Swedish for programmers: ‘It changed my life’

One size does not fit all – not in shoes and not in Swedish lessons. The Local finds out more about “Swedish for Programmers”, an alternative to SFI which is helping get foreigners into new jobs quickly.

Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons for moving to Sweden.

And there are thousands of people with vastly different backgrounds who have all ended up in Stockholm.

“They all have one goal in common, though: to find a job,” says Miia Luomajoki, who teaches Swedish as a second language.

But what many don’t realize is that they do not have to take the same cookie-cutter Swedish classes en route to that goal.

Miia works at a community-learning centre called C3L in Tyresö, just southeast of Stockholm, where she teaches Swedish for Programmers.

“SFX-IT, as we call it, is Swedish lessons which are tailored for people with an education in programming and IT,” Miia explains. “Students are able to learn Swedish at the same time as they take classes in IT vocabulary, Java, C#, Python, and more. We focus on Swedish in the workplace.”

It’s not just another Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) course. SFX-IT is one of nine dedicated Swedish programmes in the greater Stockholm area designed to prepare educated immigrants for a specific profession in their new country.

“I came to Sweden two years ago looking for new opportunities due to the financial crisis in Spain,” says Adriana González, a computer engineer originally from Mexico City but who lived in Spain for seven years. When she went to register for normal SFI classes she saw a flyer for SFX-IT – and immediately knew it was the better option for her.

“It's important for me to learn the technical vocabulary needed in my work, and it was a great opportunity to improve my technical skills, too.”

Thair Yalldko, a programmer from Iraq who moved to Sweden in 2013, has a very different background, but eventually also found his way to the unique programme.

“I worked at the Ministry of Industry in Iraq, but the situation was difficult, and I was so close to death many times,” Thair tells The Local. “I was forced to leave my country and come here to learn a new language, new culture, and new laws.”

When he first arrived in Sweden there was only one thing on his mind: safety.

“But after a few months, I started thinking about how start my life again, and how to be useful to society,” he says. He registered at the local work authority and heard about SFX-IT.

“It felt like the right choice and an unbelievable opportunity,” he says.

Adriana and Thair both had classes every day, learning to read, write and speak Swedish, but also earning certification in programming languages such as Java and C#. The students also received support preparing their CVs and cover letters and practicing for interviews.

“About 15 hours a week is Swedish, and the rest is programming,” Miia explains. “Students can also do an internship at an IT company as part of their education.”

This mixed approach makes it much easier for students to enter the labour market after their studies.

“It used to be easier to get IT jobs in Sweden without speaking the language, but today it’s harder,” Miia explains. “Programmers don’t just sit quietly behind their screens anymore. They need to communicate with colleagues and clients alike.”

Many students of SFX-IT already have jobs, but enrol in distance studies when they realize they’re lacking necessary language skills. Students have the option of studying online in the evenings if they can’t commute to Tyresö during the day.

“Sometimes companies send us their employees to learn Swedish. Other times it’s the employees themselves who realize that if you want to live in Sweden, you should learn the language.”

Find out more about Swedish for Programmers

For Adriana it certainly paid off.

“I enjoyed every single part of the course,” she tells The Local. “Personally it helped me meet people and communicate, and in my career it improved my skills, and finally got me a job.”

Indeed, while students can take the classes for up to three semesters, Miia says most of them have secured IT jobs within one or two semesters.

“The school has a great network and contact with many IT companies, and we invite guest lecturers and participate in recruitment fairs and other relevant events,” she explains. “We offer a lot that you can’t get through normal SFI courses.”

Indeed, Thair, who started SFX-IT in September last year, already has a programming job.

“SFX-IT was a wonderful journey which led me to my company,” he says. “I would recommend it to all programmers who want to learn Swedish and start working here.  “It changed my life and I'm so happy for that.”

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by C3L Tyresö.


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.