Here are seven tips to kick-start your learning, or help you out of a rut.
1. Have a plan
“The first thing I recommend is to have a plan and structure your learning,” says Mohamed Abdul Hussein, who completed his Swedish courses in just three months.
Mohamed studied SFI at Lernia, one of Sweden's leading educational services and one of the largest organizer of SFI courses in the country.
“If you just go to classes and learn at school you won't progress as quickly,” he says. “It's very important to have a focus. Plan where to start, what you should read, et cetera.”
Everyone is different and one-size-fits-all doesn't work for learning a new language. Luckily, Lernia makes it easy to find just the right level and format of learning.
“We're extremely flexible,” says Antonio Fermin Acosta, region director of Lernia in Stockholm. “Much of our material is digitalized, and students can choose to study from home on occasion or combine language lessons with work. There's no limit.”
SFI Lernia also offers different approaches to learning Swedish, with separate courses for those who may never have studied at all and those who come from professional, academic backgrounds.
“It's important that each student's background is taken into account, Antonio says. “We try to match students so that the pace of learning works for the entire group. There are groups for academics, for example, where the pace is faster, or perhaps where it's largely online so they can combine it with their current studies.”
2. Listen to everything
Part of your plan should be to listen – even outside the classroom.
“I had SFI in the morning, then I would come home and study for a few hours, and then I would watch Swedish TV,” says Mohamed. “Then before bed I would listen to Swedish radio.”
“My top tip is listening,” SFI Lernia teacher Gabriella Andersson agrees. “Swedish is all around you – on the TV, on the bus, on the radio, at work. Anywhere you go you can hear Swedish, so listen to it. You don't have to understand every word, but try to catch the main topic.”
3. Dare to speak up
And when you're in those situations – open your mouth!
“I know it's difficult since it's so easy to speak English everywhere,” Gabriella acknowledges. “But try to speak just a little Swedish every day. Order your coffee in Swedish or ask your colleagues about their weekend plans. Just try a little bit at a time.”
Antonio agrees, adding that language studies should never be confined to the classroom.
“Dare to speak,” he says. “Go out and use the basic words you know. Use more than what you know. Just try. Swedes are very kind and willing to help.”
For those who already know which types of words will be most important for them – for instance, professionals who need a certain vocabulary to work in Sweden – Lernia also offers yrkessvenska or yrkesinriktad SFI, Swedish lessons specifically tailored for various occupations.
4. Go the extra mile
When Mohamed moved from Iraq to Sweden in 2004, the main thing his own desire to live and thrive in the country motivated him to learn.
“I've tried living in other places, but Sweden…It gives me this feeling. A feeling of being safe and at home.”
He knew that if he learned Swedish it would be easier for him to meet people, integrate, find a job, and network in general. He remembers sitting in his beginners' classes at Lernia and watching the Level D – the highest level – students work.
“I was in awe,” he recalls. “And I thought, ‘One day. One day I'll be there.'”
It didn't take long. He worked hard – and he always went to extra classes.
“We always had the option of taking extra lessons on weekends,” he says. “We also could stay after our normal lessons to get extra help from the teachers. Go to all the extra classes.”
5. Get ready to read
Of course, learning a language isn't just about speaking.
“Go to the library,” Mohamed exclaims. “You can read anything, it doesn't matter.”
He started out regularly going to the local library and reading three or four pages of a children's book.
“Sometimes I could see people laughing at me, but I didn't care,” he chuckles. “It's a great way to learn.”
It's also another way of meeting people and practicing your language skills.
“I discovered that my library had a regular meeting for people who didn't speak Swedish that well, to practice together. So I went to those, too.”
6. Don't give up
Perhaps the most important part of learning anything is continuity. So even once you've learned the basics, don't give up, Antonio cautions.
“Many students at SFI quit their studies when they find a job or start studying. But it only makes it harder if you have to start over again and again,” he cautions.
The best way to learn is simply to see it through – and Lernia's flexible courses makes doing so easy.
Students of SFI need to study at least 15 hours a week, but Lernia has options in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, and online.
And for those who are struggling with the language, don't get discouraged.
“Don't think it's impossible,” Gabriella Andersson says. “If you've been able to learn something like the periodic table of elements in high school, you can definitely learn 200 Swedish words.”
7. Make it fun
The trick, of course, is to make it fun – something Lernia does well.
“At SFI Lernia you get a class of students who become your friends,” Gabriella says. “They come from all over the world, ages 20 to 60 plus, and you'll make friends and business associates alike. It's a fun course.”
Mohamed made it fun by turning social situations into language lessons as well.
“I prioritized making friends who spoke good Swedish, so I could hang out and integrate while learning,” he says. “And if you have friends who don't speak good Swedish, you can motivate each other and study together.”
All in all, just dive in and have a good time.
“It's a good investment,” Gabriella says. “Your life here will be so much richer if you learn Swedish.”
After all, SFI – and life in Sweden in general – is what you make it.
“SFI Lernia gives you everything you need, but it's your responsibility to take it,” says Mohamed.
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Lernia. All photos copyright Lernia.