Tips for Learning Swedish While Studying Abroad

swedish book

Today was a very special day at school because I had my first Swedish lesson!!! For the past four weeks, I haven’t had Swedish in my schedule at all. I was a little sad that I had three lessons of Physics, three of Spanish, two Math, two Social Studies, but only one English and no Swedish, because I didn’t have a lot of time to really focus on learning only Swedish and not the lesson as well.

Now that my schedule has changed, I will have about four hours of Swedish a week, and a little over three hours of English so I hope that my Swedish will start improving even faster than it has been already.

Since today was full of Swedish, I thought it would be a good time to cover the subject of a language barrier. In Sweden, there really isn’t much of one. So many people speak English whether it be at school, the store, or the gym it is almost hard for me to try and speak Swedish once someones knows I’m an American.

While I am comforted by the fact that if I was ever lost or needed help I would be able to talk to someone, sometimes it is a little annoying since I am trying to learn as much Swedish as I can in my time here. One of the hardest things I have come across while being here is Swede’s fear that they will say something wrong.

In the beginning, a lot of my classmates would shy away from saying something because they were afraid their English would sound bad. Whenever I could tell they were trying to say something but were afraid, I would always say “It’s fine! You’re English is much better than my Swedish!” I wanted them to know that I was in the exact same position just the opposite way around.

Now, I can still see the fear in the eyes of a few when we are assigned to sit next to each other or are put in groups together because they know they will have to speak English, but many are using English much easier now and much more with me than in the beginning.

One thing that makes speaking Swedish outside of the house a little difficult is how people respond to it. For example, if I am up to order next at a coffee shop and simply say “Ummm..” as I’m trying to figure out the pronunciation of what I want, the cashier could tell that I was American and will start speaking English with me.

Or, sometimes if I am at at school and try to pronounce something or ask someone if I am saying something right, they will say “Oh that’s so cute!!” so I feel a little weird speaking Swedish with them. Some people even think it’s weird when I speak Swedish with them. Once, I simply said “Hey!” to someone, and since “Hej” (pronounced the same as hey) is hello in Swedish, they said it was strange for me to speak Swedish with me.

Sometimes it’s a little frustrating when I really want to improve at the language, but it is just something you have to get used to and not let it get you down. At the same time though, I picked a country where I can learn a new, interesting language, but not be pressured to do so in order to make long lasting relationships with friends and my host family.

In order to learn Swedish better, my host family and I have done a few things that I think could be useful for any prospective exchange students. As for me, I use school as more of a tool for learning Swedish than Math, Chemistry, or Physics.

In every class, I always carry a little book with me where I write down any word I don’t know. No matter which class, I will write it down and either translate it right then or have my friends or host family help me later. This really helps me recognize more words as I read questions in class or pick out more words in a conversation.

I think having a book by you at all times is really helpful when trying to remember the words you have learned that day when you want to go over them later. My host family and I also put sticky notes around the house on different objects with the Swedish name on them.

vägg ugn

These are examples of labels around the house. Vägg is wall and Ugn is oven. 

These are really helpful because every time I go to open the fridge or go into my bedroom, I am reminded of the Swedish word.

Another way my host family helps me with Swedish happens when we cook dinner. I will always either have to read off the ingredients and steps in order to work on my pronunciation or mama will read to me and I have to take out the ingredient.


An example of a recipe I would read. This was was super tasty!! 

I have learned a lot of foods and cooking terms through doing this which is helpful since Swedes are very into cooking. We have also started to talk about having a day or two a week where we can only talk Swedish so I am excited for those and think they will really expand my vocabulary. These are just a few examples and my favorite ways that I work to improve my Swedish. I hope any fellow language learner finds these useful!

Hej då!


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