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.


SFI is here to help us non-Swedish speakers. They help you learn. All of the class now has a library card and a student card. Tomorrow we are going to visit the local library to ensure that we know what to do there. No doubt we will also be shown the large range of books. (I have already registered and got books out – one of the first things I always do when I move – I love libraries.) I visited my small local library last week and took out a selection of SFI books and CDs – it was astounding how much material there was for people to use. Not just books but CDs to listen to and computer programs to use. They actually want you to learn and make sure you do. It is superb. I am not convinced that the UK goes anywhere near this level of help.

On Monday I move into the next, temporary class, where it is up to me how long I stay there. If I work hard and learn well it may only be 1-2 weeks but for others it could be a couple of months. Following this period we are then moved into the correct groups depending on our educational background. So, having studied up to post-graduate level I go into the hard group! This is because I have shown evidence of being able to learn already.

Being a native English speaker is a huge help to me as the Roman alphabet is a given. For about half of my group though arabic is their natural language. They all can speak English and can read/write a little (or in some cases a lot) of English but it is still more difficult for them. The teacher sometimes needs to teach them some of the nuances of the Roman alphabet so which letters sit on the line or go below, where the sentence begins and where to put the full-stop, when to capitalise and when not to.

I have loved these two weeks. Meeting new people from such varied cultures has been fascinating. Most of our group will move into the temporary group together before progressing further which then starts us learning to exam level. It is all worth while – it gives you confidence to speak, write and read Swedish. We can fill in forms, hold conversations, no longer look stupid! For some passing the exams results in a monetary bonus. It is all about helping us to fit into Sweden and to contribute to society.

The last two weeks haven’t all been about the language we have learnt about some of Swedish culture, fika, how to sing Happy Birthday, the Swedish Parliament, Democracy…

It is hard work. But I think it will be worth it. People we have spoken to have said that within a year we will be pretty much fluent. Two weeks ago I could not have imagined it, now I have started I can see how that happens.

I am exhausted though… Learning is tiring huh?

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