Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jag lärde mig engelska från TV

The Swedes speak excellent English. Occasionally you might run into someone who has a really limited ability but they are few and far between. I had always assumed they learned it in school. But that still left me wondering how they got so fluent.

The answer I always get is - television. Swedish TV, like most other foreign countries, is many times bought from the American market. However, what is different, unlike other countries, they do not overdub the voices in Swedish. They leave the original audio and have Swedish subtitles.

That, mixed with the English they do learn in their studies, makes them have incredible fluency with the language. Typically they can move in and out of languages with ease. Signs and advertisements are commonly in English to the point where there has been some talk at the legislative level of limiting the amount of English used in that capacity.

I have also learned a few things about the Swedish dialects. Some Swedes, when you speak with them, will do a sort of, unnerving at first, "sharp intake of air" (as it is described). Almost the noise you might make when you see someone get hurt or watch something unpleasant. Typically, it is a gesture of agreement. A strange sort of "yes, aha, I see".

Some Swedes tell me this is a red neck trait. Which is funny because many of the people I hear do it are not anywhere in the realm of red-neckdom. I have noticed, though, someone may not do it when you initially speak to them but as they grow more comfortable with you it will begin to assert itself into the conversation.

I have also noticed it is habit forming. Sometimes, I must admit, my kids and I imitate it and it takes us a while to stop.

Additionally, I have learned that the more desirable accent to have is what has been described to me as a more southernly accent. I should preface this by saying I find Swedish to be a nice sounding language for the most part. Except for this accent. It is a throaty, maybe Pee Wee Herman sounding...oh, I'd go so far as to say Julia Child's sounding kind of thing. It is really not attractive. I am told it is some remnant of Danish which travelled northward and into the Swedish language.

I am still learning Swedish, at a snails pace because the urgency is not there. When I lived in Bremen, you either asked for it in German or you did not get it. Sink or swim language training, more efficient than Rosetta Stone.


  1. I had gotten used to understanding my in-laws' Swedish a bit, but then I started attending a group stateside of mothers from different parts of Sweden and I could barely understand some of them. The accents do make a difference! And the intake of breath thing is a relief to hear about. I totally thought something was seriously wrong with my mother-in-law's respiratory system.

  2. Did you just write that the more desirable accent is that of Skåne (or Scania in english)? Someone must have played a prank on you on that one! :)

    The southern-most accent is absolutely not held in high esteem in the rest of the country. The accent from the north and some other small places like Gotland is often seen as charming, and accents from the Gothenburg is somewhat well liked as some people find it friendly sounding.

    If by desirable you mean high status it's all about Stockholm, which is not surprising since it's by far the biggest and most influential city.

    Skåne comes in last place as many swedes even find it difficult to comprehend as well as just finding it plain ugly.

  3. Swede, I totally agree with you. Someone's definitely playing a prank on her if she has been told Skane has a desirable accent....LMAO.

  4. Hmmm, maybe I misunderstood her. I don't think she was pulling my chain. She has however lived in Stockholm all her life. I'll ask her again I see her quite often.

    I wish I could tell the differences btw the accents. Actually, I just wish I could make out anything anyone was ever saying. I catch one word and I am like, "Oh OK, she is saying --pay, pay, pay what? Ok that was inte---" and then while I am thinking that I miss ten other words. LOL

  5. I lived in Sweden in '88 and '89, in Vastergotland, pretty much in the boonies there. Many of the people I knew there used that intake of breath you mention (often more frequently on the phone). I wouldn't be surprised if it *was* considered 'redneck'. I know people often told me my Swedish accent sounded like I came off the farm.

  6. Aftonbladet (Swedish National Newspaper). Once did a survey of the prettiest/ugliest dialects of Sweden. Scanish came first place in both categories. Keep in mind that Scane (Skåne) is the heaviest populated are of Sweden and just as influential as Stockholm.