Learning the Language


Having had a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year, I’m back in Sweden and am now into the second week of term, so an update is needed. As a Brit, I guess it makes sense to start with the weather. There is plenty of snow on the ground (in fact it has been snowing on and off all day) and the temperature is currently -4°C, which I think qualifies as cold. Having settled back into life here, I thought I’d share some thoughts on languages and how best to approach the process of learning an entirely new one.

Undoubtedly one of the major barriers to fitting in and finding your feet in any new country is understanding the language. Whether it’s  being able to buy the right food in the supermarket or being able to buy a train ticket, being able to communicate in another language is an incredible useful skill. Also, if you’re interested in working internationally in the future, a foreign language looks great in any application and can make travelling a lot easier.

Since I started living here in August, I’ve started to become accustom to the culture, and despite English being widely spoken, Swedish is still the language that you see and hear the most. In the first week of my year abroad, I attended the basic swedish language course for international students and quickly got to grips with the basics of the language, and then continued to learn through a module taken at the University. However, I found as soon as I had finished the course, my ability to understand and communicate in Swedish quickly diminished. In a country where everybody speaks English remarkably well and where many people are wanting to practice their English skills, practicing Swedish can be very difficult, particularly since my courses are in English and the majority of the people I have met have been international students.

However, taking the opportunity to talk to local Swedes has been extremely beneficial. In a student bar in Kalmar (one of many stops on a road-trip across Southern Sweden), I remember talking in Swedish to a number of the locals and it was fun being able to practice the language and learn some new words and phrases. Reading Swedish newspapers and watching the local TV stations has also been very useful, and I’ve now put Swedish subtitles on everything I watch on Netflix.

Aside from talking to people and communicating in the local language in the real world, I’ve found two great online tools for developing my language skills, and they both have good mobile apps so you can learn on the go.

Duolingo (http://www.duolingo.com)

I first came across this site having read Tim Ferriss’ blog post on deconstructing languages and then having done further research into how to best approach the process of learning a language from scratch. In this blog, Tim has come up with 8 sentences which provide the basic framework of any language; simply translate them and it will be easy to notice how sentences are structured, and in particular how verbs are conjugated and how to use personal pronouns.

Duolingo applies this simple logic and is a fantastic site for understanding how sentences are formed. Currently the site doesn’t facilitate Swedish and is limited to only the widely-spoken European languages (French, German, Spanish and a few others), so I’ve started using it to brush up on my German, which, in fact, isn’t too dissimilar from Swedish. So if you want to brush up on your GCSE language skills or you want to indulge yourself into a new language, then I highly recommend this site, and I’ve heard that there are plans to extend the site to other languages – hopefully Swedish will be one of them.

Memrise (http://www.memrise.com/home/)

This is another fantastic tool which I’ve been using for a while. You can use this site for remembering anything from capital cities to how to remember the order of a deck of cards, and it is particular good for learning foreign vocabulary. The site uses a very sophisticated algorithm which reminds you when you need to refresh your memory of a certain word, and it’s very fun to grow your own virtual garden of memories.

I’m currently doing the ‘3000 most common Swedish words’ course and this type of course is available for many other languages. The course says that, with practice, this should give you 80% fluency of the language. I’m sceptical of this, but nonetheless, it’s a very good course for expanding vocabulary. Also, if you’re particularly interested in learning Mandarin, then this site is brilliant.

Other useful resources

Livemocha – a very interactive website that gives you access to native speakers.

Busuu – similar to Duolingo, but with a few more languages, and this also has its own free app.

I’ve also found this fantastic cartoon that claims to be able to teach the basics of Korean in 15 minutes which I had a go at, so if you’re interested take a look.

Learning a language may seem a daunting task, but by breaking it down into the basic structures and by throwing yourself into the deep end in a new country, it can be easier than you think. Hopefully I’ll be able to improve my Swedish over the coming months, as I’m still nowhere near being conversationally fluent. Be sure to let me know if any of you have found some cool ways to learn a language, and good luck for all of your linguistic endeavours.

Hejdå för nu!


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