The professional approach to learning Swedish

Don’t waste time learning useless phrases like ‘the bear sat on the tortoise’ when you can learn Swedish you’ll actually use. The Local finds out more about SFX, a series of specialised language courses for professionals.

The professional approach to learning Swedish

When Christina Angelopoulou moved to Sweden from Greece, she quickly realised that Sweden’s free language course, Swedish for Immigrants (SFI), didn’t offer the industry-specific language she was looking for.

“I was at Komvux for one year studying at SFI but the others needed more help to understand the language, so I didn’t have the opportunity to develop my own language skills or to speak Swedish and have conversations with the other students,” she explains.

That’s when Christina, who has a degree in business administration from Greece and is currently studying Global Business Studies at Stockholm University, was referred to SFEJ (Swedish for Economists, Lawyers, Social, Human Resources and Systems Specialists).

Photo: Christina enjoying a sunny day in Sweden

“It’s a great experience because we study yrkespråk (industry language) and we also have the opportunity to meet people with the same background, like economists and journalists,” she says.

This is just one of the programmes that you can study if you have a previous qualification or professional competence from another country. SFX offers a variety of courses suited to educators, engineers, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs, craftspeople, truck and bus drivers.

Find out more about the specialised Swedish courses offered by SFX

The intensive Swedish courses complete with work-focused professional vocabulary are outperforming more general courses, with the overall level of employment or continued study around 25 percent higher for those studying SFX than those who completed SFI.

SFX, which has been operating since 2001, is a collaborative effort between all of Stockholm’s municipalities. According to Sam Yildirim, Head of Integration at Länsstyrelsen, the secret to its success is strength in numbers.

“When you have students from 26 municipalities, you can make better courses and groups,” he explains. “They have to travel a little longer but the education is a lot better. For example, all doctors from 26 municipalities have to travel to Södertälje and engineers travel to Stockholm.”

Scientist Daniel Hutchinson is one student attending the Swedish for Engineers and Architects programme. Originally from New Zealand, he moved to Sweden in May 2017 after his wife took up a position at Stockholm University.

Photo: Daniel relaxing on a day off

Like Christina, Daniel also attended SFI courses to start with but was unsatisfied with the pace of the course and wanted to dig in deeper to the language.

“The teachers were good but I didn't find the course intensive enough. Having so much free time was frustrating as I wanted to learn the language and get a job as quickly as possible.”

His learning coordinator suggested that due to his academic background, SFINX (Swedish for Engineers) would be a better fit. He has been studying at the SFINX Jarfälla since January and on top of smaller class sizes allowing for more time for discussion between teachers and students, he is also enjoying the industry-specific education.

“In addition to the standard reading, writing, listening and speaking exercises, we focus on a theme related to technology. For the past two weeks we have focused on 'water.' Last week we visited the Norrvatten water treatment plant. Today we had to give presentations related to water to the rest of the class,” he says.

Find out more about the specialised Swedish courses offered by SFX

Daniel explains his class is always learning new words and grammatical concepts in the context of technology, which makes the learning feel more focused and relevant since everyone in the class has a background in some form of engineering, science or architecture.

This interconnectedness and shared background is something Christina also finds valuable in her course.

“I have a large network and all of us help each other. I work as a substitute mathematics teacher so I meet a lot of people. If I find out about a job, I ask my friends if they need work. Recently one of them has also started working as a substitute teacher,” she says.

Aside from language learning opportunities, Christina has also been provided with information regarding Swedish company rules and regulations as part of her education.

“We also receive a certificate to say we understand the way things work in the Swedish job market and this is really important because many companies ask me if I know the way things work in the Swedish system,” she explains.

While Christina has already taken part in a mentoring programme during her time at SFX, Daniel is looking forward to this opportunity.

“I have yet to find anyone that I can talk to about how I can find a job here in the science and industry sector,” he says. “It is difficult to even know what specific jobs I should be looking for since all my work experience has been at universities, so I think the mentorship programme offered in SFINX will be really helpful.” 

