Swedish Language? Difficult to learn?

I’ve studied French and Russian at school, and for about a year, last year, took Swedish language evening classes.

People always would drop the question “Is it difficult?”.

This is a horrible question to attempt to answer – usually, the language isn’t really what the answer will relate to, rather the learner’s ability and how engaged the learner is with their teacher.

Having said that, (and I must stress that I have experience learning languages before, and a good understanding of linguistics), I think Swedish is really relatively easy for English speakers to pick up. It has a lot of similarities with English in any case, which mean that if you speak (and understand how you speak English), you’ll find things quite easy.

For instance, verbs are really simple – in the present tense, it simply is – “I say, you say, he say, she say, you say, they say, ” – note it doesn’t change at all. In the past tense, it’s simply “I said, you said, he said, she said, you said, they said”…. and so on.

The basics like this are really really easy to get to grips with. I have a feeling that if I knew German (or probably Dutch), then I’d know a good deal of vocabulary already – lots of English words are shared or borrowed – lots of German ones also appear to be similar eg. “hund” = dog (similar to the English word “hound”).

But unlike Russian, which is largely braindeadingly, logical and predictable (if you follow a large set of rules, you can work out precisely what something should be in Russian – for instance if you can say it, you can spell it and vice versa – all words are spelt phonetically), Swedish is more like English. What do I mean?

In English we have a stupid number of exceptions to rules, stupid spellings, nonsensical pronunciations, and other things – this is despite the fact that simple English is relatively easy to understand. So for instance, “knight”, “gnome”, how to pronounce “ough” when used in a word and even “the” can be exceptionally tough on those learning English. I mean think about it, say “the” out loud – why do those letters even represent that sound?

Swedish also has similar idiosyncrasies. Most words are somewhat phonetic – like ours – however, there are notable exceptions – for instance – the Swedish word for “they” is spelt “de”, but pronounced “dom”. Why? Because that’s how it is.

The good news is that some of English’s moronic idiosyncrasies are also duplicated in Swedish, so if you’re a grammar nazi who enjoys correcting your friends’ inappropriate usage of “less” and “fewer”, you can continue in Swedish with “mindre” and “färre“.

Swedish is a relatively easy language to learn for an English speaker, and I suspect that you’ll find learning Swedish, about as hard, if not a bit easier, than any European who has learnt English.

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