I’m ridiculous when I try to speak Swedish, but in the odd momen when I hear it and need to respond, I don’t often need to ask my interlocutor to switch to English.
signora oye vey has written 18 entries about this goal
I was riding with some friends on the tram after an evening out together. One friend asked, “Where are we?” and I glanced out the window and read the name of the stop to her. I wasn’t even familiar with this stop’s name, so I just pronounced it as best I could. She looked at me like I was crazy and asked me how it is I can pronounce Swedish tram stop names like a Swede? I didn’t have any answer to that, just a surprised smile.
I’ve been putting myself out there a bit more lately, throwing a few words of Swedish into a conversation as I’m able to. I usually switch back to English a little before my storehouse of Swedish is empty, more because I catch sight of myself speaking these simple, canned phrases and I feel embarrassed. Generally my interlocutor waits until the Swedish conversation has ended before making comments upon my performance, and generally those comments are that my pronunciation is very good. That’s a huge accomplishment, actually: Swedish pronunciation is crazy and I’m pleased to have a decent hold on it.
For example, imagine the sound you make when you escape a close call or remove a layer when you’re too warm … the expression of relief that’s more of a strong exhale than anything else but that might be written, “whew!” That’s the number 7 in Swedish and (this is my favorite part) it’s spelled SJU
Västraffick is the public transportation company here. I can figure out how to go from point A to point B via their website. It’s them I buy tram tickets from.
Early on when we arrived in GBG, I heard that newbies to the city get a free two-week tram card from Västraffick. Sweet! Pancake got his a few weeks ago, and I’ll admit that it was mostly me who used it. And to think that I’d be getting another one soon …! I usually get around by bike, and it’s been delightful to be lazy, watching the city go by from the window of the tram.
My friend M, who is also new to GBG along with her boyfriend, got her card several weeks after her fellow got his, so I wasn’t concerned when mine didn’t arrive along with Pancake’s. But today I called to find out if they remember me and if my card should be arriving soon.
I navigated a voicemail system in Swedish that only required me to hang up and call back once before I figured out the right button to push. Not bad.
When I had a human on the phone, I politely began the conversation with talar du Engelska?, assuming that she’d say Of course, and we’d continue from there. Most Swedes speak English amazingly well. But she said nej and so I continued in Swedish. I found I could make my questions sufficiently understandable in Swedish, but the trick was understanding her answers. She wasn’t particularly good at answering slowly, or allowing me to finish speaking before she began, or using simple words.
What I was able to understand, after asking her to repeat herself several times, was that we’re only gonna get one free two-week tram card because we’re a family. I tried to argue that this one was sent in Pancake’s name, not in both of ours, but I couldn’t understand her response except that it didn’t sound sympathetic. I asked if I could speak to someone who speaks English, but she refused.
It’s a bummer to not get another free tram card (though I haven’t quite decided I’m giving up the fight), but I still feel a satisfaction at having had a conversation on the phone in Swedish. That’s not easy, and I managed it. I kinda felt amazed at myself as the moment progressed.
The next goal is to WIN an argument over the phone in Swedish.
A, E, I, O, U, and Y are easy to pronounce in English. I’m still getting used to the Swedish alphabet, but the vowels are the hardest.
A sounds like the sound the dentist wants you to say. “Ahhhh” It’s also the sound you make when something is cute.
E sounds weird and does not factor into this story. If you’re really interested in what E sounds like, watch this
I sounds like the name of the letter E in English. “Eeeh” You might imagine someone fake-screaming this sound. “Eeee! A mouse!”
O sounds like the first part of “oooh la la”.
U sounds like “ew!” – what you say when something is gross.
Y sounds a lot like I, but with a big of g/j thrown in at the end. It also has no place in this story, sorry.
Then Swedish has these funny extra letters at the end of the alphabet:
Å, which sounds like the name of the English letter O – “oh”
Ä is another kinda classic scream sound: “Ahhhh!”
and Ö sounds like the noise you make when you’re thinking. “Uuuiiihhh?”
So imagine this story:
You’re walking down the street and you see an adorable orphan kitten. Of course you say
You remember that your sister asked for a kitten for her birthday, and you have the idea to scoop this one up and give it to her.
But suddenly you notice that it is walking into the street and there is a steam-roller heading straight for the kitten, and you panic.
As the steam-roller comes closer and there seems no chance of the kitten surviving, your scream becomes more intense.
The driver of the steamroller, on his mobile phone, doesn’t notice what just happened. You get his attention and ask him if he realizes what he’s done.
He rolls down the window. You explain to him what’s happened and he responds with a flat
You’re hysterical at this point, and you demand that he back up so you can check if the kitten is ok. When you catch sight of the flat bloody mess that used to be so adorable, you say
and then head to a pet store to buy your sister a birthday present.
I went to a yoga class at the local gym last week. Of course the class was in Swedish, but the language barrier wasn’t much of an inconvenience, except in those moments where I was in some torturous face-down pose and every time the teacher said something I’d have to arch my neck to look up and see if she was releasing us or just talking about the importance of the position or to reminding us to breath or some such thing. But overall, no biggie.
After the class I saw one student hand her a piece of paper, and I remembered that I had a similar piece of paper from when I entered the gym and registered for the class. I’m confident she would have easily switched into English mode if I’d just spoken to her in English, but instead I tried for the communication in Swedish. I put the sentence together in my head – a sentence I haven’t heard before, but was able to construct from the nouns and verbs I’ve been learning. I said, behöver du det här?
And here’s why I’m really considering the utterance of these four words a success: she didn’t switch into English to answer me, as typically happens when I try out a bit of Swedish on a Swede. Generally, even if I just say tack I’m answered with you’re welcome.
I actually have no idea what she said in response, but the point is that I spoke my question with such confidence that I tricked her into thinking that I would understand her answer. :)
I’ve been practicing the alphabet with some of the kids at school. By that I mean that during break-time, I’m the student and the kids are my teachers. For now I’m just trying to get a handle on the letters of the alphabet. I’ve got the consonants under control, but the vowels are killing me. E, I, and Y sound the same to me, as do U and O. But these kids are patient with me, so I think I’ll get this down soon enough.
I went to a gathering of coworkers on Friday and carpooled with another teacher, a Swede. She had a GPS device in her car which she put me in charge of. It was set in Swedish at first, so I changed the language to English and got it all set up, then switched back to Swedish so I could practice listening / understanding. She refers to her GPS device as ‘she’ rather than ‘it’, and her name is Hilda.
At one point, just a few kilometers from the destination, we realized we had to find a grocery store to pick something up for the party. I tried to work fast to ask Hilda to find a market near our location, so I didn’t have time to switch her back to English. I was able to interact with her in Swedish, which impressed my coworker even though it was just a matter of choosing the correct option from a short list with the aid of icons. Still, it gave me a smile to be praised.
I dreamed last night that I was having a conversation with a Danish man who also spoke / taught Swedish. I told him (in English) that I am studying Swedish, and at first I was too shy to try to say anything in Swedish, but then I pushed through the shyness and gave it a try. I started by telling him I speak a little Swedish (Jag talar lite svenska), thinking I’d switch back to English at that point, but when he responded in Swedish I could understand him. I had to struggle to find the words to answer him back, but I was able to form a few sentences, and even though the conversation was simple I felt a tremendous amount of joy at it’s success.
Now to make it happen in my waking life …
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