12 July, 2016

What I did to learn Swedish

Learning an entirely new language is always an interesting and slightly daunting task. And let’s face it, for most of us Newbies, we didn’t find ourselves hearing much Swedish before coming here. If you grew up in Britain, there was the Swedish chef from the muppets, (whose mastery of Swedish intonation we are all in awe of) but that’s about it. But in many ways, learning a language in its home country is the best place to learn it.

Coffee & Waffle

Coffee & Waffle

Given the relatively small number of Swedish speakers and learners in the world, Sweden is well supplied with places to learn the language. If money is tight, the SFI service provides free, adequate lessons for anyone who can prove they’re living here. Plus if you can spend a bit of money on your lessons, many institutions around Stockholm and the rest of Sweden offer excellent teaching.

Furthermore, you can teach yourself by just being out and about; try ordering food or coffee in Swedish (however new you are to it) and you’ll receive nothing but encouragement. In my experience this was because of my hilariously terrible accent – but you live and learn.

Early on in learning a language, you start to get an increasing insight into the country that created it. This can be geographic for instance, like knowing that Scottish Gaelic has around 12 words for hill, mountain or peak (plus very few words for sunny or warm…) tells you a lot about Scotland. Similarly, Swedish has around 25 words for snow, and the Sami languages have well over 180!


Swedes have 25 words for snow.

Words give you an insight into the country

Other untranslatable words in a language can give you insights into the country that created it. In Spanish a ‘sobremesa’ is an after-dinner conversation with the people you ate the meal with, showing the Spaniards’ food culture and their reputation as a talkative bunch.

In Italian a ‘commuovere’ is a heartwarming story that moves you to tears, showing Italy’s artistic and poetic traditions.

Closer to home, in Norwegian, ‘utepils’ means to have a beer outside in the sun with your friends – showing Norwegians’ great loves; being outside, and drinking! They may not be so different to Swedes after all…

Coffee & bills

Go for a fika and practice your Swedish.

Of course in Sweden you have the famous ‘fika’ which I’m sure you’ve heard about, as well as ‘lagom’ – a unique Swedish word meaning not too much or too little, a temperate, middle of the road expression.

If you’d learned these words anywhere except Sweden you wouldn’t realise their cultural importance. Fika would be ‘coffee’ and lagom would be ‘middle’ when they both mean so much more.

In English, it’s perfectly OK to say ‘no thanks’ if someone asks if you want a coffee, but saying ‘no thanks’ to ‘vill du fika?’ is almost illegal.

Understanding Swedish is one of the best ways to understand the Swedes, Sweden and what makes this country tick. It’s a fun and interesting way of integrating yourself with this wonderful nation.

Written by Harry Woodage

I am a student originally from Wales, in the UK, and have been living in Sweden since March. I enjoy languages, (particularly Swedish!) writing, sport, meeting new people and exchanging stories, thoughts and ideas.

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