When preparing for my exchange semester by reading travel guides, asking former exchange students for recommendations and searching the web, I soon became aware of the good English skills of Sweden’s population. Language wasn’t a concern at any time. Nevertheless, I was eager to understand Swedish and speak it as far as possible. When registration opened for the free Swedish course Uppsala University provided for us exchange students, I was among the first ones to sign up. And so I attended classes two times weekly for two hours, practicing pronunciation and learning vocabulary that wasn’t so different from German or English after all.
The class was the most international one I have ever been to: In the beginning, we were a bit more than 30 students from 28 nations! But that was only in the beginning. Each week, fewer students showed up. When the course started in September, I was sure that I would be able to keep up my motivation until the end of it and then take the final exam. Unfortunately, the slow pace and the rather boring structure of the course as well as the temptation to do other things with friends during the four hours of repeating sentences and filling out gaps in the grammar book made me quit the course some weeks before the final exam.
Looking back, I think I made the right decision. As I am only here for one semester, I’d rather invest the time in enjoying time with friends, studying for uni or working out. The only annoying thing are everyday conversations when people consider me Swedish and I have to ask them to repeat in English what they have just said. Apart from that, I have are no problems at all concerning language. The woman at the cashier in the movie theater even smiled when I asked if the Hollywood blockbuster we were about to watch was in English. “Of course!”, she said. It is seen as something abnormal to synchronize English movies.
Nevertheless, I still try to speak some Swedish or learn a couple of new words every now and then. My Swedish friends are a big help here, for everyday phrases as well as for specific things: When we are out fishing, mushroom picking or bird watching, I always ask for the Swedish species names. Just for curiosity. And when we are then eating a freshly caught pike (gädda) or a hot mushroom risotto with self-picked autumn chanterelles (trattkantareller), we wish each other a “smaklid maltid!”, referring to the Swiss-German “ä Guetä!”.
What surprised me a bit (or at least I did just not think about it) is that my stay here in Sweden has had a great effect on my English. As I literally speak it all day long (excluding those few sentences in Swedish and the chats with my German corridor neighbor), it is the best practice I can get. All the reports, presentations and lectures at uni are held in English, too (logically), so I will go back to Switzerland with a more confident use of the language.
Still, if there are some words I do not know in English, it is always an option to just go for it and say the word in German. With big probability, the word is similar or even the same in Swedish, which solves the problem of communication right away. In that sense: Hej då fran Sverige till Schweiz!