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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten fun tips for taming the Swedish language

Losing interest in your language lessons? Need to add some spice to your Swedish skills? Want to talk to the blonde that lives next door but you don’t have the courage? Here are ten tips to help you along.

Ten fun tips for taming the Swedish language

We've gathered a few quirky and fun tips to help you break through the barrier and speak better Swedish.This list aims to provide useful tips for anyone from a beginner to someone who has almost mastered the language.

1. Befriend the elderly 

If you’re reading this list, it’s a safe bet you speak English, which is incidentally also spoken by an enormous number of Swedes. You’ve probably even been cut off while speaking Swedish by a “Don’t worry, I speak English”. Luckily for enthusiastic language learners, many old people don’t know a word of English. Target the elderly, try to befriend them, and reap the rewards. Why not volunteer at a pensioner home?

2. Ask stupid questions 

Or rather, ask questions you already know the answer to. This is one for the beginners. When you’re absolutely certain where the milk is in the supermarket, ask a member of staff for directions. It will build up your confidence, and you’ll know which way to walk when they’ve answered. Or check your watch then approach a stranger and ask the time. Just get talking.

3. Lie about your language skills

This is the riskiest tip of all. If a shopkeeper switches to English mid-conversation in an attempt to help you out, tell them (in Swedish) that you don’t understand English at all. Tell them you’re from Russia, or Greece… or The Netherlands. Make something up or say where you're actually from. The important part is to not speak English. But be careful, this can backfire if they speak Russian, Greek or Dutch. But it means you’ll be forced to find a way to communicate. Dangerous, but highly effective.

4. Play parrot 

Repeat everything. Really. Repeat everything. Really. But not to the point of lunacy. If someone says “It’s a lovely day” – you should say “It IS a lovely day.” They won’t even notice what you’re doing, and you’ll likely find yourself adding new expressions to your everyday vocabulary. But be careful to limit yourself.

5. Listen to Swedish music 

You’ll learn without realizing. Chances are, you’ve listened to Gangnam Style at least once, and smart money suggests you didn’t understand a word. Find the sound that you like, and give it a chance. Soon you’ll find yourself singing the lyrics without even realizing. Cornelis Vreeswijk is a great place to start, many of his songs are slow enough to keep up with and well worth a listen in the first place. Even Abba sang in Swedish sometimes – find their Swedish songs and listen and learn!

6. Join a team (or club) 

This is a good chance to interact in the first place, and a great way to make friends if you’ve just come to Sweden. And if your Swedish is awful, you’ll quickly realize that a small vocabulary will do nothing to detract from a casual football game. If sports isn’t your thing, a casual chess board is a perfect setting for a conversation.

7. Watch your favourite TV shows 

Sweden doesn’t dub TV. Not only is this a contributing factor to Swedes’ English skills, but it also means you can take advantage of a live translation opportunity. You don’t need to give up your favourite shows – in fact, embrace them. Just don’t ignore the Swedish text below. Read the text and you'll find out how to quote the show in Swedish!

8. Get a dictionary 

Download a language app. The Tyda app on smartphones works particularly well for a word-to-word translation, and it can sometimes be a savior if you’re lost in a sentence or a conversation. It’s even handy to have. If you don’t have a smartphone, carry a pocket dictionary.

9. Talk to the neighbour 

Don't be shy. Not only can you practice your language skills, but you also might make a friend. This is a perfect chance to improve your small talk, and if you get out of your depth, the safety of your own home is never too far away for a quick escape. Tip: Also learn how to say "Oh no, I've left the stove on".

10. Read comics

Did you enjoy the Phantom as a child? Prefer Asterix? Batman? Something else? Even if you answered no, try picking up a comic book in Swedish and flicking through it. Children's books in general also work. The language is simple and there are pictures galore. You might even become a fan. Kapow!

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LEARNING SWEDISH

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your Swedish

Once you've learned the basics of Swedish, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for Swedish learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your Swedish

STARTING OUT  

Coffee Break Swedish 

Coffee Break Swedish aims to take you through the basics of Swedish in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where Swedish native Hanna teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break Swedish Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes.

Say it in Swedish 

This lively podcast from Stockholm-based Joakim Andersson has an enormous amount of content, with a course of beginners lessons, and stand-alone lessons on various different aspects of Swedish usage. Andersson stopped making podcasts after 80 episodes to concentrate on his YouTube channel, which is also very much worth a watch, with a lot of interesting, and fun, snippets on how to pronounce and use Swedish. There’s also a merchandise site, with some fun Swedish-themed t-shirts. 

Pimsleur Swedish.

