Learning Swedish

It is almost two weeks now since I started learning Swedish. I thought I should tell you a little about it as it really is an amazing experience.

Basically anyone who lives in Sweden can start on the SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) course. You go along to the office, once you have been allocated your personnelnummer and say I want to learn Swedish please. They give you a very quick interview, mine took about 5 minutes, to assess your need and location. Basically you are asked what education you already have had, where you live and what your current situation/availability is.

Off the back of that I was assigned a morning class at a college 10 minutes bus ride from my house. I study from 8:15-12:00 Mon-Fri – so 17.5 hours a week. Martin is also studying but he goes to evening class twice a week (7 hours).

On day one you turn up at 9am for an introduction. At this point you are all put together, regardless of your education or experience. For the first two weeks you remain together and then are put into other groups.

In my class there are 15-20 people – I haven’t counted. There is a range of nationalities with about half of arabic origin. So in my class the people have come from Syria (about 8), Lithuania, Afghanistan, Chile, Thailand, Morocco, Eritrea and Ethiopia. I think I have forgotten a few. English is the common language but I am the only native-English speaker. Everyone else speaks at least two languages and in some cases many more.

The ages range from 19 up to late 50s. Some have families, some don’t. Some are refugees, some have married Swedes, some are here because of work.

We are approaching the end of the two-week block and in that time we have learnt a huge amount. Grammar, phrases, vocabulary. It really is incredible. I don’t yet have the confidence to go out and speak fluently to a Swede but I have noticed that my ear is tuning in much more in spoken language. I can hear where the sentences start and end and where the verbs and nouns are. A huge leap from two weeks ago when it really did sound like this:

The same is true when I am looking at Swedish text. I can see the sentence structure and although I may not understand some of the words I am starting to recognise, and read, much more.

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Swedish Spring Has Sprung

In Sweden, Spring officially starts on the first of 7 days when the average temperature is above freezing. This means it’s only possible to refer to it retrospectively, as you can only assess it after a week.

In Stockholm, this occurred on 21st February, so it’s apparently been Spring for a fortnight.

(No, it’s not this far into the Spring yet)

Update: 9th March

We went for a walk round the neighbourhood yesterday, and the feeling has totally transformed. There were kids from age 5 out on their bikes, entirely unsupervised, and a feeling of lazy warmth was everywhere. And this in 10C!

Continue reading Swedish Spring Has Sprung

Two Types of Snow

Did you know there are two types of snow? Swedish snow and snowman-building snow. (That’s what we reckon anyway)

In the UK the snow tends to be wet. It is rain that has fallen and frozen as it falls. When it melts, which it does in the warmer days, it forms slush which then freezes at night when it gets cold again. This gives you that horrible slush and ice that is just a nightmare. Roads and pavements quickly become treacherous, black ice is common and the whole system grinds to a halt.

In Sweden, however, there is another type of snow – rarely seen in the UK (in my experience – yours may differ). Because the air temperature is so cold in the winter *any* moisture in the air is frozen. What this does is gives you the weird experience of sunny days, blue skies and snow falling. That is any moisture instantly freezing and falling as snow. The texture of the snow is weird to us Brits. It is dry snow. Think of a powder between icing sugar and caster sugar. It is super-dry. This means that it does not really stick and is really easy to deal with. It is simply swept to the side of the road by the snow ploughs. Any snow left on the road has the consistency of sand. It really is strange. It is also useless for making snowmen with as it has no moisture so won’t stick together – look – here is me showing you…

Oh how I hate hearing my own voice. Did you notice the ice-skater behind me on the lake? That is Lake Mälaren, which I think we have mentioned before. They were testing the thickness of the ice. We suspect that as a result of these tests the annual race was cancelled.

The Viking Race (Vikingarännet), the largest skating race in the world, was scheduled to take place on February 16th, but organizers pulled the plug after forecasts of more mild weather and temperatures above zero.

“This means that solid ice along the track will thin out and the surface will soften. This could result in conditions that put the skaters at risk, resulting in falls and injuries. In addition, the snow ploughs cannot move freely on the ice,” they said.

Around 3,000 ice skaters take to Lake Mälaren each year for the race, which follows an old Viking transportation route southwards from Uppsala to Stockholm, a distance of roughly 80 kilometres.

It has been interesting seeing how the Swedish deal with the snow. Admittedly we happen to have moved in a very mild winter. Everyone has been telling us how unusual it is. I found an interesting site showing averages of weather – this is Stockholm.

