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Six easy ways to boost your Swedish skills now

Six easy ways to boost your Swedish skills now
Books are great, but how do I learn Swedish in the real world? Photo: Kristen Lidell/
The Local's contributor Marie Zafimehy shares her top six tips for quickly learning Swedish that have nothing to do with university courses or boring grammar lessons.

I moved to Sweden a year ago as an exchange student and quickly discovered that English was not enough, and that I really wanted to learn to speak Swedish. Basic language courses provided by my university were very helpful for grammar and vocabulary, but I wanted to learn even faster.

Here's how I did it.

1. YouTube tutorials

That’s how I started learning Swedish: listening and repeating after an unknown voice in front of my laptop screen. It can sound ridiculous but hearing basic words in Swedish helped a lot at first, especially when it came to day-to-day life. And thanks to YouTube’s magic you can randomly stumble across specific videos made by famous Swedish youtubers, as seen below. Just don't repeat these words to your Swedish inlaws.

2. Change your smartphone and laptop settings 

A step further to understanding Swedish is to change your devices’ settings from your mother tongue to Swedish. Doing it on your smartphone is not the simplest since it also shifts keyboards – going from French “azerty” to Swedish “qwerty” is not easy at all! But Facebook works, and if you change your profile language you will learn a lot of new words – even if managing to delete a post can be a real nightmare at first.

Home page of Facebook in Swedish. Photo: Facebook screenshot

3. Listen (and read) easy Swedish

Some Swedish songs’ lyrics are actually surprisingly easy to understand. This is the case for many of pop artist Veronica Maggio’s hits or Swedish rapper Petter’s “Logiskt”. Once you learn the basics of the language you can sing – or rap – along. You can also get a library card and read some children's books, which are written in very simple words and sentences. After all, Astrid Lindgren was Swedish.

4. Play Duolingo

Learning languages online is not a new idea but Duolingo is a fun way to do so. It's my favourite app for learning Swedish. Both playful and useful, you can train your oral and written understanding as well as learn some new vocabulary. Your registration requires you to set up a goal – one, two, three exercises a day maybe? – and to stick to it every day. The best advice to avoid a flood of push notifications reminding you of exercising daily is to challenge yourself: convince a friend to learn a new language as well, the first one to “break the streak” has to buy lunch, dinner or a gift to the other – tested and approved.

Relax, chill… and learn Swedish. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

5. Watch TV series in Swedish

You might be surprised to learn there are many Swedish series – or at least series where you hear spoken Swedish – to watch. The biggest international hit in the past few years is probably Nordic Noir drama The Bridge – which is also a great way of learning how to tell Swedish and Danish apart. Another one I like is Real Humans, which depicts a world in a near future where robots have reached human intelligence. A lot of old Swedish series are also available in broadcaster SVT's open archive, Öppet Arkiv.

But to me, the funniest series remains Welcome to Sweden, by US actor Greg Poehler who moved to Sweden himself to be with his Swedish wife. Many so-called love refugees will be able to relate to his story about Bruce, an American ex-celebrity accountant finding his feet in this strange Nordic country. The show is full of Swedish stereotypes and references and it’s hilarious. It's partly in English, partly in Swedish.

6. Speak Swedish any chance you get

Finally, here is the most obvious and probably the least easy advice to follow. Every time you have an opportunity to use Swedish, take it. It can be a little hard at first, especially in shops or restaurants when you try to speak and they answer in Swedish – without you understanding any part of what they said back. But this how you pick up basic sentences such as “Vill du ha en påse?” (“do you need a bag?”) or “Här är din växel” (“here's your change”).

Obviously if you have the chance to have fluent speakers among your relatives, it’s even better to practise with them. If you don't yet feel comfortable talking you can simply send texts in Swedish – your friends' corrections will probably be longer than their actual replies, but whatever.

Kan jag få ett kvitto? (“may I have a receipt?”) Photo: Simon Paulin/

This article was written by French exchange student Marie Zafimehy in July 2016.