Expat & Travel Blog

Expat & Travel Blog

My relationship with the Swedish language

My relationship with the Swedish language

Hello there!

I am coming back this Sunday with a more controversial topic, which is also part of my everyday life. I moved to Sweden in August 2016, so soon-to-be 3 years ago, and I cannot speak Swedish. So let me tell you all about my experience, and what I do to improve (read as: try to) my level of Swedish. But also the reasons behind why I love and hate learning Swedish! 

Before moving to Sweden

I moved to Sweden after graduating from my Bachelor in France. I got to know I was going to be in Sweden a few months before and started to research on the country, language and so on. The first thing I found was pretty much that everyone speaks perfect English. Period. So, no worries if you come from elsewhere, you’ll be good enough just with English. So, except of “hej” (hello) and “tack” (thanks) not much else was learnt. There was absolutely no stress about it, and as my studies were going to be in English, in an international program and university, I was actually just looking forward starting there! If you want to read more about some things I wish I knew before moving to Sweden, it’s just here!

While studying in Helsingborg

As anticipated, I moved to Helsingborg, in Skåne. It is the most southern county in Sweden, the closest from Denmark. I started my studies there and as I did not have many hours of lectures each week, I decided to start learning Swedish. Even though I did not need it for my everyday life, it would be beneficial in a way or another.

Sweden is actually great at providing free Swedish courses for the ones who want. To apply to the Swedish classes (SFI – Swedish for immigrants), you need a personnummer, it is like a social security number that you need for everything in Sweden. So once I had this number, I applied for the course there and asked for evening classes. There are a lot of different options for the Swedish classes, depending on your schedule/occupation or how fast you want to learn etc.. The evening classes were better for me as I was studying during day time. My classes were every Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 17:30 to 20:00.

This was the first step, and I stayed in this group for more or less one year – on and off as I went home for holidays or summer jobs etc.. But in that time I got to know the basics of the language and – if I wanted/needed – I could communicate about easy random things.

And here is the first important thing to know is that I never really needed to speak Swedish. It is true that (almost) everybody speaks English and people have no problem using Shakespeare’s language. On top of which, all my friends were internationals, and so English was used 100% of the time.

How does Swedish For Immigrants works?

I think it is important to know what to expect when applying to SFI. The courses, for all levels are free of charge, and give between 300 and 500 hours of classes. There are 4 levels, from A to D (D being the highest one), and are based on your education level. With this being said, if you have a Bachelor degree (like I had when applying for the 1st time) then you will be in level C straight away. At the end of each level, you’ll have to go through a national exam, testing all the skills learnt during the courses.

As an example, at the end of level C, I had a level A1-A2 about, and so could have an idea of what was happening around me, and understand official documents when received.

Since I moved to Stockholm

After completing the level C, I only went to a couple of classes from the D-level in Helsingborg before moving to Stockholm. When arriving in Stockholm, I did not apply to the Swedish course until I graduated from my master, as it was already a lot of studying happening. Of course, going to the classes means that you need to study materials and dedicated time to it in order to make the most of the classes.

I applied for SFI and started before the summer, in a school which was on my way home from work. This way there is was no excuse to skip classes of anything. The classes where on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 17:30 to 20:00, so I usually went only on Mondays and Wednesdays, as I believe it is enough when you work full-time!

The painful things

When starting there, I had a very “old school” teacher. She would not understand that I was not already speaking Swedish. On top of which she added that as I am French, it is easier for me than others. If you ask me why, I don’t know and I am still looking for the answer! This was on the Tuesday – this is why I did not go to Tuesday classes! I am aware of my level of Swedish, and I know that I could probably put more efforts into it. That’s true. But the way everything was said, in front of the whole class, on my first lecture was really humiliating and really stressed me. Learning a language is not easy. It takes time and efforts and it does not always click as fast as you would like to.

From my earlier school years, I’ve always been quite good at languages and I always loved these classes more than any others. The fact that Swedish was not working like this and I could not talk really made me uncomfortable and insecure. Every class was being thrown out of my comfort zone and I felt it was all for nothing. Learning a language is a long process which requires a lot of effort and which really affects you and your motivation.

So, here are a few examples of questions I’ve been asked (often/on daily basis):

  • “why don’t you speak Swedish?”
  • “why do you refuse to speak Swedish?”
  • “you’ve been in Sweden for more than 2 years and still do speak the language?!”

These questions are painful. These are unpleasant because you know the effort it takes to learn a language, and none are taken into account. So, here is my answer, I do understand Swedish and actually, more than people think, I just can’t speak. There is a blockage and I am working on it. It just takes time! And one thing I like to say is, imagine you’d be in France now, would you speak the language after 2 years? Maybe not……

Upcoming steps

Today, I finished SFI, all the levels and as I said earlier I can understand, pretty well, when people are talking. There are more classes available at SFI for higher levels, also for free, but I am not planning on going there now. I am working on my speaking and just trying everyday a little to practice.

I will be going to a private course (level B1+ to give you an idea) and there, train a lot. After that, we will see what my level will be and I’ll just take baby-steps!

One thing which I want to do more is using apps like Babbel or Memrise more often. These are good and easy thing to do, especially when commuting!

I learnt along the way a few things, there are so many things one can do to learn. But it will always work better when having fun and feeling self-confident!


So, as I mentioned before, this is just my experience, and me dealing with my own demons! Of course, everybody is different and tackles problems in different ways. However, I wanted to share my experience with you all. In fact, I believe this can be applied to other countries – especially in Scandinavia.

⇒ Let me know, do you learn languages easily? What are your tricks to learn better and faster?

1 thought on “My relationship with the Swedish language”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *