Learning Swedish as a second language. Hard?

I am a native English speaker and would like to learn Swedish. (It will be self taught.)

Anyone here speak Swedish as a second, third, etc. language? Was it difficult? What hurdles can I expect if any? I used to be fluent in Spanish. Will Swedish most likely be more or less difficult? (I found Spanish to be insanely easy)

My ancestors came from Sweden and Ireland and I’m just now starting to explore my Swedish background and am now obsessed with learning the language.

Simple: just watch the Swedish Chef for several hours a day.

Heheh. Well, I do know one colorful phrase that sounds sort of phonetically like

“Hul toozen flooga en da veet hoosen”
I suppose since you done learnt yer Swedish from the Swedish chef you would know what that means. :wink:

Swedish is simple. It’s English spoken backwards.

I’m guessing Johanna would know. You around?

I have not learned Swedish as a second language. I have learned Norwegian as a second language. The two are similar enough that I think my experience can help you out. (I can read Swedish with some difficulty, and understand some but not all Swedish dialects when spoken, just to give you an idea of the similarities here.)

Grammar: Not a big deal. Swedish, like English, uses primarily word order rather than inflections to show relationships between words in a sentence. The word order is mostly the same as English, too. This is the easy part.

Vocabulary: You will find some familiar friends; if you speak some German or maybe French, you’ll find more. Mostly, however, you’ll have to memorize lists of words just like when you learn any new language.

Pronunciation: Hoo boy. Here comes the hard part. Swedish has several sounds that do not appear in English and that will require practice. Swedish also has a basic tonality to it that doesn’t have any equivalent in English - it’s what makes the gibberish that the Swedish Chef speaks “sound Swedish”. You’ll need to practice, practice, practice this part.

The good news is, Swedes (and Norwegians and Danes too) are generally so pleased that an English-speaker is making an effort to learn their language, they will overlook your errors and try very hard to understand you. The bad news is, they may decide to “be nice” and switch to English to “help you out”, which is well-meant but really frustrating when you’re trying to learn the language.

HOWEVER - the big thing here is that you will never really learn any second language fluently unless you use it! If you can’t find a class, at least find someone to speak it with.

I’ll ask Arwin to post here. He’s Dutch, studied English, (and speaks it IMHO perfectly) and went to study English for a year in Stockholm, taking Swedish classes there. He went there because of his Swedish GF, so he spoke Swedisch off-campus as well.

Thanks folks!

I do know one friend who can speak it enough to get around if she’s in Sweden so I could use it on her to keep myself honed.

One thing my Mom always told me Flodnak is basically what you were saying, that sentence structure is so much like English, and there are similar enough words that it should be easy to learn, especially if you’re already inclined to learn other languages without great difficulty.

I actuall pored over a paragraph written in Swedish and was able to grok the gist of it just based on some of the similarities to Dutch.

I’m looking forward to learning a language that has tonal inflections. This is going to be fun!

How tonal is Swedish?

I don’t think it’s actually tonal in the same way that chinese is, but there is a lot of ‘up-and-down’ in a scandinavian sentence which you need for it to sound right. If you don’t get the rhythm and the ‘up-and-down’ (or herdy-gerdy as the english call it) right it just sounds horrid and will be near-impossible for a native speaker to understand - like speaking French in a totally flat monotone.

Sweden is a very switched-on country, so there are a fair number of online resources intended to help learners, as I’m sure you’ve already found. If you can speak/read Dutch as well as english then you already have a pretty decent head start. My girlfriend is a Limburger who speaks english, and she finds a lot of commonalities with Dutch and German. However parsing pronounced Swedish is totally beyond her due to the herdy-gerdy factor.

As I’ve said, I know Norwegian, not Swedish. However… there are a handful of pairs of words in Norwegian that are distinguished only by tone. The most common pair is bønder (farmers) and bønner (which can mean beans, beads, or prayers). Now, obviously, if you get the tone wrong, it’s still going to be obvious from context which one you meant. But it’ll sound wrong. Many other words with two or more syllables have an internal tone to them, and if you get it wrong it won’t be confused with any other word, but you’ll sound foreign. And then whole sentences have a “melody” to them that is different from the sentence melody of an English sentence. I believe Swedish is very much the same.

Stark Raven Mad, thanks for the compliment. Although my name sounds very Swedish, it’s actually Latin. I really haven’t delved into North Germanic, so I’m not much help here – though I was once motivated by the example of J.R.R. Tolkien and his Kólbítar project to check out Old Norse.

The tones in Swedish fascinate me. How did tones crop up in a few odd corners of the world, like Sweden and Panjab, where none of the related or neighboring languages are tonal?

What about retroflex consonants in Swedish? I think I remember reading that somewhere. Retroflex sounds are practically unknown outside South Asia, although oddly they cropped up in Sicilian dialect as well as, IIRC, Swedish.

As Douglas Hofstadter showed in Metamagical Themas, humor based on speaking English with a Germanic influence is funny because the other Germanic languages are recognizably related to English. Their cognates come out sounding to English ears like English in a fun-house mirror. Hofstadter gave as an example the pseudo-German “Nicht für Fingerpoken” sign that used to be posted near computers.

A cinematic short that was once beloved of midnight-movie houses was De Duve (The Dove), a parody of Ingmar Bergman films. All the dialogue was in a linguistic blend poised midway between English and Swedish… or at least it sounded that way. I suggest that beginning Swedish students watch this film if they want to get their wires totally crossed. :smack:

But seriously, The Chao Goes Mu, if I were you I would start watching Bergman films. It’s the best means of self-teaching Swedish I can think of that would be immediately available to you. I think the other sine qua non for the self-teacher in Swedish would be, no surprise, the book ‘n’ tape set Teach Yourself Swedish by Linda Croghan (Chicago: McGraw-Hill, 2004). If I were you I would grab that at the first opportunity.

But you know what linguists in the know say is the best way of all to learn a language… go to bed with a lover who’s a native speaker of it.


Thanks for the info Johanna, I think I’ll start renting Bergman films this weekend. As for finding a Swedish lover, I’ll have to ask my partner if she minds. :wink:
A little tidbit from the family archives; my Great Grandmother married a Swede and his family hated her because she was a poor girl from Arkansas who had a child out of wedlock. At family gatherings they used to make fun of her in Swedish. She taught herself the language then one day surprised them by firing her own barbs at them in their language. They never gave her shit again. :smiley:

What a great language story, The Chao Goes Mu! I’ve got to remember that one. I love seeing the underdog triumph over the persecutors by turning the tables on their own devices! :smiley: See, that’s why it’s cool to learn languages!

Jåhå, Svensk är et väldigt enkelt Språk, men dessutom är det inte så enkelt at uttala!

Tenker jag … det var et tåg till at jag pratade Svenska … :smiley:

I learnt that outside of Scandinavia, Dutch is the language closest to Swedish. But you do really have to get used to the pronunciation, as that’s pretty tough. And once you start trying yourself, it can be pretty hard to hear exactly how far off you really are - fortunately I had a girlfriend back then who made it pretty clear when I was way off (sounds like ‘hund’ - dog - have a certain nasal quality and a unique kind of ‘eh’ sound that is difficult to learn, and the lenght of each of the sounds is tricky to get right too).

But learning to read it is a good start, and that’s pretty easy. I did it by just reading the newspaper every day, and then little bits of grammar and key-words to accellerate my understanding of the language - as I had already studied other languages in-depth, a little meta knowlegde did help me personally quite a lot (stuff like ‘hitt og ditt’ for place indication, some stuff is just difficult to pick up on if it’s not pointed out to you).

I have to try to remember what retroflex consonants are again, but in the meantime let me throw another one of those at you: ingressive speech. The Swedes, especially the women, can sometimes get surprisingly addicted at speaking, so that they don’t actually want to stop doing so even while breathing in that necessary oxygen. So what they do is inhale while they say a concerned ‘jå’ inbetween two of the latest gossips. :smiley:

Oh and as an afterthought: intonation wise, Swedish concentrates much more on the flow of the sentence than on the individual words. In this it differs quite a bit from Norwegian, and it’s a good Shibboleth if you want to pick out the Swedish traitor invading the Norwegian Nationaldagen. :smiley:

The intonation range of an Englishman is slightly less than that of a Swedishman, but vice versa the intonation range of an Englishwoman is slightly more than that of a Swedishwoman. On average, that is. Regional dialects may vary of course. :wink:

The Dutch hardly have any intonation at all, and what we have isn’t very pretty generally (there are exceptions, and if you want to hear quintessential Dutch, then try to get Maastricht on the phone. :wink: )