Needless to say, language is incredibly important. And of course so is knowing the language of the country you live in. So this blogpost will be about how I am doing with learning Swedish.
All my life, I have always enjoyed learning languages. In school I have learned Latin, English, French, Spanish and after school I took a Dutch course. Honestly I have forgotten all but English and all that is left of the other languages is hardly more than „hello“, „goodbye“ and some bits and pieces of grammatical knowledge here and there. But I still feel that learning several languages in my life is now helping me a great deal in learning Swedish.
I have started to try learning Swedish when I was still in Germany. The language barrier I was facing was the thing that scared me most about moving abroad, as I am a very communicative person. (Anyone who knows me well and tells you that I don’t talk a lot, is a liar. Don’t trust them! 😛 )
So how did I do that? Well first I looked for classes, but I found out rather quickly, that there weren’t so many Swedish classes and the ones I found were during my working hours, so I had no possibility in attending them. So I did what any millenial would do and turned to the internet and my smartphone. I checked out the website Learning Swedish and the app and website Duolingo.
Both of them offer a huge amount of knowledge, lots of learning tools and good explanations on grammatical structures. While Learning Swedish is more theoretical, Duolingo uses a reward system that makes learning the language you chose feel more like a game than a task.
And yet I found it very hard to use any of those websites on a regular basis once I got started on the planning of my move, my trip and looking for a job. Not only is it hard to teach yourself a language all by yourself without the help of an actual tutor, but it is also not quite rewarding learning a language noone around you is speaking.
In the process of buying the house I am now living in, I was of course exchanging messages with the previous owners, which were mostly in Swedish. I mainly used Google translate for my messages and even though it didn’t exactly boost my language skills, with the time I became quite good at phrasing German sentences in a way that would make them easy to be translated into Swedish, which helped me to understand the Swedish grammar and sentence structure to some extend.
And yet, up until my move, my knowledge of the swedish language was very basic and hardly exceeded greetings and basic understanding of simple language tools. And then I moved.
As I wrote back in January, after moving I found work rather quickly, thanks to the help of so many kind people here. And at work I had to learn fast, to be able to communicate. It was hard and frustrating, often I would find myself beginning a sentence and not being able to complete it. I would think of things I wanted to say but I just couldn’t and sometimes I wouldn’t understand what I was asked or what someone was telling me. And yet it was so much fun. Everyday I found myself understanding a little more and being able to speak a little more. After some time I wasn’t only able to react in a situation and give the most basic answers, but I was also able to tell stories about my weekend or about things I had seen. Quickly I was able to share feelings and memories through language – through the swedish language. On a little sidenote I have to admit though, that it probably sounded absolutely horrible as I wasn’t able to pronounce the words as they were meant to and that I most likely totally destroyed any grammar my sentences could’ve and should’ve had.
Then in March I was finally able to start the language course for immigrants and learn Swedish „officially“ and not „just“ through daily life. I started with classes of the b-kurs, but my language skills had already exceeded the knowledge that course contained. So I took the final exams to get into a higher class and started last monday with the d-course. What does that mean language-wise? Well, according to the back of my book it places me in language knowledge at around B1. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what I mean by that, I am referring to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
According to wikipedia, knowing a language on B1 level means that I
- Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
- Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
- Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
- Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Having achieved this within just 3,5 months of living here, and only one month of actually taking real classes is very reassuring for me and certainly a lot. But how did that feel in the process and how do I feel now?
Well honestly, in January and most of Febuary I have felt more insecure than I have felt at any point in the past few years. Not being able to follow most conversations (I usually understood the general topic of a conversation and maybe bits and parts of different opinions, but hardly ever more than just a few actual words and meanings of sentences) or the thought of not being able to communicate freely and fluently with people on the street left me feeling isolated. I was never really isolated and lonely as I always had a lot of friends accompanying me through whatsapp, found friends here and have the kindest neighbors and colleagues who were always offering me company. But even with them I couldn’t communicate freely in Swedish, it was either limited Swedish (accompanied with a lot of facial expressions and wild gestures and of course a lot of laughter) or English which is neither my nor their mother tongue. This left me feeling isolated in a way that companionship can’t balance out. Additionally I went through all the steps to get the Swedish personal number at the time and without it it felt like I wasn’t really allowed to stay here and that my residency wasn’t permanent. So around the time I got the personnummer, I reached a level of Swedish, that allowed me to talk more freely and fluently.
Since then I feel more confident and much less isolated. Even though I often need to ask several times when strangers approach me to ask something in Swedish, I often manage to understand it and answer to it appropriately. I can follow conversations (for the most part) and participate more in them and this all makes me feel really confident for the future. I feel self efficiant when I manage to carry out tasks that involve speaking Swedish without having to ask something in English and it happens less and less that I feel the need to actually say something in English because I can’t express myself in Swedish.
In living here and not being able to communicate in German, I found new appreciation for my mother tongue. Not only because it allows me to express myself without doubting my use of words and grammar (even in English, I sometimes have to check twice or don’t know certain words spontaniously). But I also appreciate some of the words and grammatical structures you don’t find in Swedish or English. The German language knows so many gradations in the tone, depending on who you’re talking to and what you want to express and I can only hope to achieve the ability to use the Swedish language like that one day as well.
Actually the process of learning Swedish sparked a huge interest in me to learn more about the origins of languages and the theory behind grammatical structures and semantics of Germanic languages. Maybe I will find myself reading up on that and learning more about that in the future, but then I will hopefully understand all of that knowledge in fluent Swedish. Until then I can just keep learning it 🙂