Sunday, March 09, 2008

Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language

Make sure to check out the other riveting Move-to's:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

Here is the long awaited follow-up to Moving to Sweden – What to Bring. The second post about moving to Sweden. This one about the lovely language spoken here. Swedish. They don’t speak Swede. Or Sweden. They speak Swedish. It’s a Germanic language which in theory should make it a bit easier to learn if you know German. Or English (also a Germanic language). Theories are not always right however. But it’s good to learn Swedish.

To be honest though, knowing Swedish is not a prerequisite to moving here. In fact it is really not necessary at all. Basically every Swede under the age of 45 is fluent in English. You might even be able to argue that any Sweden under 60 is. And they do not hesitate to use their English. Some people even choose to study abroad in Sweden because they want the experience of going to a different country and not having to know the language. Which speaks well of the Swedes mastery of English.

However, if you plan on moving to a country you had better learn the language. No one wants to cater to you because you haven’t shown enough respect to learn the spoken language. It’s just rude. So learn the language.

There are plenty of options. Some people are proactive. For those people I suggest checking with a university near you. Some larger state schools offer Swedish courses; even some of the smaller community colleges offer Swedish sometimes. Check around. The U of O and CU definitely offer Swedish.

If you don’t have a university nearby but still feel proactive grab a do it yourself Swedish course.I’ve never taught myself a language. I have no experience here at all. But even just getting used to what words look like and the basics will help.

If you are less proactive and you already made it to Swedish without knowing the difference between “ä” and “å” don’t worry. Swedes are socialists. They want to teach you for free. And they will. Grab a class at a university in Sweden. Stockholm University focuses almost solely on grammar at first. Which makes it difficult to get that speaking thing going but gives an excellent base to work from.

There is also the Swedish for immigrants classes. Back in the olden days (i.e. when BGC dragged NBC here) they actually paid you to take these classes. Those days are no more. Although there has been talk about reinstating this plan. But nonetheless, these classes are designed to get people out speaking into Swedish society quickly. Depending on where you take these classes, and who you talk to they can be very good.

Both of the in-Sweden Swedish options are pretty solid. Some people will argue that the Swedish for immigrants is better because it focuses on getting people speaking quickly. Others will argue that the grammar is better because of the base it gives. I don’t know. Depends on what you’re looking for I suppose. Personally, already having a very solid base I would have opted for the grammar option.

Now that you’re on your way to learning the language it pays to be a stubborn son of a bitch. Because as I said, Swedes speak English. And they speak it well. And they want to practice. Or show off. And they will. So when they hear you speak broken Swedish they switch to English. Ignore them. Continue on in Swedish. Fight through. It might end up being a two-languaged conversation, but that’s ok. In fact, it’s pretty cool. You will find that immigrants are more willing to continue on with you in Swedish. Probably because they remember how it was. Relish that. And remember it when you become fluent.

One way to practice is to find a buddy. A language exchange if you will. Swedish for English. Swedish for Swahili. Swedish for whatever. It’s a good way to practice. And maybe even make a friend. If your only language is English it might take a while. Spanish, Russian, French. You’re sitting a little prettier. It all comes down to good old economics. You need to have something to offer, something that is not readily supplied. And unfortunately English is. But that’s ok. Because everyone wants that native speaker for that extra help. So put up a sign at the schools or even online. Someone will bite.

So while it might be tough in a country where the majority of the population is fluent in English. Where American TV dominates the airwaves. Where American movies rule. Where English-language magazines, books, and even radio is available with little to no effort. It is well worth it.

Moving to a different country involves a certain social responsibility. A social contract if you will. An important aspect being adapting, in some way, to the local culture. The best way of doing that is to learn the language. Without the language, you miss out on Swedish news from the source. On hilarious Swedish conversations in the train. On getting to know a person in their native language. You can’t truly appreciate a country, whether it is Sweden, or anywhere else you choose to move, without learning the local language.

So there it is. Learn Swedish. It’s worth it. And it’s pretty cool being able to say you speak another language. Even if it is only spoken by a few million people in the world. If anything that makes it even cooler.

Welcome to Sweden.

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  1. I totally agree that you should learn the language when you live in another country. It is respecting them and their culture. You are a guest in that country and should try to fit in. Also, you are so right even though they speak excellent English there you do miss out if you don't speak Swedish!

  2. Indeed. You've got to learn the language of the country you have chosen to live in. It shows respect. Plus you assimilate much better.

    Don't stop using your native language. Just learn another.

  3. You really have no choice to attempt to Learn Swedish if you are living in Sweden considering they offer you free classes!!!
    Maybe that is something that the U.S. should look into...
    ...Living in Houston like I do, you come to expect that you will have people that can only speak spanish. I have 5 television channels that are spanish language only and it is not uncommon to see billboards and ads that are in spanish. Maybe Spanish is becoming the second language of the U.S. like English is the second langauge of Sweden???
    The U.S. should take a lesson from the Swedes and offer language courses free of charge.

  4. How is English becoming the second language of Sweden? Just curious. I heard something about there being more Spanish speaking children born last year than there were English speaking children in USA. Children who will speak Spanish at home, with most of their friends (probably) and maybe even at school and even later at work. That's a second language. And yes Spanish is definitely becoming the second language of USA, if it isn't already.

    Great points, by the way, Hairy. There actually were politics talking about proposing a law that obligates new coming immigrants to Sweden to go through a language test before they can become Swedish citizens. I think one of the problems with it was that a lot of native Swedes didn't pass the test when they tested it on people. But I actually like the idea. I mean if they go to Sweden and get all the benefits from our welfare they need to give something back, not only by adapting to our culture, but also to learn the language so that they actually have a chance of getting a job, as opposed to pretty much no chance of getting one, so they can contribute something to Sweden and not only living off money from the state. I'm definitely not saying most immigrants are like this but there are quite a few that do, which is just sad. Demanding that all immigrants learn the language of the country and try to get a job should be natural. There shouldn't have to be a debate of it, in my mind. Some people think I'm a racist because I say this but they're just incredibly stupid.

    One of your best posts, so far!


  5. Robban,
    Sorry if I did not mean that there was a government order proclaiming that English is the the second language of Sweden...I was simply stating that I've yet to meet a Swede who could not converse in English so "unofficially" it's safe to say English is pretty close to a second langague.
    "Arguably, English in countries such as India, the Scandinavian countries, and the Netherlands can be considered a second language for many of its speakers, because they learn it young, speak it fluently, and use it constantly." - linguistic theories

  6. @travis - good points in both of your posts. I agree. English classes should be more available in the US. And they should at the very least be affordable and easy to come by. And I'm loving the linguistic theories quote.

    @Robban - you're back. I thought I lost you. Glad to see that I didn't. Anyway, this is something I feel very strongly about. Maybe because I grew up in a house with two languages being spoken. Or maybe because I grew up in a town where Spanish speakers were catered to without learning English. (People who required translators to give itnerviews in the newspaper after having lived in the US for nearly 15 years, students who got extra help and were allowed to take tests in groups with a teacher translating. Strangeley enough when I saw this first hand and was helping out a teacher the students all came back and received the exact same score on the test.)

    I do know that having grown up in a house with two languages made me appreciate being bilingual. It also made me realize that it is without a doubt possible to learn the language of the country you are living in while still keeping your other language alive.

    Learning a language allows you, as you said, to become a part of society. Get a job. Listen to the radio. Read the newspaper. Watch TV. Talk with people. Communicate. Not doing so is self-imposed segregation. And I have no pity for you.

    Do not stop speaking your native language. But learn the language of the country you have chosen to go to.

