Why Swedish is a Hard Language to Learn
The last few days I’ve been in reflection.
About life in general, life in Sweden, and finding my place here.
When it comes to settling into Sweden, one thing that I’m constantly struggling with is the Swedish language.
Usually when Swedes ask me if the Swedish language is hard, and generally I say “no”. Grammatically, for an English speaker, Swedish is not that bad. A lot of words are similar, you just need to say it with a Swedish accent. Verb conjugation is so simple it makes me want to laugh, as they conjugate verbs just once. So “is”, “am”, and “are” are all one word in Swedish (är). And that is an irregular verb! The regular verbs, you just add an “r” at the end of it, and you are conjugated!
Sure, words aren’t always pronounced as you think they should be, but that is the same with English. And sure, there are exceptions here and there, but that is the same in most languages. And yes, plurals in Swedish are completely out of control, but really, that is the hardest thing one needs to learn in Swedish.
After learning Czech, Swedish is, grammatically, very simple.
So if Swedish is so easy, why after a year and a half of living here, am I not speaking better Swedish?
Why Swedish is a hard language to learn
1. Most Swedes speak really good English.
If English is your native language, you are in trouble. You will find so many Swedes that speak English very well. One of the greatest things about the Czech Republic is that most Czechs do not speak English very well. So 89% of the time you were forced into using your bad Czech to try to communicate with someone. And when someone did speak English, it was usually quite bad, so your bad Czech was not so embarrassing.
So when you are first speaking Swedish, you can be sure that their English is going to be much better than your Swedish. And you can expect people to switch to English quite quickly if they don’t understand you. You can also expect, if you ask someone “Vad betyder det?” or “Vad är det?” or “Jag förstår inte” that instead of explaining it to you in Swedish, the Swede will just tell you in English.
2. Prepare to say foolish things.
To learn any new language you must be prepared to make a fool out of yourself. It cannot be avoided. If you are learning to speak a foreign language, there will, without a doubt, be times where you say something foolish. Probably more often than you would like. People will laugh because it is funny. And the hardest part about this is, the better you get at the language the more comfortable people feel to laugh!
When I was learning Czech, I was 20. I was already a bit of a fool and didn’t mind making more of a fool out of myself. But now I’m 29. I don’t like being a fool as much. It’s embarrassing. And I find it harder to use my Swedish because of this. Either that or I picked up the Czech mentality of being shy when it comes to speaking a foreign language.
3. A lot of foreigners learn Swedish.
This is probably a deep psychological problem that I have, but the fact that so many foreigners speak Swedish, to me, makes it far less “cool” when I learn Swedish.
Nobody learns Czech. There are some expats in the Czech Republic who live there for 10 years and can’t say much due to the complexity of the language. So when a young American like me starts speaking Czech, Czechs are immediately impressed. Why in the world would I take the time to learn their complex language? And an American as well!
There are so many foreigners who live in Sweden and speak Swedish. Sweden seems to be obsessed with importing more and more people here, and they give great (or not so great, depending on who you speak to) resources for learning the language. So it is easy to find British, German, Dutch, etc etc etc, who live here, even in Skellefteå, for 10 years and speak perfect or near perfect Swedish. Even in this small town, it is not impressive that you know Swedish. Big whooping deal. Most of the other foreigners speak Swedish too.
A Swede has never said this to me, which is probably why it is more my issue than anything else, but I feel when I speak Swedish it’s “yawn, another foreigner learning our language.” I don’t like to make people yawn.
4. TV is in English
Whenever we watched anything in the Czech Republic on TV, it was dubbed. It was great when I was sick, I would lay around the house, watch TV, and practice my Czech at the same time!
We don’t have a TV ourselves, but here when we do go to a friends house to watch TV, most of the shows are in English! Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, Grimm, etc, all have subtitles. Whole channels like MTV, Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet are in English. It is so easy to watch a show in English. Sure, you can read the Swedish subtitles when watching a show in English. But it isn’t the same as having to listen to Swedish and try to figure out what they are saying.
These are my main problems when learning Swedish. Of course, there are solutions to some of these problems. So next week, I will write some tips for learning Swedish!
What do you find hard about the Swedish language specifically, or learning a foreign language generally?