Six easy ways to boost your Swedish skills now

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.

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/

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.


Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.