Learning a new language can feel incredibly unrewarding at times. However much you study and interact with native speakers, there are only so many words you can learn each day.
Bored with basic Swedish?
As you master increasingly higher levels, those words will make up a decreasing proportion of your vocabulary: when you are a beginner and learn five more words to your existing 10, that’s a 50% increase. When you have an existing vocabulary of 1000 words, five new ones will make up an unimpressive half per cent. And they are probably much less useful than those life-essential words and phrases you picked up in the beginning.
Build a house
As a Swedish language teacher, I often see my students lose motivation at this point. I imagine learning a new language as building a house. You will need to start with the foundation, and then make a solid frame for the walls and roof.
Only then you can start thinking about windows, doors, decorations, and at last, you get to the fun bit when you can start decorating the interior and turning the house into your home. Verb tenses, plural forms, subclauses and conjunctions all need to be in place before you can make them pretty with puns, metaphors, similes and sayings.
But with the same analogy, I advise my students to rent a storage space. A room or a box where you put furniture, art and other things that you want for making your house a home with later on. As a language learner, you can start picking up and keeping those beautiful and quirky language things that make the learning process worthwhile. Keep a notebook or a spreadsheet where you collect your favourite Swedish expressions, and even memorise a few to make an impression in the company of Swedes.
Buy some furniture
hett som i en bastu
‘as hot as in a sauna‘
First of all, you learn that the Swedish word for sauna is actually bastu, which in itself is short for badstuga, originally bath stove (some nice etymology for you to consider here), or according to the more contemporary use of the word stuga, bath cabin or bath room. Secondly, I find the regional or cultural reference here quite nice. Sweden is a cold country. So if you have to compare something to something hot, there is not much to choose from. But saunas are hot! There you go!
komma som ett brev på posten
‘arrive as a letter in the post‘
This is a prime example of an expression not keeping up with time. Everyone who has had the opportunity to deal with Postnord knows that this simile does no longer ring true. Therefore, it offers a great opportunity to add some ambiguity or sarcasm to what you are saying, that is clear enough for otherwise simple-minded Swedes. Did I write a simple-minded? No, what I mean is that many Swedish people lack advanced proficiency in sarcastic jokes. Tread carefully.
lätt som en plätt
‘as easy as a small (!) pancake‘
There is obviously no concrete correlation between mini pancakes and something easy (lätt can also mean simple in Swedish) but the expression builds on the rhyme. Just like easy peasy or piece of cake. But now it’s a pancake.
To continue with the pancake theme, we have
upp som en sol, ner som en pannkaka
‘[going] up like a sun, and down like a pancake‘
Please note that pannkaka, in my dialect refers to a normal-sized pancake, and plätt refers to a small one (think blini) but this statement may initiate a hate storm on social media, as there are several regional variations. The origin of this expression is unknown, but personally I find it easy to visualise, a great start, followed by the fiasco.
seg som kola
‘as sticky as toffee‘
Seg is an adjective to describe something sticky, tough, chewy, rubbery, stringy. Like the consistency of toffee or caramel. Incidentally, kola is Swedish for toffee or caramel. Karamell is a false friend and refers to what you may refer to as hard candy or boiled candy. Not sticky. Seg can also be used metaphorically for something that is slow or boring. Like a meeting.
If you would like to learn more about Swedish similes, phraseologist Alexej Alösjin has collated the most common ones, including usage in his dictionary Ordbok över svenska liknelser, suitable for native speakers as well as advanced and intermediate learners.