    And by the way Robban - your view on this issue would be seen as very much a Republican view in the US, just a heads-up. Although there will be people in the US who argue that this is a racist thing to say. But as you say. Those people are just incredibly stupid. Republicans call them Democrats. I kid I kid.

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. Travis - The Netherlands? Really?... Well, to the point - of course, I understood you didn't mean that English is an official second language in Sweden or something like that but I just wanted to highlight the fact that English is not at all the second language of Sweden in the same way that Spanish is in USA. Yes, most Swedes do know pretty good English but it's not like any native Swedes speak English at home or with their friends, although English can be seen on billboards sometimes (which always pisses me off).

    Hairy swede - I'm back, alright... Well, I have to say that, for once I actually do agree with the point you're trying to make. Jag kan inte svara annat än att jag håller med vad du skrev nu. As for the Republican-Democrats comment - well, what can I say? Goes to show that everything isn't black and white. Just because I support Obama (I actually didn't mean that black/white-thing as a reference to Obama being black and the republicans being white...It just happened...) and call myself Liberal or socialist (or something in between), it doesn't mean I can't agree with some of the right wing ideas.

  8. My brother and his family are moving to Russia so I have decided to learn Russian, the problem is I have no idea where to start! Russian is not as widely spoke as languages such as French and German so I am having trouble locating a tutor. So I have decided that I am going to do it myself online. Does anyone have any experience of learning language online? Is it easy when there’s no one to speak to? Also what are the prices like?

  9. To anonymous, which country are you from? Russian is spoken more widely than at least German, at least if you look at the number of native speakers, so there shouldn't be a problem finding some course teaching Russian. But it might vary from country to country. I read Russian in High school (that's gymnasium in Swedish) so I know a bit about the language but I'm sorry to say I don't know any websites where you can learn Russian but if you google it (I know you've probably done this, already, but it's the only tip I can give about online studies) you should find some. You should also check with universities or whatever and see if you can learn Russian.


  10. Ive got nothing. check with universities and community colleges like robban suggested.

  11. HS, would you be willing to post a note on common swedish phrases?
    Eg. (in a taxi) I want to go here...

    I am learning Swedish but sometimes it`s nice to have a quick access list.

    I may post something on my blog as well.

  12. oh that's a glorious idea. I'll see what I can do in the next week or so.

  13. Hi, I'm English, living in Finland, and I'm just starting to learn Swedish. I have found many many free resources online for learning Swedish, but i know that just reading it won't help me learn it as much as if i could practice speaking it. So, i was wondering if you had any tips on practicing speaking Swedish?

  14. I would suggest some sort of language exchange. Im sure there is someone in Finland who would love the chance to work on some Swedish. It's just a matter of finding that person. Also, just snag a few grammar and language books from a bookstore. That gives a base at least. Then find yourself a Swede living in Finland. Or a Finn willing to speak Swedish with you.

    Those seem pretty obvious I suppose and I don't know how much help Ive been. Maybe try getting ahold of some cds or some movies, cartoons usually are good because they are a bit simple and easy to follow. It would help you to at least hear how the language is spoken and the different sounds, pronunciations, and intonations.

  15. I think you have helped me :) I have one movie i have downloaded thats in swedish, thats "hitta nemo" lol. I really like that movie and its fun to watch in Swedish, and i do understand about 25% of whats being said lol. Ive been learning Swedish for about a week or 2 now. Like, actual revision and that. I suppose i can go to any DVD store here and just buy some cartoons or animation movies similar to Finding Nemo, because they always have the movies Dubbed in Finnish, Swedish, Danish etc. I should have thought of that lol. Thank you for your suggestions.

  16. Hope it helps. Good luck learning Swedish.

  17. First - after a year in Sweden I have met half of your population, between 20 and 30, who WILL NOT speak English. They are too insucure. So, you are very wrong on this issue.

    Secondly, English is not a germanic language. And Swedish for an English speaker is ranked one of the most difficult languages to learn.

