Do you need to know Swedish before coming to Chalmers?

​It’s easy to learn the basics like food and road signs in swedish, but other things can be a bit more confusing. 


Five years ago, when I found the Sound and Vibration programme at Chalmers, I figured it would be a good idea to learn a bit of Swedish on Duolingo so I could be prepared for life in Sweden.  And now, over one year later…I still can’t even follow a simple sentence, but that is only because I haven’t put the time in. BUT HERE I AM! Living in Gothenburg, going about my daily life, struggle free.  The master’s is in English, the correspondence within the student union is bilingual, and it’s easy to learn the necessities like food and road signs.  Though sometimes when you want to read the instructions on a box of food, that can be confusing.  But then I just look for the numbers (I am an engineer, after all, I like numbers), i.e. the temperature and the time.

However, my first few hours when I moved to Gothenburg from Calgary had me a little scared.  For months all my friends said how everyone knows English in Sweden, “It’ll be fine”.  So, I arrived in Gothenburg (bags not in hand because they were delayed in Amsterdam), found a taxi, and asked:

“Can you take me to Plantagegatan, please?”
“What?”
 “Plantagegatan”
“What?”
“This address” (as I hand my phone)
“Ohhhh, Plantagegatan”
Apparently, the first “g” is soft and not hard, and “a’s” are long.  My North American twang was an impedance.  This is a common experience I’ve had with Swedish.  You’ll think you’ve said the word correctly, then a Swede will be confused, you’ll say it again, then they’ll say “ohhhhh” then repeat the word the correct way. But that shouldn’t discourage because then you get to hear the correct way! And once you learn the few simple pronunciation rules you can start to pick it up much faster.

Back to my first day, after figuring out I was saying the street name wrong, we got to my new apartment and I met the family I was living with. Their 16-year-old and his mormor (maternal grandmother), that showed me around seemed to struggle with English because they did not know what to say half the time.  Looking back, I think that’s because it was the summer and they hadn’t used English in a while, because now it is all fine and easy.  I haven’t needed Swedish at all, at home, at school, not even talking to the tellers at the bank.

Last bit of wisdom though, is that it definitely helps to know Swedish if you are looking for a job here.  My friends have been told by companies that it is always an asset because you’ll be working with Swedish clients that are more comfortable discussing important business in Swedish than in English.  At least for the smaller firms.  Bigger, more international companies are used to working in English as well.  An example of that would be Volvo, which has people from all over the world to do master’s theses.

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Published: Mon 11 Nov 2019.