Lou’s Journal #2: Swedish in Sweden

Swedish in Sweden

At the start of the year I was enrolled in a basic Swedish class, but the geology class I was taking in the beginning of the semester was too demanding and time-consuming for me to take both. Despite the beauty of the Swedish language, I decided to spend my time learning about the subject I am studying back in Arizona to make the most productive use of my time. I was able to do this without sacrificing my ability to communicate with locals because Swedes, especially Swedish college students, tend to have a very strong grasp of the English language. Nonetheless, I have picked up some basic Swedish expressions. Swedish and English are not terribly different to begin with, though. Quite a few Swedish and English words are cognates, meaning that they share a common origin. It often happens that an English and Swedish word will have identical meanings yet are pronounced or spelled very differently. For instance, ‘what?’ and ‘vad?’ mean the same thing and are pronounced only slightly differently, yet the spelling differs rather substantially.

I have found myself in a few embarrassing situations as a result of language differences. For instance, the Swedish word for men is ‘herrar,’ while ‘dammer’ means ladies. Unfortunately, I did not know this before coming to Sweden. On my first occasion in Uppsala’s main university hall I walked into the ladies’ bathroom because I wrongly assumed that the ‘her’ in ‘herrar,’ meant ‘her bathroom!’ I only had to make that mistake once!

People tend to be quite tolerant and understanding of foreigners’ oddities and difficulty in adjusting to Swedish culture, though. Speaking as someone who was very new to a very foreign culture, I appreciated so much when someone gave me a break for making a mistake or pronouncing a word wrong. Many Swedish students decide to take a year or so off after ‘gymnasium’ (high school) to travel, so many of them understand what it is like to be new in a new place. I feel that studying abroad has given me a new perspective on a particular group of people: immigrants. It can be quite difficult to leave behind everything you have become accustomed to and then to become immersed in an entirely new culture. Regardless, I believe that knowledge is never negative and that language is what has allowed mankind to expand and communicate his knowledge to others.

I think that being able to interact with someone in his or her native tongue enables a person to learn many subtleties about a particular culture or individual. Although it can be difficult to find the time or energy to learn an entirely new language, I believe that there are some major advantages in being able to communicate with many different people. One trick that I have picked up is to create “memory triggers” for as many different words as possible. For instance, “kyckling” (pronounced ‘shee-cling’) in Swedish means “chicken” in English, which I remembered by noticing some similarity in the pronunciation of the two.




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