Before I go any further, let me apologize for not posting anything in a while. You see, I was in Vegas, and made the mistake of entering Cheetah’s at three in the afternoon. Let me tell you, those steak specials tend to keep you in there. To quote Jesus, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Speaking of Cheetah’s, you hear a lot of strange stuff there. Guys telling their life stories to women they just met. Women discussing comparative psychology while dancing around a pole.
Personally, it all sounded a lot like gibberish. I think it was English, but it definitely wasn’t Swedish.
‘Cause if it was, I swear I’ll eat crow.
When it comes to my native tongue, English is my first language. My father’s mother tongue is English, and my father’s father… well, he speaks German, but that’s an entirely different story.
The point is, I grew up speaking English. It’s the language I use to relate to the rest of the world, and defines what many things are to me.
Chances are, whatever your native language might be – whether it’s Russian, Chinese, Tagalog, Dutch, Cherokee, or any other – it’s what you use to relate to the rest of the world, too.
Let me clear something up: yes, almost everyone in Sweden speaks Swedish as their first language.
But pretty much everyone also speaks English.
It’s that last statement that surprised me the most when I first arrived. See, I was expecting the entire populace to be speaking a Germanic language that sounded like its speaker could break out into song at any given moment. Instead, not only did they speak the language I knew best (my Spanish, while serviceable for me to survive in South America, is still far from perfect), but with an accent easier to understand than anyone I’d ever met from, well, England (ditto the Australians, New Yorkers, 95 percent of Southerners, and Texans).
Seriously, after being in Sweden for a year I’m yet to meet someone under the age of sixty who doesn’t speak English. While the reasons for this are numerous (TV shows only subtitled in Swedish rather than dubbed, English classes beginning in primary school), what it means is that you never have to worry if people don’t understand your Swedish as well as your girlfriend/boyfriend does your text messages.
However, that DOES NOT mean you shouldn’t learn Swedish. Think about it: if you were in Japan, would you want to learn a little Japanese? Of course you would.
Fortunately, there’s more options for learning Swedish than there are varieties of sausages. From classes when you’re at university, to lessons at a language institute, there’s something for everyone.
You’ll also hear a lot of Swenglish while in Sweden, a bizarre mix of Swedish and English that has many glass half empty-types convinced Swedish will one day become a dead language. It’s especially common among young people, particularly when they’re excited and/or have had too much to drink at a student pub. While it may sound confusing at first, it’s a great way to start picking up on some Swedish.
And here’s a secret: if you start speaking Swenglish, people might just think you’re a Swede. I should know: it’s happened to me on several occasions, though people tend to think I’m Swedish anyway when I ask “I speak but a little Swedish. Do you speak English?” (“Jag talar men en liten Svenska. Talar du Engelska?”) – in Swedish.
So despite the “safety net” of English – and the desire of many young Swedes to practice their English – swallow your pride and try your hand at Swedish. After all, you want to impress that blue-eyed, blonde-haired bombshell don’t you?
That’s what I thought.