    After almost a year here, I am on a working visa. They won't let me take Swedish lessons. And because I am paying your ridiculous taxes I can't afford to pay for any.

    It's pretty hard to learn the language when people won't speak English to you and your tax money won't allow you to utilize the tax payers services.

    Not learning Swedish is not what is rude in this country.

  18. @anonymous - interesting. because I have yet to meet a single swede between the ages of 20 and 30 who doesn't want to speak English.

    Secondly, English is in fact a Germanic language. That's just a fact and can't be argued.

    I'm not sure why you being on a work visa makes you ineligible to take Swedish classes. sounds pretty lame to me. comvux classes are available. and they are pretty cheap even with the high taxes.

    and I still believe that no learning swedish when living in Sweden is very rude. Or not learning the language of whatever country you are living in for that matter.

  19. Hej,
    Would you be able to recommend a good Swedish-English as well as English-Swedish dictionary for me? I'll be relocating to Sweden soon and would like a dictionary for my daily life (esp to read labels in supermarkets) before i master the language? Thanks!

  20. definitely... Norrstedt's

    you can find it in just about any bookstore in sweden. not sure about out of the country though.

    it has various versions depending on how in depth you want to go. some have 135,000 words and some have 70,000. so you should be able to find something that fits.

    good luck!

  21. thank you! your site has been so much help for me! keep writing pls! :D

  22. glad its been useful. hope it continues to be useful. and of course, keep commenting!

  23. Btw, is a great online dictionary!


  24. Im a fan of this one:

    but I might have to check out also.

  25. It's unfortunately not always as easy to learn Swedish in Sweden as you might think. My boyfriend spent a year with me in Jönköping and I was certain there would be a Swedish language course he could attend. Unfortunately not. The University caters exclusively to the exchange students and SFI (Swedish For Immigrants) is not available if you are on a one year student visa. In a small town there normally isn't any other courses to attend.

    But if there's a will there's a way! Don't give up and find another way!

  26. yeah I suppose it probably depends on where in Sweden you are living. In Stockholm there ar eplenty of opportunities from my understanding.

  27. So, I am going to visit sweden for three months and I would like to take an SFI class. Will I be able to sign up for one if I am only visiting or do I have to be registered and have a visa etc. ? I have searched online, but their doesn't seem to be much information that is available through American websites. I have found that some are offered in Stockholm, but I am going to be in Karlstad. Are they only offered in "big" cities with universities?

  28. Im almost positive you have to be registered and have a visa to be eligible unfortunately.

    here's the site in Swedish:;jsessionid=3AE4985C5B5BC8E073FDE389E70F2288#paragraphAnchor1

    I cant seem to find it in English. Which is silly seeing as how th epeople that would probably want to know this information dont speak Swedish.

  29. lol, I know right? :P

    Do you have any other ideas regarding learning Swedish other than the good ol' immersion method. I'm especially stuck on finding the Swedish alphabet and pronunciations of said letters online.

  30. check with a university in your area I Know there are quite a few that offer Swedish. online here are a couple of sites I found:

    otherwise amazon sells a few different options:
    Teach Yourself Swedish

    Rosetta Stone V2: Swedish, Level 1

  31. I am suprised noone has mentioned FSI Foreign Services Institute

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  33. very cool! Thanks. I've been trying to spread the word.

  34. Hur många förstår det jag skriver nu?;-) Riktigt rolig läsning för en som är ifrån Sverige och du har verkligen fångat/sammanställt en bra beskrivning!

    It's a big difference where you "settle down". There are so many dialects in Sweden and I think it's harder to learn Swedish here on the west coast, we're usin' so much slang. Try to get to the bigger cities though like Gothenburg, Stockholm or Malmö. I wouldn't recommend Malmö because they have a horrible dialect(they're former danish people)!

