As I boarded the train to Sweden while returning from my vacations in the Czech Republic, an overwhelming happiness invaded me. Czech language was beautifully strange to my Dominican eyes and ears: there were barely any words that I can associate to the languages I know, and many sounds and characters were unknown to me. But after appreciating it (and not understanding any of it) for ten days, it was refreshing to sit in that train and hear some Swedish words that I could process. The thought of how cadent Swedish sounds also came to mind: after 5 months of continually hearing it I had taken for granted how much I liked it.
Among these reflections, something that should’ve been obvious popped in my mind. If I like Swedish so much, then I should do a better job at learning it! And thus, my sole and only New Year resolution became mastering Swedish during 2014.
I had started learning by myself long before coming to Gothenburg, and have slowly continued thanks to the classes at Folkuniversitet, which are included in the tuition fee for international students at Chalmers. But considering how effortless it is to swim through life in Sweden by only speaking English, it has been too easy for me to become complacent and abandon my active attempts.
So for this year I resolve:
- Using Swedish as often as I can
- Forcing Swedish friends to avoid English with me.
- Retaking some of my learning habits from before coming to Gothenburg.
I encourage you to join me in this resolution! I promise, Swedish is absolutely gorgeous and not that hard to learn. To get your feet going, I could share some of those habits I intend to retake:
You can start by joining LiveMocha, a social network/learning site where each lesson is divided into reading and listening, testing what you learned with a short quiz, writing a text and recording yourself reading a text. A great thing about this website is that people who are fluent in the language help correct your submissions, and can give you advice to speed your learning. What’s better, it is possible to form friendships with them and eventually organize meet ups.
One of the hardest parts for me was learning to pronounce the new vowels, with which Youtube becomes your best friend. Just search ”ÄÅÖ” and you’ll find plenty to manage.
After grasping the basics, my next step was building up vocabulary. MyLanguages.org, while simple, provided me with most of the Swedish words I actively remember. In some of the lessons it includes audio, which is perfect for working on listening and pronunciation.
When you feel a little confident, you can begin to undertake more practical tasks. An interesting exercise is trying to read online newspapers, while identifying known words, noticing commonly used unknown words and translating them, and finally attempting to get a general sense of the article. 8 Sidor is easy to start with, and GP is appropriate for when you feel like testing your limits! Comprehensive listening is also essential, and still one of my obstacles. To improve it, I used to spend a couple of hours a day listening to Sveriges Radio. Even if you barely understand anything, reading and listening to Swedish often can give you a general sense of how intonation and grammar work.
I’d say the most important thing is to be curious. Look up the words you don’t know. Investigate why the structure of a sentence is the way it is. When you see combined words, try to dissect them. When you see a word that looks like one you know but has a subtle change, learn what that change means. All of these things can teach you concrete things but also help you predict how other words and grammatical structures work. The Swedish Teacher can help satisfy some of that curiosity.
And of course, try to make Swedish friends online. It is fascinating to get to know someone who lives where you intend to move, and they prove to be helpful with practicing the language.
Learning a new language is always challenging, at times frustrating but incredibly rewarding. I still have a lot to learn, but we’ll get there! “Lycka till!” to those of you who decide to take this challenge with me, and I hope you wish me some luck back too!