Learning Swedish “should be compulsory”

Swedish lessons should be compulsory in order to qualify for a residence permit, but the SFI state-run Swedish courses should first get their house in order. That is the view of readers of The Local who responded to a survey on attitudes towards learning Swedish.

Of the nearly 500 readers who have replied to the survey, 51 percent say that taking Swedish lessons should be a prerequisite for living here. Typical of the responses is the reader who argues that “it is completely arrogant not to bother learning the language of the country you are living in. What’s the point in moving abroad?”

The fact that such a large proportion of The Local’s cosmopolitan readership favours compulsory Swedish lessons adds another dimension to a long-running Swedish debate. When the Liberals suggested such a policy they were accused of victimising foreigners.

Still, a quarter of respondents say that they think that learning Swedish is unimportant for foreigners living in Sweden. Others complain that their efforts to speak Swedish are thwarted by Swedes who would prefer to practise their English.

Even institutions are accused of being too helpful. One student at Lund University says that authorities there are “more interested in showing how international they are, by making everything easier for English speakers,” rather than helping foreign students to learn Swedish.

Defying the stereotype that they are lazy linguists, Brits and Americans are among the keenest to learn Swedish. 83 percent of Britons and 77 percent of Americans agree that it is important to learn Swedish if you live in Sweden. For respondents from other countries the figure is only 71 percent.

Unsurprisingly, people with a Swedish partner are more likely to claim to speak good Swedish. Of those without a Swedish partner, 64 percent say that they speak little or no Swedish. Among ‘love refugees’ that figure is only 35 percent.

Still, enthusiasm for learning Swedish does not translate into appreciation for Svenska för Invandrare (SFI), the free state-run Swedish course for immigrants. Although some people say that SFI is helpful, many comments from readers are deeply negative towards the course.

“I think that the classes for SFI should be divided up for those that want to learn Swedish, then for those who just go to collect welfare,” says one reader who attended classes in Norrköping, reflecting comments from a number of readers.

Readers also criticised other aspects of the courses, saying that the teachers change too often, and the lessons were too slow.

To download the full survey results click here.