Most Swedes are thrilled to get a chance to speak English, so if you run into a Swede (in Sweden or elsewhere), they’re likely to switch immediately to English. Swedes think they speak very good English. It’s not entirely untrue, you can usually have quite profound conversations with them in English as well as getting by successfully at the grocery shopping kind of level.
If you are a native English speaker living in Sweden (or planning to), it may therefore be tempting to think there’s no point in learning Swedish because all Swedes speak English anyway.
Here are three reasons you should learn Swedish if you live in Sweden (or plan to):
1) What are they saying to each other?
If you only plan on hanging out with one Swede, never socializing with two or more of them at a time, then it’s perfectly fine not to learn Swedish. Bear in mind however, that although Swedes are quite a socially distanced people (even pre-Corona times), there’s a pretty good chance you’ll eventually end up in the same room with more than one Swede (say, at a party). What happens then is that they’ll speak Swedish to each other and switch to English whenever they wish to include you in the conversation. You won’t understand what is going on around you, and you’ll have to nod and smile artificially until you feel like emptying the contents of your IKEA glass on them.
Now there’s also a small chance that the entire room switches to English – even when talking to each other – as a token of their courtesy. That, however, will probably make you feel uncomfortable as well, because it’s like your mere presence is inadvertently forces everyone else to limit themselves. And you don’t want to be THAT person, do you? 😉
2) What’s going on in society?
If you’re going to have any idea of what’s going on around you, you need to watch or read the news now and then. Yes, you can access news from Sweden in English, but if you want to get inside the collective mind of Swedes, then watching Swedish news is a good idea. It will tell you a lot about how Swedes view themselves.
(As long as you know the Swedish word for equality – jämställdhet – you can pretty much figure out the rest in any given news broadcast)
3) The show-off effect
If you ever move back to Australia or the US or Canada or the UK or Ireland (or wherever you’re from), then you better not tell friends that you didn’t pick up any Swedish while living here. “So you’re telling me you lived in Sweden for X months/years and all you can say is ‘hej’?”
Nah, you want to show off your linguistic artistry, randomly striking up conversations with exiled swedes in front of your monolingual compatriots, don’t you? Don’t disregard the show-off component of knowing another language, it’s part of the beauty 🙂
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