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How hard is it to learn Swedish?

Time needed to become fluent in the language

post 22.Aug.2009, 09:58 PM
Post #1
Joined: 22.Aug.2009

How hard is it to learn swedish? And by learning, I mean acquiring fluency... How long would it take, assuming one enrolls in an intensive course?
Additional info: my mother tongue is portuguese, but I'm rather fluent in english (I was told the grammatical structure is similar).
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post 22.Aug.2009, 11:37 PM
Post #2
Joined: 26.Jul.2009

Depends on what you mean by "fluency", I guess.

The question you wanna ask is: to what end shall I want to learn Swedish?

If it is just to communicate with Swedes on everyday matter, then some people can do so within 6 months, while aiming to study for a specialised course (e.g. medicine) at a university-level course entirely in Swedish might take you two years or more.

If you want to appriciate all cultural things Swedish, then I think it is an ongoing process that takes you your entire lifetime.
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post 22.Aug.2009, 11:42 PM
Post #3
Location: Dalarna
Joined: 5.Apr.2006

For most people to obtain relative fluency takes around 1-3 years.

The intensive courses at Universities aim to get you to the compulsory university entrance level in around 12-18 months
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post 23.Aug.2009, 12:35 AM
Post #4
Joined: 7.Mar.2009

I think it'd be cool to hear some personal accounts of people who consider themselves fluent in Swedish: how long did it take you to reach your current level, how did you study and practice, and do Swedes always have trouble understanding your accent when speaking Swedish?
Are there any people who work as translators who learnt Swedish as a foreign language?
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post 23.Aug.2009, 12:47 AM
Post #5
Joined: 22.Aug.2009

It's funny that you mention medicine because the reason why I'm considering learning swedish is because I wanted to do my specialty training in another country, and have thought about Sweden. Additionally, I'm considering psychiatry, which requires a particularly deep understanding of the language...

I just graduated from medical school and still have to complete a year of general medical training here, so I'll only start my specialty training in the beggining of 2011.
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post 23.Aug.2009, 09:36 AM
Post #6
Joined: 23.Aug.2009

Took me about 2 yrs to be proficient enough to converse regularly at all levels i.e. with friends, employers, out and about in general etc.

It all depends on who I am talking to as to whether or not they understand what I am saying or whether they say "vad sa du?" or "forstår inte" - but that is normally bus drivers who are just rude anyway or idiots who cannot be bothered to get past the english sounding I have on some words - regardless of how much I practise,train in the language.

Like all things, its just practise makes perfect. Even if you feel a complete idiot for speaking it in the early days(I know i did), keep on going - because it feels like one day you just wake up understanding what people are saying and being able to answer without thinking about it.

Good luck!
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Caribbean guy/Swedish Gal
post 23.Aug.2009, 10:29 AM
Post #7
Joined: 14.Jan.2009

I just started learning and im amazed at how much ive learned. Can't wait to get better at it smile.gif
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post 23.Aug.2009, 10:32 AM
Post #8
Location: Dalarna
Joined: 5.Apr.2006

It took me around 2 years of study to become fluent enough to study in Swedish at university and write exam papers/ speak Swedish at examined seminars etc.

As I live in a tiny rural kommun I took the komvux route (SFI; GRUV, Gymnasiet Svenska A & Svenska cool.gif

Some people take an intensive course where you take the TISUS test in less than a year. I have come accross several people at my time at Uppsala who took the TISUS route during my student time at Uppsala- although those who took the TISUS route seem to struggle more than those who take the komvux route - many found it a big leap from the TISUS test writing task of producing 400 words (1-2 pages) in 2½ hours to writing an exam paper in Swedish where you may write 10-20 pages in 3 hours.
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post 23.Aug.2009, 11:52 AM
Post #9
Joined: 25.Sep.2006

It very much depends on the person and the proficiency which is being sought.

To get to a level which enabled me to do to useful things i.e. work in Swedish, I needed around 12 months. After this time, I was able to teach in Swedish, though my language was (and remains) imperfect.

Some time back I spoke to some linguists about the active vocabulary size of fluent speakers. They reckon that at least 5000 words are needed - there is some interesting research on this. Taking 5000 words as a rough guide, this equates to around 2 and a half years if 5 new words a day are to be learned. It takes time.

In my experience, its easiest to master reading Swedish, followed by speaking/listening and finally writing. When writing there is no escape from the little spelling mistaykes and rubish gramar who look awful when written whilst being quickly forgotten when spoken.
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post 23.Aug.2009, 07:26 PM
Post #10
Location: Sweden
Joined: 17.May.2009

Sort of a dumb question actually being that we are all so individually qualified.

If you are an American, who's educational system never allowed you to learn a 2nd language until you were 18, when you had to learn one to go to college, you may have lost the ability to learn any language! Use it or loose it in the brain!

If you grew up in one of those "primitive" countries where you had to learn 3 languages before you even started school, (the language of your village, the language of your region, the international language your country uses) you may have no problem at all!

Male vs Female, alphabet you grew up with, your motivation, your handicaps.

The beauty of Swedish is that it is a lot more WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) than either French or English!

Worst part is that you may be using the correct word and you may be saying all the letters in the word BUT IF you do NOT have the correct STRESSES in the word or the sentence, the Swede will not understand.

To get it right, think the Muppet's "SWEDISH CHEF" style and you will have no problems ;-)
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post 23.Aug.2009, 09:38 PM
Post #11
Joined: 10.Jun.2009

I am a Brit and I arrived in southern Sweden a couple of weeks ago. I don't speak a word of Swedish, but I am just about fluent in Danish. I understand about 20% of spoken Swedish around here but I can get the gist of about 75% of written Swedish. I have no idea how long it will take me to learn the lingo here, but at the moment I doubt I'll ever get my head around the pronunciation because it sounds just so different from English OR Danish!
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post 23.Aug.2009, 10:15 PM
Post #12
Joined: 22.Aug.2009


I know it's extremely variable from person to person, but I just wanted to get an idea of the average learning time, before embarking in an adventure that may take a lot longer than I previously expected...
Answering your questions, I'm female, portuguese and our educational system demands that we learn at least 2 foreign languages. Therefore, I am fluent in english and know basic french (I understand it much better than I speak it, but I think I'd acquire fluency rather quickly with practice).
Additionally, I lived in Italy as a child, so I also learned italian as a second language, though I've lost most of the fluency I used to have (again, I think more practice would improve that very quickly).
Also, because of the proximity and language similarities, I can say I know basic spanish, but I never actually studied it.
I've never had trouble learning new languages and my diction is (according to my teachers) quite good.
My motivation was stated in one of my previous posts. ;-)
I'm not sure what you mean by handicaps; can you please elaborate? I don't have any hearing or speaking disabilities, but I don't think that's what you were referring to...

@Britannia and Puffin

You said it took you about 2 years to be proficient enough to converse regularly at all levels / study at university and write exam papers. Would you say you can understand almost every finer point of a person's discourse?
I ask this because I intend to study and practice psychiatry. Do you think your knowledge of the language would (hypothetically) be enough for something like that?
Also, did you enroll in a language course? If so, what kind? And were you already living in Sweden at the time?

@Everyone else

Thank you so much for your answers! :-)
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post 24.Aug.2009, 06:17 AM
Post #13
Location: Dalarna
Joined: 5.Apr.2006


Are you already a psychiatrist?
- If so you might be able to get onto a scheme run by a health authority as many offer intensive courses for EU psychiatrists as there is such a shortage overe here. If you are already a specialist it usually takes aroun 5-12 months.

If you are not a psychiatrist then you will need to do Swedish lessons then medical school before specialising in psychiatry - so you should be pretty fluent. But at the moment it is very, very tough to get into med school.
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post 24.Aug.2009, 06:58 AM
Post #14
Location: United States
Joined: 2.Mar.2008

QUOTE (DamnImmigrant @ 23.Aug.2009, 08:26 PM) *
Sort of a dumb question actually being that we are all so individually qualified.If you are an American, who's educational system never allowed you to learn a 2nd language ... (show full quote)

Lucky for me I probably went to one of the worst public schools in the US, but Spanish was required from 1st grade on to high school.

Setting that aside, my other friends from the US that are here, who have never studied a 2nd language, are struggling a bit with Swedish...mainly with the pronunciation. If you have a Swedish partner, it helps 1000x, you just have to push him/her to learn with you! If you have no one to practice with it becomes a bit more difficult. If you're a music/theater person, that's also a bonus for learning a new language.
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post 24.Aug.2009, 08:08 AM
Post #15
Location: Stockholm
Joined: 21.Feb.2007

QUOTE (DamnImmigrant @ 23.Aug.2009, 08:26 PM) *
The beauty of Swedish is that it is a lot more WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) than either French or English!

I agree with this part to a certain extent, but there is a problem here...

Spoken Swedish can and often is different from written Swedish. While it is possible to speak Swedish as it is written and one will be understood, you will sound like you're reading a book rather than conversing.

So as far as fluency is concerned... Learning how to read, write, pronounce, executing proper grammar etc. is important, but effective verbal communication does occasionally mean that one has to throw some of the written rules out the window.

Does that make any sense?
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