Teaching myself Swedish – my toughest student is myself

As many of you know, I moved to Sweden earlier this year. As a lot of you also know, the last three years I spent in Australia I was a high school teacher, teaching English, History, and a little bit of Maths from time to time. But despite teaching probably over a thousand students, I don’t think I have ever faced one as challenging as myself.

The bureaucracy behind me migrating to Sweden from Australia as a British (and therefore European) Citizen is complicated – I am allowed to be here, but to get access to all parts of Swedish society I need the person number. In my unusual situation, the only real way to get this number is by having a job (there are other ways but they involve obtaining papers that would be too hard and take too long to get). But to get a job at most places I need to know Swedish, and to do any of the proper Swedish courses, I need the person number, and to get the…well you can see this goes round and round to no avail.

Here comes the part where I teach myself. I’ve spent a few months looking online at difference websites to help learn Swedish. There’s a lot of, well, very average ones, to be honest. I can’t afford anything I need to pay for, as I need my money to live on until I have a job. But then my girlfriend came across a playlist on Spotify (normally a music streaming service, if you’re not familiar – it’s the main way people listen to music here in Sweden) that featured various Swedish lessons. We listened to the first one together, on the pronunciations of vowels, found it was pretty useful, and have decided to use these alongside a couple of resources I have to try and teach myself the language as best as possible.

Swedish alphabet highlight vowelsThere are some drawbacks. The first one is that it seems some of these lessons are conducted by people from Stockholm. The capital city of Sweden has a quite unique accent that is very different from the Halland accent (where I’m currently living), or any of the Northern and Southern accents of the country really. As a result, the lessons could almost be teaching me things wrong because the accent disguises what I’m supposed to be hearing, especially when it comes to vowels. It’s not that the Stockholm accent is wrong, but it sounds different and only someone well versed in the Swedish language could see how the correct word is just accented, if I’m making any sense at all.

The vowels themselves are another issue. There’s nine of them, for a start. The five in English, plus y is a vowel, and also all three letters unique to Swedish are vowels –  å, ä and ö, pronounced roughly as orr, ehh and err (there’s a bit more to it than that though). But whether or not the pronunciation of the vowel is long or short completely changes the meaning of the vowel, and in the case of two of them the following consonant also can affect the word and pronunciation. So, in total, 9 vowels and 22 pronunciations of those vowels, each of which can and do dramatically change the word you are saying. For example, tack and tak could be pronounced similarly, but one of these words is thanks and one is ceiling. So the different sounding a is what varies the word in speech.

It’s one thing to know these rules, but another challenge entirely to follow them when talking in Swedish. Apparently I’m doing okay, though, despite my serious issues rolling my r’s which often distorts the entire word I’m trying to say. I also need to slow myself down – I like to talk a lot and fast, and right now I just can’t do that while learning Swedish. I also have to be patient – I can be very impatient when learning new things, but I must ensure I don’t become frustrated with this whole process as I need to keep it up.

I’m going to invest a lot of time over the next couple of months pushing myself through the language as fast as I can, to increase my chances of getting a job so I can finally sort everything out and get on with living in my new home. I suspect as I learn more there’ll be funny things for me to tell back here, and I will try and blog as much as possible (although I am going travelling around the country next month so I may go quiet for a week or two).

If you’ve ever gone through anything like this, whether moving to a new country with a new language or just learning a language for the fun of it, I’d love to hear from you and hear about your experiences! Or you can just laugh at me about mine. It’s all good.