Christina is adamant that the key to integrating successfully into life in Sweden is learning the language.

“Even if you don’t work with it, in the fikapaus or the interview, it’s important to speak Swedish”.

Photo: SFX

Find further information about SFX and course offerings at www.sfx.seSIFABotkyrka SFEJärfälla SFINXSFA Medicin, and SFX IT.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by SFX.



13 sure signs you’ve mastered the Swedish language

Anyone who's attempted it will admit that the Swedish language has its tricky aspects. The unique sounds, the rules regarding word order, and the frankly obscene number of plural forms all make it difficult to master, leaving many learners uncertain how to reply when asked the inevitable questions of 'do you speak Swedish?' and the ensuing 'so are you fluent?' The good news is, if you identify with most of the items on this list, you're well on your way.

13 sure signs you've mastered the Swedish language
Learning Swedish is about more than just picking up the grammar. Here's how you know you've cracked it. Photo: Simon Paulin/

Locals no longer switch to English for your sake…

Learning Swedish is a bit of a catch 22: to improve your language, you need to talk to native speakers, but most of them have a tendency to switch to English the moment they detect a sniff of uncertainty.

It's always a milestone the first time you make it through a conversation with native friends without them needing to translate a term for you or dissolving into laughter at your mispronunication or misunderstanding. When people stop challenging you to say the phrase 'sju sjuka sjuksköterskor', or when you don't even flinch if they do, you know you've officially levelled up.

… but you sometimes do

This one's another paradox. Many Swedes, particularly of the younger generation, tend to slip English words and phrases into conversation, even with other native Swedish speakers. Most of the time, there's a perfectly usable Swedish equivalent, but phrases like 'you only live once', 'crazy', and 'oh my God' often creep into informal speech as well as TV programmes and adverts.

It's probably due to picking up these phrases from American TV or films, or switching language to add emphasis or nuance to a phrase, and it's not surprising because of Swedes' high level of English: switching between languages, also called code-switching, is common among bilinguals across the world.

Swedish learners, however, tend to be diligent about using the Swedish they know whenever possible. Once you start saying 'najs' (pronounced like 'nice') instead of 'trevlig' on occasion, or otherwise peppering your speech with English phrases again, it's actually a sign you're confident in your Swedish.

You know when things are good or bad

Good and bad are among the most frequently used terms in any language, but the Swedish variations are loaded with nuances the beginner might miss. 'God/tt' is used to describe food and in some set phrases, while 'bra' means 'good' in a more general sense, and 'fin' usually emphasizes appearance. 

A fin smörgås? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg / TT

It's the same when it comes to the negative words, and the two translations for 'worse' (sämre and värre) often confuse non-natives. Here, the rule is that you use 'värre' to describe something inherently bad, and 'sämre' if the object you're describing is neutral. It sounds impossibly fussy, but after time it becomes second nature.

Prepositions? No problem

Prepositions are the little words like 'on', 'in', and 'from' or '', 'i', and 'från' in Swedish, and while they're usually small words, they can cause big problems since their usage varies from language to language.

For example, if you're asked where your colleague is, a native English speaker might say 'hon är i toaletten' (she is in the toilet) directly translating the usual English phrase. But that will get you some strange looks, since in Swedish it implies she's literally inside the toilet bowl, and the correct phrase is 'på toaletten'. Another preposition problem is the difference between 'i en timme', 'om en timme', and 'på en timme', so if you know when to use each of those, give yourself a pat on the back (that one's got a direct translation: 'en klapp på axeln').

You don't know how you survived without Sweden's ultra-specific vocabulary

Linguists generally think that the language you speak doesn't have an impact on your values, but if you're learning Swedish through living in the country and chatting with locals, your cultural perceptions are bound to change. How did you go so long without a specific word for an unsightly pile of groceries on a supermarket conveyor belt (that's 'varuberg'), not to mention the classics 'fika' and 'lagom'?

