Leaning German is one of the best ways to feel more settled in Basel. It can get expensive though, so here are some free (and cheap) ways to jumpstart your journey.
Basel Stadt Voucher (free)
The Canton is so eager for new residents to learn German that they give away lessons for free! As part of your welcome package from Basel Stadt, new residents will receive a voucher for 80 hours of free language instruction. This is to encourage expats to settle and integrate. With this voucher is a list of the schools in Basel that participate in the program (here). The voucher is a great way to get started and will usually cover a half to a whole level of German learning, depending on the school you choose. This program is available to people new to Basel Stadt (and Switzerland, those who move from another canton may not be eligible) and covers instruction for Levels A1-B2. Unfortunately anyone living in Basel Land must pay for any instruction themselves.
Tandem Partners (free and cheap)
One of the best ways to learn a language as well as meet new people is to find a tandem partner. Tandem works on the principle that both participants are interested in learning another language. For example, you learn German from your partner while they learn English from you.
Although it is relatively easy to find a partner, there are a few tips you should keep in mind to get the most out of your experience:
Be specific about your goals and interests. When writing an add to find a tandem partner it is important to be specific about what are looking for. Make sure to mention things like: your current level, your goals, how you would like to meet (online or in-person), how frequent you would like to meet (as well as the timing) and what your interests are. Finding something in common with someone is especially important to a good conversation. This is true when you are speaking in your mother tongue, but especially important when you are trying to find the right words in an unfamiliar language.
Have a trial meeting. To make sure you are comfortable with the person and your interests align, set up a trial meeting (in a public place if you are meeting in-person) before you commit.
Set up a schedule. Conversation practice only works if you do it, so once you you have found a suitable partner, make sure to schedule time to meet up. usually once a week/2 weeks is a reasonable frequency.
Determine the structure of the conversation. Language is like water, it will always find the easier route. I find that if I know someone speaks English well (which seems to be the case with most people that are 'learning' English in Basel) I will get lazy and switch right away. A good practice is to set a timer so both of you get an opportunity to practice. This can be done in 10, 15 or 30 mins intervals, depending on your needs. Switching more frequently may allow for more corrections, but longer intervals allow for more flow in conversation.
Determine how much feedback you would each like. Some people want to know their mistakes as they make them, others find that this interruption disrupts their train of thought. With a little trial and error you can find what works best for you but make sure to communicate this to your partner.
Use some outside materials for conversation starters. It can be difficult to make small talk (even in your mother tongue) so having something like an article, podcast or TV show or film to reference can be quite helpful. Decide before a meeting if you would like to prepare ahead to discuss something. Don't worry if you don't understand it all, part of the meeting can be explaining and clarifying what you read, listen to or saw. Another really cool way to start a conversation is to use images. This YouTube video by Jeff Brown is long, but well worth the watch as it explains how to acquire a language, not just learn it by using images and a tandem partner.
Leave your insecurities behind. It can be really scary to speak in an unfamiliar language, but making mistakes and sounding foolish is part of the process. Have a sense of humour and take comfort in the fact that your partner knows that you are learning and they are learning too.
If it's not a match be honest. Yes there may be times that you simply don't click with your partner, but instead of ghosting them, let them know and move on.
There are many options for tandems in Basel and you can choose online as well as in-person to fit your schedule. I would personally recommend in-person meetings if you have time, because we all know from lockdown that there are a lot of subtleties that are lost online and there is really no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Here are some venues to explore:
Browse adds people have placed or place one of your own. It should be pretty easy to find an English/German exchange as there are lots of locals looking to speak English, but if you have other languages you can put those on offer as well.
This site is for all of Switzerland, but it is very easy to browse for partners, simply create a profile with language you want to learn, you mother tongue and your location. After that, the rest is up to you. They also have some great tips for your first meeting.
If you are part of the University of Basel you can also place an add or search for a tandem partner on their Unimarkt.
Tandem.net (free trial or cheap depending on the version)
Tandem.net is an extensive worldwide online network for tandem learners. Sign up to a monthly subscription and be granted full access to millions of potential partners. Be warned though, it has been referred to as the 'Tinder for language learners' so if you are not keen on a love connection make sure to make that explicit in your profile.
GGG Benevol - Deutsch Konversation (cheap)
The GGG Benevol is a fantastic not-for-proifit organization run by the city that coordinates volunteer services of all kinds including Deutsch Konversation for German learners. The benefit of taking this route is that you are partnered with a volunteer who only speaks German and it is not a tandem. This is a great way to fast-track your learning as you won't have the option to revert to your mother tongue. It is also a fantastic was to meet Basel locals and really learn about the city and culture.
The process is that you sign up online or in-person at their office. They then schedule a short interview to determine your speaking level and interests and place an add and find a partner on your behalf. Once they have found you someone, they will contact you and you can take it from there. There is a one-time administration fee of 25CHF. If the partner you are matched with is not a good fit, you are free to change, but you must inform your partner yourself.
Kompetenzzentrum für Freiwilligenarbeit
+41 (0)61 261 74 24
Monday to Friday:
German Speaking Meetups (free and cheap)
If you are looking to learn german in a more social atmosphere you can try a conversation club. These are both online and in-person and can be a great way to learn some informal German and meet people. A few options in Basel are:
Sprachcafé Basel (in-person - free)
This group has frequent meetups (normally on a Friday) around town and makes sure to include native German speakers.
Basel BlaBla Language Exchange (in-person - free)
This group has frequent events in the Basel area and includes many different languages.
German Conversation Group Basel (online - 5CHF per meetup)
This group holds small group sessions online that are moderated by a trained professional.
Get Together and Explore (in person - free)
Located in Solothurn, this group gets together for hikes or drinks and to have a language exchange.
GGG Stadtbibliothek (free for children, cheap for adults)
Lastly, the city library or GGG Stadtbibliothek is a fantastic, though often overlooked resource for German learning. For CHF 55/year (free for children) you can have an endless supply of German reading material in subjects that interest you as well as materials specifically geared (and simplified) for German learners. We love the libraries so much, we even devoted an article to it. Check it out here Basel Libraries Rock!
I hope that helps you on your language learning journey. Learning German is really the best thing you can do to feel settled in Basel. It makes it easier to discover what the city has to offer and make it your home. If you have any resources or suggestions you would like to add, please leave a comment.
Bis bald! Tschuss!