Benefits of multilingualism for Switzerland

Individuals and society at large (APSIS)
Project management

Scientific partnership, regular consultation with: Federal Statistical Office (FSO); Institute for multilingualism (IOM)

03.2021 - 12.2024
Institutions, Policy

Linguistic and cultural diversity is of particular importance to Switzerland and its residents, all the more because it is tightly bound with the long-term political, social and cultural history of the country. It is often referred to as an “asset” or even a “treasure”, with some going so far as to claim that it is essential to the very existence of the country. However, while it is the focus of a continuous production of discourse, this diversity remains largely untested on a number of levels, particularly regarding the true nature and extent of the benefits it is assumed to confer on Switzerland and its residents (often under the label of Standortvorteil).

The goal of this project is therefore to expand and deepen our theoretical and empirical knowledge on the asset that linguistic diversity represents for Switzerland and its residents. Its goals are: 1) to develop a systematic analytical framework of the benefits of plurilingualism at the individual level and, multilingualism at the societal level; 2) to establish a methodology for the quantitative estimation of these benefits, using the data currently available for Switzerland; 3) on the basis of the results of the work described above, to examine those data currently available to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) that  lend themselves to such evaluations, and to highlight the primary needs in terms of data collection; 4) to use the available data to establish quantified estimates to assess market values, as well as preliminary estimates of the non-market values associated with varying levels of plurilingual practice; 5) on the basis of the results of the work described above, to establish a general assessment linking the benefits of plurilingualism for individuals with the benefits of multilingualism for society at large, and to contextualise this, both in terms of priorities for the drafting of language and culture-related public policy, and in terms of distributive issues, while also laying the foundations for future studies.

Purpose – Expected results

Our goal of improving our understanding of the benefits associated with plurilingualism echoes a number of concerns related to issues which are of primordial importance for Switzerland: communication between different linguistic communities; the promotion of dialogue between linguistic regions; support for minority languages; effective plurilingualism in political life and the functioning of the federal government; the preparation of younger generations to meet the demands of the job market in a context of globalization; managing the linguistic aspects of international mobility for study and work; the integration and enhancement of linguistic diversity arising from migratory practices. The issues addressed by the APSIS project are, in fact, directly relevant to the Federal Council's 2019-2023 Legislative Programme (see Message of 29/01/20,, in particular Objective 7, and secondarily Objectives 3 and 13).

Finally, by approaching the value of linguistic diversity from an integrated perspective as proposed by the APSIS project, Switzerland could take a pioneering role on an international level, since to date no country in the world has, to our knowledge, carried out a structured and systematic evaluation of this kind.