14 March, 2017

Learning Swedish through Jazz


A year has passed since I came to this northern hemisphere, and I have to admit it took nearly one year for me to begin to appreciate and learn the Swedish language. Perhaps I was discouraged or blatantly ignorant because I was surrounded by international communities, and the only useful Swedish words were hej and fika. But not until the end of summer last year, did I decide to do something different and change my routine.

Through a series of events I pushed myself to network with gig-goers or music enthusiasts, I slowly let myself become immersed in life outside the laboratory or conference halls. I took Swedish classes and now I force myself (and my Swedish friends) to speak Swedish whenever we meet.

It is not uncommon for English speakers to survive without a word of the local language here, unless they want to live in Sweden for a long period. Five years or more. And to my surprise, I kind of feel refreshed after learning more and more words.

I find that even a little knowledge of the language helps break down barriers. And I would like to share an idea about what I think could assist those who’s a beginner in Swedish. Having fun and learning the culture while improving your language skill.

Passive listening can play an important part in learning new languages. Hence, adjusting your ears to Swedish radio, podcast or music will come in handy. However, when I try to follow Swedish music most of the pronunciation is distorted by the sound of the instrument and lyrical sentences are mostly indirect. The end result is quite frustrating. So maybe no pop music for a beginner.

How jazz helped my Swedish

A while back I stumbled upon the work of a Swedish jazz-folk-pop musician Edda Magnason and her 2016 film called Monica Z. The song I share here was performed by Edda, who played Monica Zetterlund who was a Swedish celebrity and jazz singer. The story of Edda’s career and Monica Zetterlund’s life are such fascinating themes that they must be discussed separately.

So I won’t talk about them here. Instead what I will share with you is my opinion that both Edda and Monica’s songs are perfect for Swedish training. And if you like jazz, well, then this is perfect for you.

The simplicity in the lyrics requires less effort to understand than most Swedish pop songs, and each word is sung in a comfortable pace. Listeners can focus on the sentences easily, and if you’re eager like me you can play a game. You can try to guess the words and write them down while listening, then only crosscheck the lyrics after. Just try and listen.

There are more Swedish jazz songs from other musicians that should not be missed off course. But then again, it doesn’t even have to be jazz. I found a lesser known artist, My & Mats, who I believe make Swedish children’s songs. And just like most classics for kids, the repetition and clarity of the lyrics help one practice the language.

Written by: Totto Pastime

Originally from Indonesia, Totto has been living in India and Singapore before moving to Sweden. While pursuing her passion in life science and medicine in Stockholm, she is exploring her new Swedish environment through music and lyrics. You can find her spending weekend nights either jamming or attending indie gigs. Besides blogging for The Newbie Guide to Sweden, Totto also writes for Infective Perspective to discuss human viruses.

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