While I try to focus more on career/work related stuff here, I couldn’t resist writing a post on learning Swedish.
This is one of the most important skills you can master in Sweden. Speaking Swedish will vastly improve your career opportunities and will help you integrate into the culture.
You’ll have a much better experience living in Sweden if you speak the language.
A lot of the recommended tools that come up in a quick google search are too basic for a serious language learner. And it can be difficult to find clear information in English about the language courses available to foreigners.
So I hope I can give you more useful help. I will share the resources and courses available to you in Sweden that will help you become fluent in Swedish.
Do you know a great resource I don’t mention here? Please help other language learners by sharing it in the comments below!
I’ll start by listing off the resources and then I’ll give you my recommended mix to help you pick up the language quickly.
Free Courses to Learn Swedish
These introductory courses are offered by each kommun* (municipality) and are available for free to anyone that has a personal number. You can start and stop whenever you like and they have classes available during the day or evenings. I’ve heard the ABF SFI schools are pretty good, but I don’t think it really matters which one you go to (see my recommended approach at the end of this post).
* If you live in Lidingö for example, then you have to take your SFI courses in Lidingö because it’s a separate municipality. You can request to take the courses in a different municipality like Stockholm, but I tried to do this and was denied by my municipality (I’m looking at you Lidingö). It might be something to keep in mind when you’re looking for a place to live.
After getting to SFI level C (which you can do in 2 or 3 months), then you can move on to these more advanced lessons. They are also free and administered by the government, but offer a must faster pace of learning. If you can get into one of these programs, I would recommend it. Unfortunately, these programs are full-time and during the day, so you can’t work a 9-5 job and attend.
Be careful about the kommun thing here as well. You need to live in Stockholm or have a kommun that’s willing to transfer you.
Free Tools/Resources to Learn Swedish
This is an online newspaper written in simplified Swedish delivering local and international headline stories. The articles are short and the vocabulary is useful. It’s a great way to start reading in Swedish.
Radio Sweden provides audio news in simplified Swedish and is a great way to practice your listening comprehension. Daily episodes are about 15 minutes in length and can be listened to on their website or as a podcast. I like to listen to one episode each day on my way to work.
You can download Sveriges Radio Play (iTunes App) (Android App) to get Radio Sweden på lätt Svenska and other Swedish podcasts on your phone. The other podcasts are difficult to understand for a beginner, but you can also find some children’s programming that’s a good way to practice listening.
Lättläst means easy reading and your local library will have a section devoted to books in simplified Swedish. All you need is your personal number and address to register for a library card. An easy way to start reading is to get a lättläst book that you’ve already read in English. I read Pride and Prejudice when I started. A word of warning – the storyline is also simplified, so don’t get mad if your favourite scene has some liberal changes.
Lättläst Audio Books (iTunes App) (Android App)
The library also offers audio books for loan through an app called Biblio. You need your library card and pin-code (which you get when you get the library card) and you can easily loan and listen to audio books on your phone. Their selection of easy Swedish audio books is not as extensive as their regular lättläst books, but it’s good enough for our purposes.
It’s not the most versatile app, but it’s FREE. Other audio book apps on the market cost 200 kr per month.
Talking opportunities (aka the best way to learn)
There are so many ways you can practice listening and speaking real world Swedish… but sometimes it’s nice to start in a “safe” learning environment. Below are a couple of meetups to get you started with speaking Swedish. In general, I think it’s good to have an intermediate understanding to attend one of these, but you could go anyway and use it as more of a listening exercise.
Many other venues offer Swedish speaking get togethers, like your local library.
Paid Courses to Learn Swedish
Paid courses usually mean a higher quality of education and motivated peers. There are many language schools available in Sweden. I’ve personally gone to Folkuniversitet, because I heard they were good and they’re not too expensive (compared to some of the other ones out there). Medborgarskolan is another option you could check out.
If you’ve studied a bit of Swedish and aren’t sure at which level you should start, you can take a free online test with folkuniversitet as a first step.
The Recommended Approach to Learning Swedish
If you spend a few hours actively learning Swedish each day, then you don’t need to spend a dime on classes. There are a lot of great, free tools that you can use to practice reading and listening to Swedish. Of course the best way is to interact with people in Swedish, but you should have plenty of opportunities to do this in your everyday life.
But I can tell you from my own personal experience, it’s hard to learn Swedish like this. Everyone speaks English in Sweden, which is great usually… except when you’re trying to learn Swedish. It’s hard to stay motivated when you can always switch to English and be understood.
For this reason, I think it’s important to take classes if you really want to learn. Especially when you’re starting out. This will help you get in the habit of speaking and listening to Swedish.
If your employer is paying for this, then go ahead and sign up for one of the paid courses I described above.
But If you’re self-funded, then I recommend taking SFI for the first couple of months. Get past level 3C and then switch to a paid course or the SFX/SIFA program.
The quality and pace of education doesn’t really matter when you first start learning a language. You can save yourself thousands by substituting the first 1 or 2 paid classes with SFI.
The more time you spend learning the faster it will go. By combining courses with the free resources I listed above, you can become fairly fluent in Swedish in a year or two.