When we ran an article about how one Swedish band could spur the listener to learn the language, it got us wondering if many readers had similar experiences.
The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’, with many readers picking up the lingo from contemporary singers like Veronica Maggio, or older acts like Ebba Grön.
But what is it about songs that make them such a trigger for language-learning? Reader Sandra Clara Silva Paulsen put her finger on a big part of the answer when reflecting on what singer Lisa Nilsson meant to her.
“To learn a new language is not just to learn how to speak. It is also to adapt, understand, accept.”
Paulsen, from Brazil, says listening to Nilsson’s music at around the time of the Euro referendum in 2003 made her feel at home despite the negative focus in debates at the time on supposedly feckless southern Europeans.
“It was a very special time for me, a time when I realized that maybe life would be easier if I only spoke English, but life would be much richer if I jumped in the water and decided to learn how to use that ‘strange’ language.
“No doubts: music, and Lisa Nilsson in particular, helped me a lot!”
Paulsen singles out the song Små rum as a favourite. Like the rest of the songs mentioned below, you can find the Lisa Nilsson track in this Spotify playlist.
The invisible man
Helen Engelbarts is one of several readers citing Kent as a four-headed language teacher. The Eskilstuna band were hugely successful domestically before disbanding amid some serious fanfare in 2016.
“I remember how immensely proud I felt when I knew my first Swedish song by heart,” says Engelbarts.
“It was Den osynlige mannen by Kent. Only a short song, not a whole lot of lyrics, but still. Made me want to burst with pride. There’s a part that goes håll mig flytande and now every time I buy liquid margarine (flytande margarin) or even open my refrigerator door and see the bottle, I hear the voice of Kent’s singer reverberating ‘flyyyyyyytande’.”
Vick Art Strong echoes these sentiments, telling The Local in a Facebook chat that she missed Kent since they said goodbye to their fans last year. And another reader, Sonia France, is slowing making her way though the band’s vast back catalogue: “Thinking about it, the song that got me really hooked was Var är vi nu, it’s so beautiful.”
‘Their fat necks’
Punk trailblazers Ebba Grön also tickled readers’ linguistic funny bones.
“I think the pronunciation is the most difficult part in the Swedish language. So songs like Mamma Pappa Barn made me think in a different way how Swedes pronounce some words and phrases,” said Tatiana Romanov.
“A lot of songs by Ebba Grön helped me to understand that but this song in particular was the first which triggered me to focus on pronunciation.”
Rad Addala cites arguably one of the best songs ever written about the power and the money (the money and the power), Ebba Grön’s Staten & kapitalet. He especially notes the part of the song where Joakim Thåström bellows the line about deras feta nackar (‘their fat necks’), which usually marks the exact moment when boozy Swedish dinner parties spiral headlong into oblivion.
Everyone wants to get to heaven but nobody wants to die
“I would add Alla vill till himmelen men ingen vill dö by Timbuktu,” says Addala.
Anyone who lived in Sweden around 2005 will probably know this song very well indeed. It was a monster hit, catapulting hip-hop artist Jason ‘Timbuktu’ Diakité to vast new heights of Swedish stardom.
Reader Marine Ch is also a fan.
“Timbuktu helped me discover a bunch of idioms and expressions that I had no idea of. His songs also helped with the pronunciation of sounds that don’t exist in French like in the word fallskärm“, (the title of another Timbuktu song).
“I listened to him in the very beginning of my learning.”
She also has another tip: “Södra Station is good for me to check if my level improves: it’s not very difficult but they use a lot of abbreviations and I’m trying to understand a bit more each time I listen to their songs.”
Also featuring prominently as Swedish tutors are Dungen, a band notable for having achieved success in the US and UK despite singing pretty much exclusively in Swedish.
“There’s a wonderful song by Dungen, Du e för fin för mig, that I loved so much that I had to translate it all,” says Mia Salazar.
“There’s a line that says: Aj aj buff. I did some research and found that it was a children’s tale. A classic Nordic one! Trollmors vaggvisa [Mother Troll’s Lullaby].”
Salazar, a filmmaker and musician we have previously featured on The Local, adds:
“Dungen used to rehearse just below our studio and I started listening to their music because my colleague told me they were really good. I think the concert in which they played a projection of a classic movie and played on top of it, explained all the content of the record Häxan very well…I think that’s in my top-ten best concerts ever.”
A long time ago, before Roxette
Sanya Lily, living in New York, remembers how her then Swedish boyfriend moved to be with her in the US before they made the trip the other way. “I used to know Swedish well (hah!) But struggled with pronunciation.”
Her boyfriend encouraged her to listen to Gyllene Tider and Eva Dahlgren.
“I used to listen (to tapes!) as I jogged – especially Flickorna På TV2 and Ängeln i rummet.”
Per Gessle would doubtless be delighted to hear that his 40-plus-year-old song still gets a regular airing in New York.
“Flickorna på TV2 has a great beat for running, which I now do along the East River,” says Lily.
Gessle, later one half of Roxette, clearly leaves an impression, with reader Kimberly Cooper also on the hook.
“I still listen to Gyllene Tider to this day,” she said when we spoke to her in 2017, “and I am 53 years old. I have been back to Sweden a couple of times since and plan on returning,” she says, citing När alla vännerna gått hem as a particular favourite.
Rossco Galloway meanwhile talks up the songs of Cornelis Vreeswijk, the brilliant but self-destructive Dutch-born songwriter who was one of Sweden’s best-loved performers (despite never actually becoming a Swedish citizen).
“All of Cecilia Lind is really beautiful Swedish. I’m a songwriter so I learned it by only sounds then looked up the translation later.”
Bonus track: Helgen v. 48 by bob hund, a standout song from the album featured here: How this Swedish band helped me learn the language.