• Sweden edition
 

Learning Swedish: accept no substitutes

Published: 10 Oct 2007 18:31 GMT+02:00
Updated: 10 Oct 2007 18:31 GMT+02:00

It's hardly a secret that Swedes are, in general, exceptionally good at speaking English. With the exception of the Netherlands, there is probably not a country in mainland Europe where it is easier to get by using the language of Shakespeare.

Yet many new arrivals find, sometimes to their surprise, that widespread understanding of English does not mean that learning Swedish is optional. To work, or simply to get by in daily life, anyone staying in Sweden for more than a few months will need to pick up more than the rudimentary 'stor starköl'.

For me, this general Swedish linguistic competence can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help. Most Swedes I encounter are quick off the mark to demonstrate their bilingual prowess. Most have learned English from about the age of ten and love any opportunity to practice. While I gratefully received this when I arrived, six months and five new Swedish words later, I began to realize that there would be no substitute for buckling down and improving my Swedish.

As for many other new arrivals, this meant enrolling at a “Svenska För Invandrare” (Swedish For Immigrants) language course. These free courses are offered by adult educational facilities all over the country and usually take up around 15 contact hours per week. Some places also offer evening courses to cater people working during the day.

As I enrolled in my very first Swedish class, my impression of the language was still mostly gleaned from the Muppet’s Swedish Chef. It was high time, I thought, to get beyond “hoo be doo be doo”.

One of the first things I faced, like all new students of Swedish, was the Swedish alphabet. According to Marina Revell, who teaches Swedish at Gotland's Komvux adult education centre, the alphabet is one of the major challenges for people starting with the language. The extra letters å (think 'autumn'), ä (as in 'apple' - at least if you're from Australia), and ö (as in 'urban') take a while for many people to get used to.

“Some of our students struggle with the alphabet as they’ve never read or written in another language before,” she says.

“Pronouncing the letters and words is also quite difficult as Swedish has a particular sound and flow. It’s a very melodic language full of tones, dips and flows, so getting your mouth around these particular sounds can be very difficult”.

After two years of learning Swedish at Komvux, I am still getting my puckered-up lips around the subtle but crucial differences in the sounds of I, J, G and Y. It has everything to do with the synchronised placement of lip, tongue and throat muscles.

Jan Boström, principal of Komvux on Gotland, says students can take as long as they like to complete SFI.

“It really depends on the student and they’re education background. There are a lot of factors that influence how long students may study SFI,” he says.

“In reality though, most of the students want to find work in Sweden and this is really difficult if you don’t speak the language or have the right qualifications. Someone can’t just come to Sweden with their skills and qualifications and start working here. They need to be able to speak Swedish and usually need to do a validation test of some type.

“So we do what we can to teach the language so that they have a better chance of finding work and improving their finances in Sweden”.

Once you think your Swedish is up to it, you can sit the SFI National Test which is held each year in May. Passing this test entitles you to continue studies in the Svenska Som Andra Språk (Swedish As A Second Language) course. This course is also free and the contact hours are around the same as SFI.

One of the aspects of SFI and SAS that many people find enriching is the sheer variety of people they meet. Sweden has experienced high levels of immigration in the past half century, and 12 percent of Sweden's population was born abroad. That's nearly 1.2 million immigrants, with the largest number from Finland (15.0 %), followed by Iraq (7.0 %) and the former Yugoslavia (6.3 %).

As autumn classes for SFI and SAS started again recently I took a quick poll of my classmates. It was pretty awe-inspiring to contemplate the diversity of this group of immigrants on Gotland. We come from Latvia, Russia, Kosovo, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, England, Romania, Turkey, Estonia, New Zealand, Somalia, Poland, Cuba, Czech Republic, Uzbekistan, Germany, the United States, Croatia and Ukraine and Equador. I’m the sole representative from Australia. We range in age from mid 20s to mid 60s.

Boström tells me “there are 130 students from 27 different nations studying SFI and SAS at Komvux [on Gotland]”.

“Most of the students at our school come from Thailand, Iran or Iraq,” he says.

Jan explains that many of the students at Komvux have moved to Sweden due to love.