OK, so this is an app rather than a podcast, but the experience of doing the daily 30-minute audio lessons in Pimsleur Swedish is very similar to listening to a regular podcast. This is a highly structured audio-based language learning programme, which encourages you to learn through sound rather than the written word, and repeats vocabulary and grammar at intervals to implant them in your memory. It’s very effective, and is a good way to have decent pronunciation from the start. The downsides are the cost – at $150, or $20.95 a month, it’s not particularly cheap – and the fact that Pimsleur have so far only made 30 lessons, meaning it only gets you to quite a basic level.  

DEVELOPING YOUR SWEDISH 

Radio Sweden på Lätt Svenska

This daily news bulletin in simplified Swedish put out by Sweden’s state broadcaster SR is a fantastic resource which, so far as we know, exists in no other country. It’s essentially the main stories from Ekot, SR’s main news bulletin, simplified and then read very slowly, with short sections of real-life interviews. If you go onto Radio Sweden’s website, you can read along with the text. Incidentally, 8sidor, which means literally “eight pages”, a newspaper in simplified Swedish, has a function which allows you to listen to the stories. 

Klartext on P4 

The Klartext news bulletin is actually designed for mentally disabled people, but it also works for beginners learning Swedish. It’s faster than Radio Sweden på Lätt Svenska, but still uses simplified language, so it’s good for language learners wanting to move a step up (so long as you don’t mind getting a bit more news than you might expect of particular relevance to the disabled). 

Simple Swedish

Despite its name, the Simple Swedish podcast from Fredrik Arhusiander, is not for beginners, but rather to help people who already understand basic Swedish develop their vocabulary and listening skills. The episodes aren’t graded, so can be listened to in any order, and feature Fredrik discuss his life, what he’s doing, what’s in the news, basically anything at all, in slow, simplified Swedish. With 146 episodes so far, there’s a lot of material to get through. Fredrik also offers his Strong Swedish online course for €199. 

SR Ekot nyheter 

After you’ve listened to the two simplified versions of Sweden’s official radio news bulletin for a few months, it might be time to try the real deal. The Ekot Nyheter podcast has three major broadcasts a day: in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening. If you make it part of your routine, you’ll find that what starts off a bit hard to grasp slowly becomes as easy to understand as news in your own language. 

Radioapan

Anyone with half-Swedish children can benefit from listening to Radioapan, “the radio monkey”, a podcast from Swedish state radio’s children’s channel which has original stories, children’s radio plays, and readings from children’s books. It’s a really great resource. 

PERFECTING YOUR SWEDISH

Lysande Lagom. The Lysande Lagom podcast from Emil Molander and Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux combines analysis of the clichés and reality around Sweden and Swedishness with language-learning advice. It’s from Lys Förlag, the publisher which published The Local’s Swedish Word of the Day anthology, Villa, Vovve, Volvo, and it makes for very entertaining listening. 

Ekots Lördagsintervju

The long Saturday interview on SR, Ekots Lördagsintervju, is a great way to develop your listening skills, with host Johar Bendjelloul grilling party leaders, ministers, agency chiefs and other important people in the news  

Alex och Sigges poddcast 

The 10-year-old comedy podcast, Alex & Sigge’s podcast, is an institution in Sweden. It features Alex Schulman and Sigge Eklund, two novelists and media personalities, talking about the news, their lives and just about anything they find amusing. 

Rättegångspodden

Currently Sweden’s most listened-to podcast, Rättegångspodden, which translates as “The Trial Pod”, exploits the fact that all trials in Sweden are recorded, with the audio available to the public, to develop dramatic true crime podcasts. The podcast’s founder Nils Bergman, also uses audio evidence collected by police, such as intercepted phone calls. For language learners with a true crime bent, this is a great way of improving your Swedish. The long form documentary podcasts on P3 also have a lot to offer for true crime enthusiasts.  

Politiken  

The Politiken podcast from Svenska Dagbladet is far and away the best podcast in Swedish on politics in the country. Wife and husband journalist team Maggie Strömberg and Torbjörn Nilsson analyse the week’s developments, with Strömberg providing up-to-the-minute gossip from the Riksdag cafeteria and Nilsson drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Swedish political history to put it all in context. Linguistically, it’s quite rich, so regular listening will expand your vocabulary.  

Språket 

Language geeks might enjoy Språket, a podcast from SR on language usage and etymology, which will help advanced Swedish learners get to grips with some of the things that puzzle even native speakers. If this is the sort of thing that floats your boat, then you might also enjoy Språktidningens podd, the podcast from Sweden’s language newspaper Språktidning. 

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