Is it important to speak Swedish and how can you learn it?

​If you’re coming to Sweden and you don’t speak Swedish, you must be wondering how much you will need it and if you will be able to learn over the course of your master’s at Chalmers. 
Picture SFI Class
Photo: SFI class.

After the school year is over, the summer holidays are finally here! Apart from enjoying the much-needed break from academics, I got a summer job as a waitress at my favourite Mexican restaurant in Gothenburg. There's only one possible issue: I don't speak Swedish! Like you, not being able to communicate in my day-to-day life was one of my biggest worries as well. 

As Spencer mentioned in his blog, some people are not as comfortable speaking English in Sweden. So how do I manage to be a waitress in a place where most customers use a language I don't speak? Well, I'm not sure myself, but it has worked out so far! So, let me walk you through some pointers that have helped me so far, and that can also be useful to you if you're planning on getting to know the language.

Feel comfortable with how Swedish sounds
This can be the best advice I can give you because I think it has helped me (sort of) understand what the clients are trying to communicate to me. Although resources like Duolingo are handy, you cannot really practice the prosody (the patterns of stress and intonation in a language) that makes Swedish unique. Now that I've been here for almost a year, I've started venturing into the language with my Swedish friends and partner. It's still common that my intonation is all over the place, so I end up saying something else entirely. Coming from Mexico, intonation in Spanish is often modified based on the context of the conversation, so I was not used to having to mind the way I stressed what I said to control the meaning of my words. So, to train my ear in Swedish prosody, I try to listen in when my friends talk to each other in Swedish, and I also like to listen to podcasts (see an example below!) and songs in Swedish. After a while, you inevitably pick up some words and phrases to include in your own vocabulary. Sometimes I repeat what the speaker says to practice the pronunciation and to get a hold of how the words sound and feel in my mouth.

Picture of Abril talking to her friend in SwedishGet some cool (?) Swedish friends!
Most Swedish people I've met love their language, and they enjoy sharing it with people that don't speak it. Through my friends, I've learned some key phrases and slang language, including Swedish music (which is very good!) that I would have never come across by myself. My partner has also helped me so much to practice conversations. I'm entirely sure that by now, he's tired of having super basic conversations with a speaker (me) that couldn't be slower if she tried. Still, it has been so much fun for me, and his help has been tremendous.

Fake it till you make it!
You will never truly know how much you can handle the language until you use it with someone who speaks it! So even though I basically have no skills, I try to use what I know as much as possible, even if it is to say "Jag talar inte Svenska, ursäkta!" (I don't speak Swedish, sorry!). In case I'm not sure of what they're trying to say, I repeat it back in English, which they're in most cases able to understand too.  With this point, I've been able to hold short conversations in English from my side and in Swedish from theirs, which has been particularly useful in a restaurant setting. 

Make it official!
There are many ways to try to actively learn Swedish. The most popular is SFI (Swedish for immigrants), which is administered by the Swedish government and offers free courses to immigrants. Make sure to register for it as soon as you have a Swedish Personal Identity Number because the queues are usually long!
Chalmers also offers a free introductory course for international fee-paying students, so make sure to check in before you come here.

Another valuable (and free) resource is​, offered by the Swedish Institute. It is given online, and the advantage is that you can practice during your own time. The modules are very well structured, and it includes quizzes with which you can find out how you're doing and what you need to practice more.
Duolingo is also very beneficial, and it helps you start to understand sentence structures and other language rules. Additionally, as I mentioned before, podcasts like “Simple Swedish Podcast” or “Radio Sweden på lätt Svenska” (Radio Sweden in easy Swedish) can help you train your ear and understanding of spoken Swedish. We have built a collaborative playlist where you can listen to some podcast episodes and add some of your own!

Our ambassador Spencer has already written a blog about this, where he included a conversation example that is all too familiar! Make sure to check it out here because it's hilarious. As you can see, in a job like mine, a basic understanding of some words and phrases is helpful but not required. Although not all, a lot of higher-level jobs, however, need people that speak it to some extent. So, if you're planning on working and staying here after graduation, I hope these pointers will guide you and help you introduce yourself to the language. If you speak a second (or more) language(s), you know that the learning process never stops. Learning languages is hard and it can take time! So, although Swedish can be a bit hard depending on your mother tongue, it's worth it to give it a try and see how far you can go! 

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Picture of Abril


Page manager Published: Fri 03 Sep 2021.