only benefit from progress in language, but also learn a lot in the social field during their stay. Weber says: "One mother told me on the phone that her son had matured by a year during the two weeks.  

fRilingue only employs upbeat young teachers and counsellors who have a good approach to children and young people and embody the idea that learning languages is fun," says Weber, who still runs camps himself. A colourful programme of social, sporting and cultural activities is a must for him anyway, he adds.

fRilingue offers 14 different summer language camps in Western Switzerland, England, France and Malta. 

2 weeks of language camp in the "English Adventure Camp" are available from 1350 Swiss francs. 

Competition :: Win a one-week language camp with fRilingue in Cudrefin, Estavayer or Schwarzsee (worth CHF 1250)


The fun school

Most teenagers wouldn’t want to spend their summer break in another dull school room. Summer camps, on the other hand, enjoy huge popularity. Luckily, fRilingue manages to combine language learning and exciting summer camps into one great experience. 

Could your children do with a little brushing up of their French, German or English skills? If so, you may consider a Swiss summer camp in Estavayer, Schwarzsee or Fribourg organized by fRilingue. From 9 am to 12.30 pm (plus 4 or 6 extra lessons if they opt for the intense course), students are thought grammar, vocabulary and practical conversation in French, German or English. “What makes fRilingue so special is that our students are thought in groups of only six”, says Philipp Alexander Weber, founder, and director of fRilingue, about his innovative concept. “This environment helps the students to particularly improve their spoken language skills.”  

At fRilingue, learning is playful, yet productive. “All our teachers are young, sometimes they are still studying or they have just finished university”, continues Weber. “In any case, we have trained them – not in terms of performance, but in humor! This is why they will fascinate you, surprise you, make you laugh… because a language is best learned with joy! We ensure to employ cheerful and kind-hearted guides, who bring a positive vibe to the camp.” 

When the school part of the day is done, there are tons of activities to keep the kids entertained, make new friends and discover hidden talents. “We offer workshops centered around themes like theatre, media, sport, photography or spraying”, adds Weber. “We also undertake trips to historic towns or sites, beaches, lakes, etc. In the evening, we organize discos, karaoke, campfires or sports tournaments.”

fRilingue also offers language holidays in England and France and special Swiss summer camps for slightly younger children. In the Indian Camp (7-14 years) and the Adventure Camp (10-15 years), the kids will encounter people from all over the world – an experience that in many cases awakens an interest in foreign languages. Fun, for now, this could prove useful in the future. 


Article in the Swiss Community 2021

Grüezi, bonjour, allegra, benvenuto: A nation of polyglots

With four national languages, dozens of dialects and a total of more than 250 spoken languages, Swiss multilingualism is alive and kicking – and on the rise. However, the advance of English as Switzerland’s “fifth national language” can no longer be ignored.

Renata Coray grew up speaking Romansh and Swiss German in the canton of Basel-Landschaft. She studied in French and German in Fribourg, currently lives in Zurich, often spends time in Surselva, reads through English texts at work, and Italy is her favourite holiday destination. Not all Swiss are as adept at languages as Coray, who works as a project manager at the Institute of Multilingualism in Fribourg. However, the latest Federal Statistical Office (FSO) languages survey shows that Swiss multilingualism is very much on the rise. Over two thirds of the Swiss population – 68 per cent to be precise – regularly use more than one language. The figure was 64 per cent in 2014. And it’s not restricted to two languages: 38.4 per cent regularly use two, 21.3 per cent three, 6.4 per cent four, and 1.7 per cent as many as five or more languages. It is worth noting that standard German and Swiss German were not classed as two different languages in the survey.

Enlarged view of the statistics

“Increased mobility, enhanced language teaching, a more cosmopolitan population, and improved communication through new media and the internet and other channels are helping to fuel multilingualism,” says the sociolinguist Coray. Another reason for the increase is that the questioning in the study has changed, she adds. Until 1990, respondents were asked to indicate just one mother tongue (even if they were bilingual). Since then, respondents have been able to include any dialects, and, since 2010, up to three main languages.

Over- and under-representation

Despite its rise, multilingualism remains politically sensitive in Switzerland – exemplified by the long struggle to preserve Romansh and the controversy surrounding early-age language teaching of English at the expense of French in many schools. The promotion of the national languages – particularly the minority languages Italian and Romansh – is, however, enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Coray: “Quite a lot has been done at political and legislative level, but the reality on the ground is sometimes different.” According to research in 2020 by the Centre for Democracy Studies in Aarau, German speakers are significantly over-represented and speakers of the minority languages under-represented in around two thirds of all departments within the Federal Administration, for example.

There is a similar problem in Grisons, says Coray. Grisons is the only canton with three official languages (German, Romansh and Italian), yet German continues to dominate at the administrative level. Does it even make sense to promote Romansh if only 0.5 per cent of Grison’s permanent resident population give Romansh as their main language and only 0.9 per cent regularly use it – especially as almost all Romansh speakers also speak German anyway? “It is true that my grandmother’s generation was probably the last to speak only Romansh, but promoting language diversity is nevertheless important for national unity and is part of who we are as a nation.” Switzerland’s variety of languages even appears to have economic benefits. A study carried out by the University of Geneva in 2008 found that multilingualism accounted for nine per cent of Swiss GDP. A new study is currently ongoing, because this percentage is likely to have increased in recent years.