And when it snows, you've got no shortage of words to describe the scene outside, whether you're dealing with 'slask', 'pudersnö', 'kramsnö', 'snömos', or the explosive-sounding 'snökanon'. A promising sign that your Swedish skills are soaring is when you start using these words in your native language too, because they just sum up what you want to say so precisely.

That feeling when you know the exact word to describe the type of snow on the ground. Photo: Helena Wahlman/

It’s infiltrated your English

The flipside to the above is that you might find your Swedish instincts taking over a little too much. This might be due to false friends (saying 'under the year' instead of 'during') or translating things too directly (saying food has 'gone out', based on the Swedish verb 'gå ut', instead of 'expired' or 'gone off'). It's the downside of language-learning no-one ever warns you about; the more expertise you gain in one, the more your others deteriorate.

Swearing and oj-ing in Swedish

When you've just stubbed your toe or fallen off your bike, practising Swedish is the last thing on your mind. The words you use in times when emotions are running high are instinctive, so if 'fan' or 'oj!' come out before the equivalent terms in your first language, the chances are good that you're close to mastering Swedish.

Filler words

Along similar lines, the words you use when you're thinking of what to say next are also a giveaway of your language skills. Once you've swapped your 'erm' and 'like' for 'ah' and 'liksom', you'll be sounding Swedish even when you're getting tongue-tied.

Photo: Emelie Asplund/

You’ve picked up the local lingo

There's the Swedish you learn in your textbook and then there's the Swedish you actually use. When you start picking up the local grammatical quirks and dialect words, you know you've made it.

In Skåne, that might mean saying 'påg' and 'tös' instead of 'pojke' and 'flicka', and if it's the birthday of the child in question, you might call them the 'födelsesdagsgris' (literally 'birthday pig', but we promise this is an affectionate term). In Stockholm, you might refer to the main train station (T-Centralen) as TC, the subway as 'tricken' or a taxi as 'en bulle'.

You no longer bat an eyelid when you reach the 'slutstation'

Some would argue this is a measure of maturity rather than language proficiency. The Swedish language has a lot of words that on first glance sound amusing or downright rude to English-speakers: 'fart', 'sex', 'kock', 'bra', and of course the aforementioned 'slutstation'. When you start to wonder why people are giggling at the words 'speed', 'six', 'chef', 'good', and 'final stop', you know that your Swedish is becoming instinctive.

You know when to use 'hans/hennes' and 'sin/sitt/sina'

When it comes to possessives, 'hans', 'hennes', and 'sin/sitt/sina' all mean 'his' or 'hers', but the first two refer to something belonging to the subject of the sentence, while 'sin/sitt/sina' introduce something belonging to the sentence's object.

If that sounds boring, just remember it can be an important difference in a sentence like 'Jonas och Henrik är vänner och Jonas älskar sin fru' ('Jonas and Henrik are friends, and Jonas loves his [own] wife' — good for Jonas) and 'Jonas och Henrik är vänner och Jonas älskar hans fru'. In the second example, Jonas is secretly in love with his good friend Henrik's wife. Oj oj oj oj.

Oh, Jonas. File photo: Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos

You inhale your yeses

When you first started speaking Swedish, you may have wondered why people seemed so surprised at your most mundane statements. Swedes have a habit of breathing in to signal that they are listening to you (usually written as 'ah'), and the word 'ja' (yes) is also often said on an inhale. If you've noticed yourself or others doing this and want to learn more about why this phenomenon exists, The Local has investigated here.


“There's no cow on the ice”. “If there's room in the heart, there's room for the bottom.” “He always shits in the blue cupboard.” “There's a dog buried here.” Those are the direct English translations of just a few of Sweden's curious idioms, and if you know the meaning behind them, you're doing well. And if not, well, you can find out here.

Was there a moment when you realized you'd cracked the Swedish language? Or are there any areas that still trip you up? Members of The Local can comment below.