Your fastest route to learning Swedish

Want to learn Swedish but feel stuck? You’re not alone. While many international people who move to Sweden get by with English, doing so can create a gnawing sense that you’re not fully embracing your new life and the opportunities it could offer. 

Your fastest route to learning Swedish
Gerard Fauria from Catalonia is learning Swedish at SIFA

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. 

Discover all SIFA’s intensive courses in Swedish (apply by April 15th to start studying in May)

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.

Alesia Peshku in the Swedish city of Västerås

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 andraspråkSwedish 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.” 

The fast way to fluency: learn more about SIFA’s Swedish courses for professionals (apply by April 15th to start studying in May)

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.”

Photos: Gerard Fauria in the classroom at SIFA/Alesia Peshku in Stockholm

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.

Want to learn Swedish? Take a look at all SIFA’s courses – and apply by April 15th to begin on the fast-track to fluency in May  

Member comments

  1. Isn’t there a similar programme in Malmö or Skane? How’s this programme different than other SFI Swedish programmes?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

A new study shows that more than one in five Swedes is irritated by the pronoun "hen", and the same number can't stand it when compound words are split up. Here's a rundown of the main offenders.

What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

One in five Swedes dislike the gender-neutral pronoun hen

In the study, carried out by Novus on behalf of language magazine Språktidningen, 22 percent of Swedes said that the pronoun hen was the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language. 

The first reported use of the gender-neutral pronoun, to be used instead of han (he) or hon (she), was in the 1950s, when it was used by language professor Karl-Hampus Dahlstedt, but it didn’t appear in writing until linguist Rolf Dunås wrote a newspaper article in 1966 proposing the introduction of the new pronoun.

After that, use of the pronoun was mostly limited to those within the LGBT community until 2012, when a children’s book sparked debate and media attention thanks to the exclusive use of hen to refer to its characters.

In 2015, hen entered the Swedish dictionary, a move which made it more difficult for critics to argue that it wasn’t an established or accepted alternative to han or hon.

As Språktidningen’s editor-in-chief Anders Svensson points out in this article, the pronoun hen has had an ideological and political dimension since debate took off in 2012, and this is still clearly visible today.

Although 22 percent of the survey’s respondents listed hen as the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language, this number rose to a whopping 50 percent amongst respondents who identified with the Sweden Democrats.

On the other side of the political spectrum, those sympathising with the Left Party, the Greens, the Liberals or the Centre Party were least likely to find hen irritating, with a mere 5 to 7 percent of these groups putting it in first place.

Torbjörn Sjöström, CEO of polling company Novus, told Språktidningen that these results didn’t surprise him.

“The fact that hen is irritating for Sweden Democrat sympathisers more than others is not surprising. People join that party because they want things to be like they were in the past. A new word which is gender-neutral symbolises a lot of the developments these people are against,” he explained.

One in five against särskrivning

The same amount, 22 percent, stated that särskrivningar – writing compound words incorrectly as two separate words – annoyed them the most.

This may sound like a minor error, but särskrivningar (literally: “separate writing”) can lead to major misunderstandings. Just look at these amusing examples of särskrivning gone wrong:

En rödhårig kvinna: “a red-haired woman”

En röd hårig kvinna: a red, hairy woman

Kassapersonalen: “checkout workers”

Kassa personalen: “useless employees”

Barnunderkläder: “children’s underwear”

Barn under kläder: “child under clothes”

In contrast to debates over the use of the word hen, debates over särskrivning have raged since the 1800s, where they were often considered to be major mistakes if featured in a text. One reason for this, Svensson notes, is that order in itself was seen as beautiful at this time.

Maria Bylin, language advisor at the Swedish Language Council (Språkrådet), told Språktidningen that she recognises this argument in modern debate on särskrivningar.

“You associate developments in the language with the country and with society,” she explained. “So whatever changes you can see in the language, you think it will happen in society, too.”

One popular scapegoat for this increase in särskrivning is the influence of English on the Swedish language. In English, we have fewer compound words than in Swedish, although they do still exist: a few examples are postbox, doorknob and blackberry. It is, however, harder to form compounds than in Swedish.

To return to the examples above, it would look strange to write “redhairedgirl”, “checkoutworker” or “childrensunderwear” as compounds in English.

So, is the rise of English to blame for mistakes in Swedish? Not according to linguist Katharina Hallencreutz, who noted when studying high school students’ English essays that they had no issues writing English compound loan words such as makeup or popcorn. 

This also wouldn’t explain the large amount of särskrivningar seen in historical texts in Sweden: they feature heavily in laws dating back to the 1200s, as well as Gustav Vasa’s Swedish bible translation, which was published in 1541.

One surprising result of the survey was the fact that young people were more likely than older people to find särskrivningar irritating:

“That surprised me a bit,” Svensson told public broadcaster SVT. “Often you hear the argument that older people think young people write carelessly and särskriver too much.”

Svensson wasn’t sure why this was, but did have a theory: “I suppose those who have recently finished school – most of them have learnt when words should be written as one word, and when they should be separate,” he told SVT.

English loanwords

The influence of English on the Swedish language was a major bugbear for a number of respondents, though. As many as 15 percent of those in Novus’ survey answered that “unnecessary English loanwords” were the most irritating thing about modern Swedish.

English loanwords were most irritating amongst Swedes over 65, where 29 percent stated they were the number one source of irritation, a number which was much lower in other age groups.

Lena Lind Palicki, a Swedish lecturer at Stockholm University, said that this could be to do with comprehensibility. She noted that irritation over English loanwords was especially high amongst older respondents who had left school at 16.

“We can assume that these people have a lower level of English, and then it’s a democratic problem, if English loanwords are used which can be difficult for many people to understand,” she told Språktidningen.

Palicki can’t imagine that English will remain as large a source of annoyance in the future as it is now, though.

“The irritation over English loanwords may have gone out of date in twenty years. Today’s youth will not start to be irritated by the same things as today’s elderly, but they’ll probably start making a symbolic issue of things they struggle with in school today,” she told the magazine.