“They have met a Swedish man or woman, and chosen this as their home. Others have come to Sweden for a chance at starting a new life - a better life than they had in their homeland.”

All this means that for many SFI becomes more than simply a free way to pick up the lingo; it's an enriching experience that let's you meet an extraordinary variety of people. Give it a while, and you'll confidently be able to answer English-speaking Swedes in their own tongue.

Getting Started:

Whether you intend to study, work or live in Sweden, you must first have a personal number (personnummer).

Take your passport/s and any relevant visa papers to your local tax office (Skatteverket) so that they can process a personal number for you. Once you have this, you should contact your local municipality office to ask about SFI courses in your area. Details of Stockholm's SFI courses can be found here .

Fiona Basile

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
National
US runaway forced to keep fake name
'Wanted' photograph of David Hemler used by US Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Hemler lives and works in Uppsala. Photo: Shutterstock

US runaway forced to keep fake name

A US airman who deserted from the military three decades ago and moved to Sweden has failed in his bid to get his old name back, because a Swedish court says he can’t prove his identity. READ  

National
Swedish man beats bus in video challenge
Busses in Sundbyberg could be targeted by copycat runners. Photo: TT

Swedish man beats bus in video challenge

After a video of a man sprinting between underground stops in London went viral last week, a Swedish runner took up the challenge of beating his bus in Sundbyberg in north west Stockholm. READ  

National
Flood and high wind warning in east Sweden
Stockholm experienced heavy rain on Sunday. Photo: TT

Flood and high wind warning in east Sweden

After heavy rain broke off the September sunshine in eastern Sweden on Sunday, forecasters warn more bad weather is on the way. READ  

Tech
World car record on Malmö bridge

World car record on Malmö bridge

The longest electric car parade on a bridge between two countries was formed on the Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark on Sunday, with environmental campaigners breaking several other world records in the process. READ  

National
Two hurt in Helsingborg ferry crash
The damaged ferry is being inspected on Monday. Photo: TT

Two hurt in Helsingborg ferry crash

UPDATED: A ferry crashed into a pier in the port of Helsingborg in southern Sweden on Sunday night, with two people taken to hospital following the collision. READ  

Elections 2014
Waiting game for Social Democrat leader
Stefan Löfven will return to parliament on Friday. Photo: TT

Waiting game for Social Democrat leader

Stefan Löfven, who has been tasked with forming Sweden's next government, is facing an anxious few days ahead of his next crucial meeting with Parliament's speaker on Friday. READ  

National
Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Summer has come to a definite end in Kiruna as residents of the northern town were greeted with a blanket of snow on Sunday morning. READ  

Elections 2014
Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart
Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. Photo: Leo Sellén/TT

Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart

Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has said that the election success of the Sweden Democrats is a "slap" in the face for the Stockholm establishment. READ  

National
Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis
Somali nationals taking part in a demonstration against deportations in Stockholm. File photo:Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/ TT

Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis

Three young men in southern Sweden suspected of attacking Somali refugees with stones and screaming "sieg heil" have been indicted on charges of racial agitation. READ  

National
Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Sweden is set to buck the European trend of rising air prices with fares expected to drop next year according to a new report. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: September 20th
The 'black gold' of Sweden's west coast.
National
West Sweden prepares for the 2014 lobster premiere
Society
What's on in Sweden
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Blog updates

20 September

How a Frog Can Save the Environment (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"What we do we imagine when we think of children enjoying nature? Perhaps it’s fishing, marveling at lightning bugs on a muggy July day or blowing on the wispy petals of a dandelion to make a special wish. But perhaps most iconic of the playful innocence in childhood is hopping after and trying to catch..." READ »

 

19 September

Editor’s blog (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday readers! It sure has been a exciting week in Sweden, where we’re set to get a new Prime Minister after Fredrik Reinfeldt stepped down following Sunday’s elections. The Local blogged live from the key political gatherings across Stockholm. Why not re-visit the action by taking a look at our photos, tweets, videos and analysis? Since the..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
Property of the week - Eskilstuna
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Politics
Green Party wants 'better world' for kids
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

849
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN