Learning Swedish is a key to integrating into Swedish culture. However, learning Swedish comes with one huge obstacle: English.
Yes, we all speak a certain level of English! But for many international students, learning Swedish is a natural thing to do to understand our host country better.
With the cold Swedish stereotype, it is often easier for internationals to find comfort from one another than our hosts. But one way to get the Swedes attention is taking an interest in their language. Trust me; it’s enough to intrigue even the iciest exteriors. Plus Swedish is necessary for those of us wanting to stay here after graduation.
Therefore, learning Swedish seems to be the key to fully integrating into everyday Swedish culture. However, choosing to learn Swedish comes with one huge obstacle: English.
Once you know some Swedish, many of us feel able to start a basic conversation. It becomes like a really good tennis game, each person taking turns to hit the conversation back and forth. However, eventually the dreaded moment comes when you hit the ball out and make a mistake.
Now in some countries, making a mistake is no problem at all. The French, for example, noted for being incredibly proud of their language, rejoice in the knowledge that you are at least trying to learn. In my experience, the French will indeed guide you through your mistakes while continuing the conversation in French regardless of your level of ability. They will only switch to English if you choose to do so first. The game continues.
In Sweden, the opposite is more common. If you make a mistake, Swedes often decide to switch to English first and the language learner has lost the game. Even asking questions like ‘Vad sa du?’ feels like losing your advantage as it is usually met with English.
It seems this sort of response comes from a good place and Swedes know it is quicker to speak a language that two people have a more equal understanding of. So English may be a blessing for Swedes, but it is more frustrating for those learning Swedish. For the least confident language learners, such incidents are enough to throw in the towel. But we should never let go of our racket! Just keep on chatting and one day we will get past match point. And to all my Swedish friends: See you on the court!