But if you want a challenge, the City of Stockholm offers a range of free, intensive Swedish courses that can help you make rapid progress towards fluency. These courses, provided by SIFA (Stockholms intensivsvenska för akademiker), which is part of the city’s adult education programmes, include three Sfx programmes for professionals, as well as two more options for intensive studies in Swedish without a vocational orientation.
Students come from across the world – but you’ll only study with classmates with a similar level of Swedish to yourself and who are ready to study at a fast pace. We spoke to two SIFA students about the courses and how what they’re learning is giving them new optimism about their future lives in Sweden.
A big milestone
“Before SIFA, I felt like I was still living like a tourist in Sweden,” says Alesia Peshku, a student taking Intensive Swedish for economists, lawyers and other social scientists – SFEJ. “You might know a little Swedish but you’re not part of the conversation that brings you closer to the social life or cultural life. After starting at SIFA, it became so much easier to pick up on what’s going on around me and discuss that with my colleagues. I’ve also had the opportunity to read many books in Swedish and that’s a big milestone for me.”
Alesia, originally from Albania, moved to Sweden in 2017 to do a Master’s in international marketing. While she was enthusiastic about learning Swedish at first, she admits she lost motivation after enrolling with the “chaotic” nationwide Swedish for immigrants (SFI) programme, which she says had “a lot of students and no clear curriculum”.
By contrast, SIFA’s Swedish courses are aimed at graduates who want accelerated learning and you can be sure that nobody new will join your class during a course. You start studying at the level that’s right for you and even a beginner can complete six or seven nine-week courses in 18 months – leaving you fully prepared to work or study in Swedish.
A ‘super-motivating’ study structure
Alesia, who started at SIFA in January 2021, is now on SVA2 and will soon be moving onto the final course, SVA3 (SVA stands for svenska som andraspråk – Swedish as a second language). So, what sets SIFA apart?
“The study pace, the quality of the content and having a plan,” she says. “It’s been super-motivating to know that I’m going to start a course, and in nine weeks I’m going to take an exam and move on to the next one. The teachers are also genuinely caring and want you to progress.”
Her course is one of three Sfx programmes for professionals, along with Intensive Swedish for engineers and architects – SFINX and Intensive Swedish for educators – SFP. Alesia, who lives in Bromma, studies remotely for around 30 hours per week (including regular meetings with her teacher, group sessions and lots of studying in her own time), while also working full-time as a marketing consultant.
“You can live in Sweden and speak English,” she says. “It’s just that knowing Swedish gets you into different conversations – in that sense, it’s life-changing as you learn more about what people here think and feel.”
She’s also delighted with the impact on her career. “I work for different clients and with one of them, I had almost all the communication in Swedish, which was very, very good,” she says. “Learning Swedish not only boosts your confidence but also your access to the Swedish jobs market.”
Drop the apps to get serious
In addition to the well-established courses for professionals, SIFA also now offers Intensive studies in Swedish with no vocational orientation to residents of the City of Stockholm (Stockholms Stad). There are two options within this: a full-time classroom course and a part-time course (which you do remotely). The classroom element takes place at SIFA’s school in Södermalm in central Stockholm, although it is currently split between classroom and remote learning due to Covid-19).
Gerard Fauria, from Catalonia, moved to Stockholm to be with his Swedish boyfriend last year and says he had already picked up some Swedish during their six-year relationship. But his level has improved dramatically in just three months since he began an intensive classroom course at SIFA.
“Obviously, I started out with Duolingo as everyone does,” smiles Gerard, who lives in Södermalm. “I think it’s good if you take it as a hobby, but it’s not so good if you really want to learn the language.”
When he moved to Sweden in April 2021, he tried with the language but found it a struggle to express himself. “I usually spoke Swedish with my boyfriend’s mum but I wasn’t comfortable and it was really hard to make a point,” he says. “The good thing with SIFA is that everyone is used to studying in a fast way. It’s a great way to get immersed in the language.”
Gerard studies for between 30 and 40 hours per week, with around 20 hours of classes (some in the classroom and some remotely), as well as homework that includes essays and preparing presentations. While there are only seven or eight students in his class, they include people from the US, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Hungary, Tunisia and Vietnam.
The diverse student group really appreciates the Swedish approach to teaching. “I’ve had the same teacher twice, which is great,” he says. “We have to give her written feedback every second or third week and she takes it seriously and tries to adapt the class accordingly.”
Gerard is currently working in a restaurant, but he has a degree in law and economics and says he’s almost ready to start applying for Swedish jobs in these fields. “Now I would feel comfortable working in a Swedish environment, so I feel like SIFA is doing a great job,” he says.