Learning Swedish


Sweden is renowned for its inhabitants' sound knowledge of the English language. Many foreign students are however interested in learning Swedish.

Why should you learn Swedish? Everyone speaks English anyway and Swedish is a crappy little language that only nine million people speak. Sadly I have probably heard this argument from Swedish people more often than from foreign students, but I think the points should be answered - unless you have a clear goal when you are learning a language then you will struggle to become profficient.

Everyone speaks English. Yes, this is true. English has become the present day lingua franca. I have even heard from some students that they consider Sweden as an "English-speaking" country, which I consider an utter insult of the Swedish language. Sweden is NOT English-speaking. A lot of people can speak English to an OK extent and can communicate in the language. However, what this means in practice is that English is a language that is butchered and bludgeoned by people all over the world to facilitate basic communication between differing people. For those of you who are not native English speakers, think of how it feels to express yourself in English - it is not as finely nuanced and neither is it as natural as your mother tongue. This is unavoidable. Recent studies have shown that even Swedes, who are arguably amongst the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, have substantial difficulties in understanding and expressing themselves in English - even if they are not themselves aware of their own limitations.

Thus, to be able to express yourself and develop deeper relations in any society you need to learn that language, and that is why that so long as people have non-English mother tongues there will be a great need to learn non-English languages.

Following on from this, you may be hesitant to learn a language that so few people speak. Again, this is not a legitimate argument. Firstly, with the exception of a few larger (and usually colonial) languages, most languages are restricted to a limited geographic area. English, being a lingua franca allows cross cultural communication, whereas nearly all other languages allow you to communicate only within a certain culture - Japanese allows you to speak with Japanese people, German with Germans and Swedish with Swedes. The fact that 9 million or 90 million people speak a language is irrelevant.

A final point is that some people find Swedes to be cold and hard to get to know. Part of this impression is dependent on language. While Swedes on their own are usually very good at remembering to speak English, it is natural that when you get a group together that they fall back into Swedish with each other - leading you to miss out on 80% of the conversation. Similarly, mannerisms and intonation that are entirely normal in Swedish can come across as abrupt and rude in English. As you understand, it is difficult to learn these subtle aspects of a second language.

Learning the local language is vital to gaining acceptance in that society and it is vital to understanding a given society. Even if you are only here 6 months you have the time to develop substantial language skills and further your appreciation of a foreign culture, and if you plan to stay here longer then the language must be high on your priority list.

So given that I have now convinced everyone to learn Swedish because it will allow you to understand the culture and gain new friends, I am now going to make it even more attractive by pointing out a few bonuses with the Swedish language.

Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are languages that are quite separate. They are however, "mutually understandable". Their spelling, vocabulary and grammar are quite different to each other, but they are in some way "understandable" - when you hear a Norwegian express something it may be very different to Swedish, but you still think "oh yeah, I see how that works". So by learning Swedish you will also be able, with a little work, to communicate with Danes and Norwegians. You will also find that you can better understand other Germanic languages such as Dutch and German - especially in their written forms. A quick example: take the word "exit" in English. The German word "ausgang" has nothing to do with "exit", and on examination I would defy any English speaker to connect the two words. However, the Swedish word for "exit" is "utgång", while it works even better in Dutch as it is called "uitgang" - the similarity is clear, and you can often (not always!!) guess your way to somewhat correct interpretations! So, learn Swedish and we'll throw in a whole bevy of languages totally free! Learn now and we'll even throw in this set of steak knives...

Sorry. Too much TV-shopping.

But where can you learn Swedish?

If you are enrolled in some other area of studies you may apply to the Department of Scandinavian languages and study Swedish. NOTE: you must be enrolled in other studies - you will NOT be accepted if you come with the express purpose of studying Swedish.

There are three levels of Swedish, Basic Swedish 1,2 and 3. While they have not yet been accredited on the European scale, Basic Swedish 3 is given entirely in Swedish and if you study hard you will have good Swedish skills by the end of it. The courses are 7,5 HP and run for the duration of the semester.

After this you may apply for the course "behörighetsgivande utbildning i svenska", which will prepare you to take the TISUS language test. Note, whether you get into the course will depend on your individual language skills - it is not a continuation of Swedish 3.

The TISUS test is a national Swedish language test. All students need to have studied Svenska B at high school level to get in to university studies. This test is an equivalency test, stating that you have skills equal to if you had have taken Svenska B in high school. Note, this is not a test simply for foreigners. Anyone who does not have Svenska B, whether Swedish or not, must take this test (or study Svenska B).

Find out more at the Department of Scandinavian Languages 

Exchange students are prioritised in the application process for these course but all who meet the above criteria are welcome to apply.


This is an adult learning organisation. There are many different courses you can take here, and they have a very good quality education in Swedish language, available in a variety of different levels and intensities. You can email them at info.uppsala [at] folkuniversitetet.se or check out their website at Folkuniversitet.

They even have distance education courses.


This is another adult learning organisation. Pretty much the same things that can be said about folkuniversitetet can also be said of Medborgarskolan - except that their website is not as easy to navigate as an English speaker! You can contact them at uppsala [at] medborgarskolan.se or check out their homepage.

Medborgarskolan's homepage


Svenskundervisning för invandrare (Swedish for immigrants). You don't actually need to be an immigrant to join their courses (although the courses are aimed towards immigrants). All you need is: to be resident in Uppsala and have a permanent personal ID number

They offer different level of courses in basic Swedish and they all are free!

Go to this page for more information: http://www.uppsala.se/sv/Uppsalase/English-startpage/Education/Swedish-f...

All of these organisations are located quite centrally in Uppsala. But it doesn't end there! The website www.studyinsweden.se has heaps of fantastic options for studying Swedish, both here in Sweden and via distance education - some are free and some cost money. But definitely check here!


If you have basic Swedish skills (that is, you can get by day to day but your Swedish is not really up to speed) then you can look at studying one of the courses arranged by Folkhögskola (www.folkhogskola.nu). The Swedish Institute also arranges these sort of courses (www.si.se).

You should also not underestimate the value of studying on your own. "Teach Yourself Swedish" style books can be bought for a couple of hundred crowns. These books will give you a good structural base to begin from. You should complement these studies by listening to the radio (www.sr.se on the internet!), watching TV (www.svt.se - also on the internet!). You should also buy a Swedish English dictionary (or whatever your preferred language is) - Norstedts is the standard. You should note that buying a dictionary here means that they are written for a Swedish speaker, so you will not find help about "difficult" things like irregular verbs (you will find "gå" but not "gick").

Last but not least you should get involved at your nation. Through joining a group such as a choir or a band or sport, theatre or whatever, and through working regularly, you will be able to hear and more importantly practise your Swedish.