Getting around Sweden with English.
One of the key factors in my wanting to move to Scandinavia over other parts of Europe was language. In Sweden, the high majority of the population speaks near-fluent English. As an American looking to move abroad without first needing to become fluent in French or Italian, this really appealed to me.
Swedes start learning English in the 3rd or 4th grade and continue with classes until high school, or gymnasium. Their English language exposure does not stop there, however. English is a part of everyday life here in Sweden. Many companies in Sweden’s larger cities have English as the business language. Similarly, movies and TV shows are not dubbed here, so Swedes are exposed to English while watching. And you hear American music everywhere!
Honestly, some times I will be at the gym and will completely forget that I am not in America! I hear and see English all around me. In some ways it is very comforting as an expat, and definitely helps when I am missing home. In other ways, it doesn’t always feel like the most international living abroad experience. Perhaps just a step up from an American moving to Canada or the UK.
As for the older generations, I have been pleasantly surprised over and over again with their level of English. Even when I have tried to speak Swedish with them, they divert to back English. I think this relates to Swedes’ love of learning. They don’t feel as embarrassed when stumbling through a foreign language as I think we tend to in America.
So if you are coming to Sweden for a visit, this is the perfect place for English-speaking tourists to travel around without issues, even in the less populated north. And if you are looking to move here like I did, it is very easy to live here comfortably without speaking Swedish either. However, knowing Swedish will greatly lessen small everyday stressors here – like reading mail, filling out important forms, navigating through automated phone directories, and going to the doctor. You can 100% get by without knowing Swedish (and many people do), but it is much easier if you know some!
- Sweden’s main language is Swedish, but there are five official minority languages. They are: Sami, Finnish, Meänkieli (Tornedalen Finnish), Yiddish, and Romani Chib. Interestingly, English is only an unofficial language of Sweden.
- Because Finland was once part of Sweden (from the 13th century until 1809), many Finns (well, about 5%) still speak Swedish, particularly in the southern and western coasts. While Swedish is an official language of Finland, the Swedish spoken in Finland is called Finland Swedish (suomenruotsi) and is slightly different from Sweden’s Swedish.
- Many people, myself included, love the sound of the Swedish language. It is highly melodic and sing-song-y. The Swedish spoken in Skåne, Sweden’s southernmost region is…less pretty. This is due to the Danish influence and rule, which ended in 1658.
- Overall, about 10 million people speak Swedish around the world.
- The combination of Swedish and English is called Swenglish!
If you want to learn some basic words for your next visit to Sweden here are my top tips:
- Hi – Hej
- Goodbye – Hej då
- Yes – Ja
- No – Nej
- Thank you – Tack
- You’re welcome – Varsågod
- Excuse me – Ursäkta mig
- Cheers – Skål
- Coffee break – Fika
- Coffee – Kaffe
- A coffee refill – Påtår
- Beer – Öl
- Cinnamon buns – Kanelbullar
- Meatballs – Köttbullar
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!