“How’s your Swedish coming along?”, is one of the questions columnist Katherina Riesner is getting tired of. Here she explains why learning the new language proves more challenging than originally expected.
Recently, I ‘celebrated’ my six month anniversary in Sweden. Plenty of time to learn a new language, right? Well, not quite. While this might have given me enough opportunity to learn Spanish, Italian or refresh my rusty French, Swedish has provided some unexpected hurdles.
I started learning Swedish two years ago, back at my alma mater in Germany. After some early learner’s highs, i.e. “What do you mean, you don’t inflect verbs for person and number?”, the language eventually showed its more difficult sides, too. Still, after one and a half years, and with a B1 level in my pocket, I felt pretty confident about coming to Sweden, although I knew that the Scanian pronunciation would prove its own little challenge. Unfortunately, this is where the problems started.
First of all, getting into a Swedish class in Sweden is more difficult than in Germany. Paradoxical, I know. After figuring out that the easiest option would be to apply to SFI (svenska för invandrare), waiting for the personal number, then waiting for a reply from Komvux, and taking a placement test, I finally got to start my class in November. Three weeks into the course, however, my teacher informed me that I should take the final exam, which would conclude the course.
Now, three months after having passed the test, I am once again stranded without a Swedish class. Even though I want to continue the language courses at the same institution, I had to wait for my betyg (certificate) to get mailed to me and now I am stuck waiting for the next cycle of classes to begin, which will be in April.
This will be eight months (roughly 240 days) after I came to Sweden. The system is truly exasperating and seems to push you out more than it invites you in. A very sad state for a country that had its highest rate of immigration just two years ago.
The second challenging part of learning Swedish is the everyday life. Swedes have an above average level of English and are quick to switch languages when they feel you do not understand every word. Of course, they are doing this to accommodate you but it really gives you little to no incentive to actually learn the language and even less opportunity to practice it.
Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to communicate with you in English because I know without a doubt I will be understood. But lately I wish Sweden was more like Spain, for example, where people keep talking in Spanish to you even after you have repeatedly told them “no habla español”. So please Sweden, push those learners out of the warm and cozy nest more often, and see if they can fly.