Motivating young people

Naomi Arpagaus from Grisons is another fan of language diversity. The 21-year-old grew up speaking Romansh as well as Swiss German, learned English and Italian at school, specialised in Spanish at upper secondary school and is now taking French lessons. “I currently live in Berne because I am studying there, so I use a lot of German from day to day. However, I mix a lot with friends who speak Romansh.” This language is close to her heart. As president of GiuRu, the Swiss association of Romansh-speaking young people, Arpagaus does a lot to promote Grison’s minority language and encourage interaction among speakers of the canton’s five Romansh dialects: Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter and Vallader.

“We organise Romansh concert and games nights, we have our own column in the Grisons daily newspaper “La Quotidiana”, and we are in contact with speakers of other minority languages around Europe,” she explains, adding that there is great interest in Romansh among younger people. “Many believe that speaking Romansh puts them at an advantage. Romansh is a gateway to other Latin languages like French, Spanish or Portuguese. And it is almost like a secret language.” But young people use German on social media, not Romansh, don’t they? “People of my age mainly post in English,” she laughs.

English is dominant

It is true that English is emerging as Switzerland’s “fifth national language” (if you discount standard German; see box). English is by far the most-spoken non-Swiss language in Switzerland (45 per cent). Young people are particularly anglophone, with nearly three quarters of 15- to 24-year-olds shown to have been regularly using English in 2019. “And this is a good thing,” says Verio Pini. “English is actually essential.” Pini is president of Coscienza Svizzera, an organisation that promotes language diversity. He is a good fit for the job, given that he grew up in Ticino, studied in Lausanne and Berne, lives half the time in Berne and the rest of the time in Ticino, and also uses French, English and Spanish on a regular basis – mainly for reading the press.

English is undoubtedly important, Pini continues. “Nevertheless, it exerts considerable pressure on Switzerland’s official languages – not only on Romansh and Italian, but on German in Geneva and French in Zurich.” Languages are often only promoted in the region to which they are native, he explains. However, mobility and cultural diversity compel us to look beyond language borders. “Italian, for example, is spoken by more people north of the Alps than in Ticino.” Politicians now realise this, he adds. In its message on culture for 2016 to 2020, the Federal Council set out the objective of promoting the Italian language and Italian culture outside Italian-speaking Switzerland. However, parliament is pushing for a more concerted, dynamic approach to multilingualism that promotes national togetherness as well as integration.

“Our different language regions would certainly be able to understand each other better if everyone used English,” says Pini. “However, national and social cohesion adds up to more than getting our messages across. It also means understanding the culture of other language regions.” People in Switzerland seem quite aware of this fact. According to the FSO survey, 84 per cent of the Swiss population believe that speaking other national languages is key to cohesion within the country.

Learning languages outside school

Philipp Alexander Weber shares this view. Weber, who grew up in Winterthur, went to Fribourg to study economics and had trouble understanding French at first. “Maths was more my thing at school.” Weber quickly realised that learning the language in situ was much easier than from a textbook. He therefore founded friLingue in 2007 – an organisation that offers language stays to young people in Switzerland. “I wanted to build bridges over the language divide,” he explains.

At present, around 1,000 children and teenagers aged between eight and 18 attend friLingue language camps each year. Weber has noticed that more and more French-speaking teenagers are visiting the camps. “French, the tongue of diplomacy, has always been a draw for German-speaking Swiss who regard it as a very ‘cultured’ language to learn, while French-speaking Swiss tend to have a difficult relationship with German. Simply because they learn standard German at school but then have to cope with different dialects in places like Berne, Zurich and Basel.” However, the German language became more appealing to French speakers after the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, says Weber. Germany turned into a popular travel destination for them within a few years. Many now want to go to Berlin for a gap year or to German-speaking Switzerland for a language stay.

Meanwhile, several cantons in central and eastern Switzerland have relegated French in favour of English at school. Primary schools in Uri and Appenzell Innerroden, for example, no longer teach French, while the language of Molière is no longer a must in Thurgau and Zurich once pupils enter secondary and upper secondary school respectively. “This has also had an impact in terms of the people signing up for our language camps,” says Weber. But school is not the only place where people are picking up languages. According to the FSO survey, 25 per cent of the population learn one or more languages from the age of 25 – of which English is the most popular.

It also goes without saying that friLingue attendees from different language regions sometimes switch to English to communicate with each other. But Weber is relaxed about this. “We don’t think of ourselves as a school, but want to enthuse people about languages.” Weber himself not only uses German and French on a daily basis, but English and Portuguese too. He lived as a Swiss Abroad in Brazil for ten years and has a Brazilian son who speaks Swiss German. “Languages help you to get to know and understand other cultures and mentalities. They open up new horizons.”

Swiss German or standard German?

Some regard Swiss German as a dialect, others as a language in its own right. Jürg Niederhauser, president of the Swiss Association for the German Language (SVDS), views this as an “ideological matter” on which linguistic factors have no bearing. Be that as it may, Swiss German is often an everyday impediment to people who come from other language regions or from abroad. Furthermore, use of Swiss German is becoming increasing popular as more and more people prefer to talk in an informal manner. “Television coverage of sports events used to be entirely in standard German 70 years ago. Now the studio pundits speak in Swiss German,” says Niederhauser, adding that this makes it harder for Swiss from other language regions to understand – and that German-speaking Swiss have, in turn, become more reluctant to speak standard German, because it is used almost exclusively in formal contexts like at school.

Link to the article on Swiss Community