The challenges of learning Swedish

Learning a new language is funny, interesting and challenging, at the same time.

Like in any language, there is a learning curve: in the beginning, you learn massive amounts of vocabulary (of which you can only retain 50%); then, throughout time, your learning curve slows down, because you have already learnt the basics, and it starts to get more difficult to move to more advanced levels.

Engaging in conversations is probably the best method to learn a new language, but if talking about work is more or less fine, on a meeting, the same does not apply to other topics – it’s much more difficult! And writing, in comparison, is a lot easier!

First of all, though we have some accented letters in Portuguese, Spanish and French (some very difficult, indeed!), we don’t use “¨”, let alone a letter with some kind of ball on top (this is my best description…). So, this sound is hardly ever easy for us, specially when we have to think before speaking what kind of sound do we have to make, considering we want an “å” or an “ä”. To make matters worse, there is a place called Öland, another one Åland, and with a bit of luck, there must be something called äland, even if it’s only a piece of furniture from IKEA.

I don’t dare to say what is more difficult about Swedish. I have to admit it is much easier than German, because at least, you can build simple sentences with a bit of practice, something impossible in German. The grammar is more difficult than the English one, but not the verbs (those are equally simple!). I think the pronunciation is the worst, to the point that I will NEVER be able to correctly pronounce some words, like:

  • Sju = Seven
  • Sjö = Lake
  • Any word ending in -tion (like): information, kommunication

From some point on, we start to speak and think automatically in Swedish, but until then, it’s a painful exercise, to think how we should pronounce one of the “tricky” words, whenever we meet them, like:

  • Skellefteå ([schelléfte]) = city name
  • Skillnad ([ɧɪlˌnad]) = difference
  • Kyrka ([ɕyrka]) = church

And this takes me back to my first Swedish lesson, where we learn that there are 9 vowels! Yes, 9! There are soft and hard vowels, and it´s very important that we know which are which, because that´s what tells us the difference if a simple word like “Skellefteå” will be pronounced as “sk” or “sch”. And believe me, this one is hard to buy. The problem is that when you are writing, you are so much used to the sound “sch” instead of the “sk” that you are most likely to write it wrong.

I´m pretty much sure that I have committed (more than once) mistakes like using heter (used in “my name is”) instead of äter (eating), when I wanted the other way around. But exhaling can be very difficult, when in our native language, we have the same sound, whether it takes an “h” or not, meaning the “h” is purely decorative!

There is something else that makes Swedish difficult: the ability of the grammar to add words together, making it possible to have extreme long words, with 20 or 30 letters.

Finally, the difference between North and South. Everyone keeps telling me how lucky I am to live in Northern Sweden, because apparently, they are known to speak slowly. The truth is, I watched a short video today, on a training, and I couldn’t understand a single word of it. Turns out it was a joke, and from Skåne!


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