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EXPLAINED: Will a Swedish language requirement help reduce segregation?

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EXPLAINED: Will a Swedish language requirement help reduce segregation?
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Language tests for permanent residency permits or Swedish citizenship are a hot topic in this year's election, with five of Sweden's eight parliamentary parties in favour of introducing tests. But, do they actually aid integration?


Do language requirements reduce segregation?

According to Forsberg Lundell, a language researcher and professor in French at Stockholm University, it's not that simple.

"Language requirements as part of a well-thought out language policy can have an effect in the long-term, but it's not something which changes things from one day to the other," she told state broadcaster SVT

There's also limited research on the actual effects of language requirements.

One example of research which has been done, is how easy it is to access the labour market in Sweden compared to Denmark, one of the countries in Europe with the strictest language requirements.

"There, researchers have been able to see that there is no real difference despite the fact that requirements for citizenship are so different," she said.

Learning a language does make it easier to get a job, which can, in turn, combat segregation, but a language requirement does not automatically encourage more people to learn Swedish.

"It's not certain that people actually learn a language because of a requirement," she said. "That's based on the individual's qualities, level of education and opportunities to interact and get an education."


Can language tests actually be a barrier to integration?

Pieter Bevelander, professor of international migration and ethnic relations at Malmö University told SVT that it's not possible to say whether there is any connection between language requirements and integration.

Instead, he said, it can be seen as another barrier for immigrants in getting Swedish citizenship.

"On the other hand, you can see that people who learn the language have better opportunities on the labour market, but it's very individual," he said.

Have language tests worked anywhere else?

Lundell from Stockholm University mentioned Canada as one example where language requirements have been successful. She believes that it could be to do with the fact that the country accepts more labour migrants than refugees, and that these are matched to the labour market, meaning that many are capable of completing language courses and meeting requirements.

"Then, there's also a thought in Canada that multiculturalism is an important value, but that only works if you have a shared language," she told SVT.

"That's why they have invested in very clear language policy."


Which parties are in favour of the proposal?

The Liberals, Sweden Democrats, Moderates, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats are in favour of introducing a language requirement, with the Liberals (then known as Folkpartiet), proposing the requirement two decades ago in 2002.

Back then, the Liberals were criticised for introducing the policy, which now seems to be supported by a majority in parliament.

Only the Centre Party, Left Party and Green Party are now against the measure.


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khar_khoon 2022/08/26 16:00
I have heard multiple times from Swedes that people don't like hearing Swedish spoken with foreign accents, especially if if it sound like a non western accent. I myself much rather enjoy speaking fluent English and passing as a cool tourist than trying to speak Swedish and be treated as a stupid immigrant/refugee although I am an engineer with sought after skills. That leaves me with zero desire to speak a language whose native speakers dislike hearing it with a foreign accent. On the other hand, while staying in Germany and mumbling some basic German, I was being taken much more seriously. My German colleagues just thought that, ok this guy speaks German so we continue the conversation in German. No visible judgement what so ever. Here in Sweden I just get a lot of unnecessary "vad sa du?" Followed by disgusted looks. So go figure.

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