  35. glad you enjoyed it. it really does make a bg difference though, what constantly amazes me is the number of different dialects in a country that is the geographical size of California. It is pretty amazing. Even thedifference between Småland and Skåne (down in that former Danish area) when they are sl close to one another fascinates me.

  36. haha, I can't stand that southern inbred dialect. I'm from gothenburg and I dont think I speak any specific dialect but you can hear that I'm from gothenburg. But if you look through our Swedish history you'll see that this country has been divided a lot. This area around Gothenburg is the old Norway. Back in the days when the feared Swedish Lions were on the run around Europe, Scandinavia was pretty much Swedish ground, that's why you'll hear tons of dialects. In the north it's goin' over to Finnish/"samiska". Here (Bohuslän) gbg you'll hear parts from norway and in the south the unforgettable "Skånskan"/Danish[it's so horrible] ;-)

    It's easy to hear the difference and the most obvious way to do this is listening to their pronunciation of Å,Ä and Ö.

  37. oh those poor southerners... always being made fun of.

  38. Hey
    Great blog and good post. Just wanted to say
    @ Angloswede you can also sign up for free on a language chat exchange on rosetta stone language chat called

  39. Americano!

    You have just inspired me to learn Swedish and to write a blog about my transition over there! Been flirting with the idea you see... You inspiring thing you!


  40. hahahaha

    But it's sooo true!
    I am super excited!


  41. i visited your site n was good enough then othere site that i visited last month

    study abroad

  42. @anonymous Priscilla - thats what I like to hear!

    @jessie - and that is also what I like to hear.

  43. Someone wrote the US should think about letting people learn english for free. I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in Chicago, ESL courses are free of charge, that's how my parents learn the language. As an immigrant in a new country, you have to push yourself to adapt to new customs, new language, and new ideas, but always remain who you are and show the best of where you come from. It is very easy to stick to be with people who have the same background in a new country, but best if you try to socialize with the native people or other immigrants who are force to speak to you in your new language. I was in stockholm, i would say i felt it was the most hispanic country in scandinavia, i was even surprised to hear many people speak spanish, specially people from Argentina. who knows why.

  44. @anonymous - good point, I think it is incredibly important to push yourself to become a part of the culture and community you have moved to while at the same time preserving the culture you left behind. No matter what, that culture plays a big part in who you are, who you were, and who you will become.

  45. Hi Harry
    You say you had a solid understanding of the language. Just wondering just how solid? Since you said you never taught yourself a language I assume you were exposed to it quite a bit growing up.
    I have been diligently studying Swedish for about 8 months to prepare myself for my move in July. However when I try to watch movies in Swedish etc, I have a very hard time understanding them.(even children shows.) I'm really worried that I will not be fluent enough by the time I get there.
    ALSO, one last thing; Since obviously I have some knowledge of the language will I be able to test into an intermediate language class or are they just for remedial levels?

    thanks so much for the blog. you have no idea how much it has been helpful to me!

    1. @Audrey, I'm sure your Swedish is excellent at this point. But I thought I would comment for other people like me who come looking at this blog in preparation to move to Sweden. I can easily have conversations in Swedish with coworkers and friends. I understand them just fine. I understand the news radio and tv announcers. I still have a time with sometimes following movies/tv shows and audiobooks. They just aren't as clear in speaking as the other situations. (BTW, I do find it much harder to have swedish conversations over the phone due to the lower audio quality).

  46. Haha just realized I called you Harry. My mistake Hairy.

  47. I grew up speaking Swedish with my father and have taught the language for several years.

    Hope the language studies went well!

  48. I taught myself Swedish after traveling frequently to Sweden for work. It can be done, but it took me many years. A few resources that weren't mentioned above that may be helpful:

    There are good internet services for learning languages. Check them out.

    In Stockholm, there is a language exchange meetup that is very active.

    Checkout which is a simplified news for those learning swedish. Similarly check out P4 klartext which is broadcast at 6pm (or something like that) on public radio P4 (you can subscribe to this as a podcast).

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