Probability of Snow Fall Being Reported in a Given Day
Probability of Snow Fall Being Reported in a Given Day

The cold season lasts from December 3 to March 6 with an average daily high temperature below 3°C. The coldest day of the year is February 14, with an average low of -8°C and high of -1°C.

Firstly the Swedish deal with the snow. The snow ploughs and gritters are out throughout the day. School paths are gritted, footpaths are gritted, the roads are gritted. You can frequently see piles of grit in residential areas that you can help yourself to to grit your path/drive.

Fresh snow fallen on the garden
Fresh snow fallen on the garden

Everyone owns a snow shovel and deals with their own snow.

On our street there is this sign:

Move yourcar on Fridays or your car will be ploughed...
Or your car will be ploughed…

Basically it means do not park on the road on a Friday during the Winter months. Why? Because the whole road is going to be ploughed. Any car left on the road will end up covered with/surrounded by snow. Like this one which had been left on the road just round the corner from our house. Whoops!

Looks like the snow plough team wanted to make a point
Looks like the snow plough team wanted to make a point
Someone didn't move their car for snow ploughing
Someone didn’t move their car for snow ploughing

Secondly the Swedish dress for the snow. Children are dressed head to toe in warm, waterproof clothes. We are talking boots, gloves/mittens, coat, hat, goggles, over-trousers – the works. At school they strip off and get on with their day. There is a wet area at school where they take their boots off. No mess inside thank-you. Then they strip the other layers off near their classroom. There is plenty of space to hang everything. When 3-4 months of the year are under snow you have to be prepared. I can only imagine what it is like further north. It is just a part of life here. No panic.


The chances of getting all 3 of ours out in snow in Scotland: limited. Here, though...
The chances of getting all 3 of ours out in snow in Scotland: limited. Here, though…

Adults wear boots, warm clothes, hats, gloves, big coats and gently steam on the T-Bana. The elderly can be seen using Nordic Poles. Everyone has good boots. Solid boots. If not then there are over-shoes you can use – not the rubber crampons I have seen in the UK but an actual rubber grippy shoe thing.

Finally, and most importantly, the Swedish are damn good at warming up. And no, I don’t mean like that… I mean like this…

Raspberry Baked Cheesecake and Hot Chocolate
Raspberry Baked Cheesecake and Hot Chocolate

Speaking Our Language: Registered for SFI (At Last)

What’s it like living in a country where you don’t speak the language? Well, it’s like this:

A wall of sound that you know contains meaning. But you have no idea what it is, even when the intonation and facial expression carries the general direction and mood. So you can have a go at making the appropriate face to keep up your end of the conversation and pretend to be a great listener (I have gone a good 10 mins as one of three or four in a conversation), but you get found out eventually, and confessing to be a big faker who laughed at the jokes he didn’t understand isn’t pleasant.

On a good day, it’s a bit like this old Larson Cartoon

And very, very slowly, I can hear a few more words as time goes on. But it’s too slow.

And it leads to being very confused in places like the supermarket. Some things you really don’t know what they are. And what you think you know, you get wrong. Like the time we bought 6 cartons of yoghurt instead of milk. Or the time we made pizza with shortcrust pastry. And you can’t work out how to get the self-scanning working. At least I can ask Ursäkta, kan du hjälpa mig in Engelska? when things go truly wrong, which is huge advance on where I was 6 weeks ago (ie: Engelska?)

And while I do have enough very simple phrases to ask for things, I’m far too nervous to use them. Not because I fear my pronunciation would fail critically and laughably. Well, OK, not just because of that, but I’m much more afraid that the person behind the counter will ask a clarifying question, which will wash over me in an impenetrable wall of blah blah blah blah GINGER! blah blah blah.

So I’m very relieved that both Lucy and I have finally bitten the bullet and registered for SFI classes. Lucy has hers 3 days a week in the day (starting at 0815) totalling 15hrs, and I have 2 evening classes of 3hrs. Both are a short bus ride away from the house (actually just across the car park from our nearest big supermarket, which is handy). Both of us start in a couple of weeks.
Continue reading Speaking Our Language: Registered for SFI (At Last)

Touch-Typing: Broken

Typing on a Swedish keyboard has broken my touchtyping.

I used to be able to cope with the frequent swap between Windows and Mac keyboards, between desktop and iOS, and between EN-US and EN-GB. I’d swap from one to the other without even noticing the switch.

But since moving to a Swedish keyboard on my work machine (a Macbook Air), it’s all gone to pot. Not only is my touch typing (especially when I need non-alphanumerics like [~|}<) slow and unsteady on the Swedish layout, all my muscle memory on my home EN-GB Mac is stuttering.