LEARNING SWEDISH: MY EXPERIENCE
One of the best parts of living abroad is experiencing the culture, and for me, I found it difficult to do so fully without understanding the language. Though Sweden is known as one of the top countries when it comes to English fluency, it was important for me to try to learn at least some of the language when we moved to our new home.
Learning Swedish has been a humbling but exciting opportunity for me – one that I never imagined for myself! When we first moved to Sweden, I didn’t have a job and was able to dedicate a full 10 months to learning the language. While I’m by no means fluent, I can definitely understand most conversations, read quite a bit and even watch films and tv shows completely in Swedish (MacKenzie and I recently saw a kids film and were so proud of ourselves for the 99% that we understood!). It’s still a bit nerve-wracking for me to have conversations in Swedish, but it’s definitely something I’ve been focusing on, and getting better at every day!
Though you don’t have to know Swedish to live in Sweden, understanding the language has made my life so much easier and has given me even more appreciation for my new home.
These are 5 reasons I decided to learn Swedish:
Independence: Now that I am able to read most documents and menus, watch the news and understand cultural references, I no longer rely so much on friends and google translate to let me know what’s going on. It can feel isolating when you don’t understand everything that’s happening, and it’s so empowering not to always need to rely on others!
Showing respect for the culture: While most Swedes do speak English, going to any foreign country with the attitude that you are unwilling to change and adapt is not an ideal way to be successful, in my opinion. One of the best ways to integrate into a new country is by showing respect for the culture and ways of the people, and starting to learn the language is a great way to do so.
Better opportunities for work: Unless you are working for an international company, getting a job in Sweden without knowing Swedish can be tough. Believe me, I can’t tell you how many times I was at the final stage of the interview and was turned down because I wasn’t fluent in Swedish (even if the language spoken at work was English!). This actually was one of the biggest motivators for me to learn!
Fitting in socially: No one like feeling left out, and it can often feel that way when you don’t understand the language. There have been many times I’ve been in a group setting where someone switches to Swedish and the group continues in that way, forgetting to switch back to English. Though many Swedish people are willing English speakers, sometimes they feel more comfortable speaking in their native tongue, and it’s great to be able to continue conversations in “Swenglish”.
Fitting in culturally: Learning Swedish has given me a better perspective into the Swedish culture, helping me relate and understand the context of so many cultural phenomena including mannerisms, beliefs, and social norms. This was super important as I integrated into the Swedish culture, and was so interesting as well!
Curious to know more? Keep scrolling to learn more about my experience with learning Swedish!
SFI: Swedish for Immigrants (Svenska för invandrare)
Due to their high immigrant population, the Swedish government offers Swedish classes for immigrants (SFI), free of charge. These classes are one of the best ways to learn the Swedish language and gain valuable knowledge about culture and society in Sweden. Most courses are adapted to your level and years of education, so most people in my class had a bachelor’s degree and knew at least 2 languages (I studied French in high school and university!).
I had heard that the wait was long, so the day I got my Swedish person number, I went to the office and signed up for a course. It took about two months before I was admitted to the one I applied for, which is actually pretty quick! I was admitted to a full-time “intensive” level D course. This meant that my classes were from 8:00 – 12:00 five days a week. It was definitely a commitment, but I found it was so much easier to learn and stay engaged when I was in constant contact with the language.
In addition to diving in full-time and learning a new language, SFI was a great chance to learn more about Swedish culture and life in general. We discussed everything from food to holidays to government. We also took a field trip to the court house and art museum, learned about the healthcare system, discussed sustainability, family structure, and learned about Swedish history.
It’s been amazing to see a country go to these lengths to help immigrants assimilate, really understand and be able to take part in their new community. Getting to learn so much along other immigrants was such a special experience, and I am so grateful that I was able to take part. SFI is something that I would recommend to all people hoping to live in Sweden!
Tips for learning a new language
Live in a country where the language is spoken. I can’t tell you how different my experience learning Swedish differs from high school/university French for this very reason! Being able to use the language on a daily basis for practical reasons is a HUGE motivator and provides so many more opportunities to practice.
Watch tv in the language: Sometimes I use English subtitles, but lately I’ve really been trying to watch with Swedish. Kärlek och Anarki (Love and Anarchy) is a show on Netflix that I’ve been loving – proud to say I’ve been watching with Swedish subtitles!
Go to language cafés: I’m not sure how popular these are in other countries, but in Sweden, språk cafés are a great way to meet people and practice the language in a fun environment.
Practice with a friend: During my time in SFI, I would often meet up with friends from class for a fika and to practice our Swedish. I was the only native English speaker in my class, and it was often easier for us to communicate in Swedish rather than English. All the more reason for me to practice!
Don’t be afraid to mess up. I’m definitely guilty of rehearsing what I’ll say to the cashier at the store or a neighbour in the elevator – it can be scary putting yourself out there! I can’t tell you the number of awkward experiences I’ve had because I pretended I understood someone or agreed to something strange. I’ve learned just to laugh it off and try again!
Understand that it takes time: Though I’ve been in Sweden two+ years, I am just now feeling comfortable with the language. Learning a new skillset takes time and patience. Don’t give up!
Phrases and words to know
Whether you’re visiting or living in Sweden, here are a few key phrases that might come in handy!
Hej – Hi
Hej då – Goodbye
Vi ses – talk soon
Förlåt – Sorry
Ursäkta – Excuse me
Tack så mycket – Thank you so much
Grattis – Congratulations
Varsågod – You’re welcome, or there you go
Jag förstår inte – I don’t understand
Jag vet inte – I don’t know
Vad sa du?– What did you say?
Jag älsker dig – I love you
Puss och kram – kiss and hug
Herregod! – Oh my God!
Trevlig Helg! – Have a nice weekend!