Learning Swedish.

Moving to a country before being fluent in the native language is definitely hard (let’s not say impossible, I don’t want to dampen my spirits). It is different to travelling and knowing you’re set for a few days or a few weeks knowing the usual polite phrases and how to get somewhere.

Sweden actually has an excellent program called Svenska för invandrare, or sfi which enables adult migrants from the age of twenty to be able to take part in Swedish language classes for free. Unfortunately for me, this program is only available to migrants who have a long term or permanent residency which enables them to have a social security number or personnummer. On my working holiday visa, I am only able to gain a samordningsnummer once I have employment. Unfortunately this does not give me all the same benefits as it is a number available to me as a short-term, non-registered resident here in Sweden. This means I need to find my own ways to master (attempt) the Swedish language.

While I clearly have good incentive to learn Swedish, without a classroom setting, class hours, or teacher – it is definitely hard to motivate yourself to sit down and complete work in a given time frame. I took part in an excellent Swedish for Beginners: Elementary 1 course at CAE in Melbourne which utilised the Rivstart A1 + A2 textbook and workbook so I have a basic understanding of sentence structure, grammar and the alphabet.

I am currently looking into a similar course at Folkuniversitetet in Gothenburg, but in the mean time here are the ways I am trying to learn and familiarise myself with the Swedish language.

This is a handy little app that can be downloaded for free on your smart phone, as well as utilised in a website format. Using the website gives you the additional features of notes, rules and extra information about each topic such as grammar and sentence structure as well as a Discuss section where you are able to post comments and questions to the online community studying your chosen language as well as the moderators. The website also allows you to utilise your microphone so that you can practice the scary and difficult art of pronouncing those Swedish letters!

Duolingo is set up in easy to digest, bite size chunks of information. Each grammar section has a series of lessons that take five or so minutes to complete so that you can easily spend a few minutes a day practising (waiting for the train, a lunch break, bored – do a lesson or two!). However, I find that you need to spend more time on each lesson and each section to really get it stuck in your brain, and you also need to remember to revisit old skills to ensure they’re still retained (they light up gold when you’ve practised them enough recently).

Please note, I am sure Duolingo is trying to make me feel good about myself. I am in no way 40% fluent in Swedish! I think this really highlights the importance of repetition and using the language frequently to really feel confident and be able to retain the information.

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SVT Språk Play app
This app is amazing. It also highlights much like sfi, how welcoming the Swedish government is to immigrants to Sweden. I could never imagine anything like this being created for immigrants in Australia.

With SVT Språkplay you are able to watch SVT’s programs (a Swedish television channel) with interactive subtitles. The app is developed specifically for new arrivals to Sweden to help develop your language skills. You choose your native language (for translations, there are fifteen different language available) and then enter your current Swedish language level (by CEFR scale – I will make a note of this at the end of my post), and the app then chooses programs suitable for you based on your skill level.

You are able to click on words and expressions in the subtitles and get language support in your native language whilst watching the program (first picture). After a few minutes of the program, a screen will automatically pop up to allow you to test yourself on some of the words you have just learnt (second picture).

This app is great. My suggestions are quite simple shows and children’s shows – but I freaking love Alfons Åberg anyway so it’s a win-win (I honestly laugh out loud like a maniac when watching him).

Rivstart A1 + A2 Textbok & Övningsbok
These are the books used to teach/learn Swedish in A1 and A2 level (see notes at the end of this post. They are quite expensive, but really great. They were a requirement for my Swedish course in Melbourne (and are also used for the Swedish course I am looking at in Gothenburg).

They are of course much better used in a classroom setting with a teacher but I have found that I can actually learn a bit from using them myself when combined with the answers available online (with the log-in and password details found inside the book covers). I find that I sometimes need to check the answers to make sure I have fully understood the grammar rules, and as the questions and instructions are all in Swedish I do also have Google translate some of that.

As you can see, my book has become much like those gems you often received when purchasing a second hand high school or university text book – full of notes and personal hints. I find this a really great way to learn and help the information stick in my head and make sense. Unfortunately when you hire books from the library, or use websites and apps you are unable to make this kind of annotation so that that is why I love these books. I also find the act of hand writing help with learning compared to just typing.


Learning Swedish is a free online course to help teach Swedish for beginners (instructions are given in English). This self-study language course is aimed at adult learners, and gives basic spoken and written knowledge of the Swedish language, as well as insights into Swedish culture and society. The course has been developed by the Swedish Institute in cooperation with a number of professors from other universities – so you know it is good! There is also a paid for Learning Swedish PLUS program which has teacher-led instruction.

Learning Swedish is divided into three modules. There are texts and dialogues, listening comprehension and interactive exercises of different kinds in each module. Obviously becoming harder and more complex as you move further through the program. You will also find information on grammar, a pronunciation guide, a basic word list and a phrase dictionary. The basis of the information is around Nathalie (a French exchange student) and her friends at university in Sweden.

Unlike everything else I use, this site also provides really basic alphabet information at the start, which seems perhaps too simple and irrelevant to some but I actually find it quite difficult and interesting trying to remember and master the sounds that the letters of the alphabet make (and how to pronounce their names) in Swedish. I also really like the grammar tables and additional notes.

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Library books
I haven’t used a library properly since university. I joined my local library in Moreland City Council, but honestly never went back. I once went to look for Swedish books there, but being a slightly obscure language to learn in Australia there were none. I used to spend much of my spare time as a child in the library. Sandringham Library was my haunt. I would spent hours laying in the aisles reading up about whatever animal I so desperately wanted (ahem, needed) that month – generally a Dwarf Lop Earred Rabbit or a cat (any kind would do), and for a brief period mice (I also was very sad when I found out hamsters were not available in Australia). So I guess it is only fitting that I find myself back in the library, this time not in quite an advanced section as the animal biology or animal husbandry, but the Reading for Beginners section (I have advanced past the babies books at least).

Some of my personal favourites are Hans Christian Anderson, because they are familiar and written in simple sentences. However my number one fave – Pettson and Findus. That cat is just great! While the sentence structure is definitely a little advanced, it really pushes me to learn and figure out the storyline. The pictures are beautiful, and Findus really does make me laugh! He is so cheeky, and he just wants to hang out with Pettson.

I read the through the whole book and check every word I don’t know of Google translate, as well as any complete or partial sentences (I find compound words the hardest as I am not able to recognise them yet), and then write down the meanings in a note book.

I am definitely looking forward to starting a course again. I umm-ed and ahh-ed over it over the past few weeks, and let courses start without contacting the university but I have decided that it is the right thing to do. I can be frustrated and annoyed that I am unable to take part in the free sfi classes, or I can just get on with it and try to lear. Yes, it is expensive, but at the same time it is an investment in me, it is keeping me occupied, and it is using my brain. I can’t wait!

CEFR scale 
A1 (beginner) if you understand very common words and simple sentences
A2 (basic) if you can read short and simple texts
B1 (intermediate) if you can understand texts with everyday language
B2 (upper intermediate) if you can read texts about modern problems and different views
C1 (advanced) if you can understand long and complex texts with different styles
C2 (fluent) if you can understand all kinds of texts

SVT Språkplay offers language support to English, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, Albanian, Bosnian, Croatian, Persian, Finnish, Greek, Kurdish, Serbian, Somali and Azeri.


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