I originally wrote this outline for a friend whose girlfriend wanted to learn Swedish, and I’ve been meaning to polish it and share it for some time. That time is now here!
A lot of this reflects an approach to language learning that is quite different from the standard class/book methodologies I’ve seen used, namely the Birkenbihl Language Learning Method . That being said, I don’t know that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to learn a language (actually there’s one wrong way, and that’s to not put in the time and effort :D) . I tried to optimize for not being bored i.e. I didn’t want to sit around all day and memorize vocabulary flashcards. I was okay with the tradeoff of having to look up words while reading, possibly several times for the same word, because I found that to be a more engaging approach. I want to note that even though I mention tips and resources specific to Swedish in this post, the general approach can be used for learning any language (I’m using the same techniques to pick up a new language now in fact) .
When it comes to Swedish, I personally don’t think it’s a hard language to learn (compared to other languages, that is) . Grammatically it is very straightforward (you don’t even have to conjugate verbs based on subject pronouns! ) . There are also very few gotchas (again relative to English) . That being said, there are two big challenges when learning Swedish: understanding spoken Swedish and continuing to speak Swedish even when Swedes inevitably switch to English with you (I could write an entire post about that topic alone, but I’ll keep this one on track :D ) . So without further ado, here’s how I went about learning Swedish:
Take a beginner’s course (a common choice is Svenskundervisning för invandrare , known as SFI)
Enroll in an online course such as SwedishPod101.com
By this time your vocabulary will have grown to a level that you can work with (which is to say that, even though you won’t know many of the words when you listen to things or read, you’ll be able to pick out enough) . In keeping with the Birkenbihl approach, I listened to as much Swedish as I could during this time (the audio files that accompanied the book from my Swedish course, Swedish music, children’s shows on YouTube, podcasts, Sveriges Radio, etc. ) .
Comprehension is the secondary objective here. The main objective is immersion so you can pick up on pronunciation. Comprehending is extra credit :D
Once you have a grasp of grammar and have a good amount of words under your belt, start reading and consuming content in basic and straightforward Swedish.
Take the “Inga gratistidnigar” sticker off your mailbox and start to read the free local newspapers that will surely flood your mailbox (or opt for the environmentally friendly alternative of reading the local newspaper online ) . The basic and straightforward level of these papers makes them the perfect next step. Translate (and optionally write down or at least highlight) the words that you don’t know.
Part 2 (once you have a better understanding of vocabulary and grammar)
Before going all-in on speaking Swedish, I highly recommend that you text/email Swedish friends in Swedish. There’s not the awkward pause of having someone wait for you to construct a sentence when texting like there is when speaking (long live asynchronous messaging! ) . This tactic was by far one of the most useful for me.
Part 3 (once words start to come easily to you when texting and you understand at least the gist of what you’re reading about (i.e. not necessarily every word) )
Actually speak. This is harder than it sounds — people will very quickly switch to English with you, especially in shops, etc, so you have to keep fighting the good fight even though it can be hard and even if they continue in English. This aspect of Swedish society actually makes learning Swedish quite difficult. Speaking with other people who are learning is another great way to practice speaking, as the conversation will typically be more balanced due to similar skill levels.
Listen, listen, and listen some more before you try to speak! Listen to the words pronounced without looking at how they’re spelled in Swedish so you can learn the pronunciation instead of trying to read it on your own and thus pronounce it the way you would in your native language.
Decide which accent you want and stick with it. Since there are lot of varieties each with their own distinct differences, learning how to pronounce things can be complicated if you have not made a decision. e.g. I have often learned how to pronounce a word from a Stockholm friend, tried using this pronunciation with a friend from Umeå who will then correct my pronunciation to their version of the pronunciation, and then use that pronunciation with a friend from Dalarna who will again correct my pronunciation (true story) . So, try to stick with one pronunciation the best you can, or at least be aware that this could happen to you.
It’s important to note that throughout this process, when reading text, one should pay close attention to how sentences are structured grammatically and which words/phrases go together (e.g. you’ll realize it’s “nu är det dags” not “nu det är dags”, figure out which prepositions go with which phrases, learn key phrases (“ser fram emot”, “ser trevligt ut”), recognize that after an “att” clause the “inte” comes after the subject not the verb (“Det var inte roligt” vs “Du sa att det inte var roligt”), etc.
Enjoy knowing a language spoken by around 11 million native speakers (plus a few million more who have learned it (plus Norwegians) ) which has the unanticipated benefit of being a semi-secret language when traveling outside Scandinavia!