Do People in Sweden Speak English

Do people in Sweden speak English?

When traveling or moving to a new country, getting around is sometimes difficult in the early phases — and one of the biggest stumbling blocks in many parts of the world is the language. Many Scandinavians speak more than one language, but do people in Sweden speak English?

If you’re going to Sweden soon, it’s worth doing some research on what languages are spoken in the country to help you prepare better. The answer to the question above depends on multiple factors.

English proficiency is higher in some parts of the country, and people in larger cities have more exposure to the language. Demographics also vary; you shouldn’t have problems communicating with younger Swedes in English, but that isn’t universal.

Now that we’ve set a bit of context, let’s dive in and find out how good the Swedes are at English. 

Do the Swedes speak English?

If you visit one of the larger cities in Sweden, you’ll notice that many Swedes speak excellent conversational English — even if a lot of them are too shy to admit it. When needing help with something, you will most likely find at least one person that will understand you.

How many people in Sweden speak fluent English, then?

The best way to determine how good the Swedes are at English is to look at the EF English Proficiency Index, which is updated annually. Sweden didn’t finish as high as you might expect in the rankings, but eighth place is still classified as “very high proficiency”.

Sweden ranked the lowest among the three Scandinavian countries; Denmark finished third, and Norway was just behind in fifth. The Finns finished ninth, and the index didn’t include Iceland.

Of the countries included in the English Proficiency Index, the Netherlands ranked as the best non-native English speakers — with Austria coming in second place. 

Do People in Sweden Speak English

Is English spoken widely in Sweden?

English proficiency is a good way of indicating how good a country is overall at speaking the language. Still, you also need to remember that regional differences will mean that your experiences might vary.

If you move to Stockholm, the country’s capital city, you will have little trouble getting around in English. The city is very cosmopolitan and home to some of the world’s largest companies, such as Spotify.

Most Stockholmers have some exposure to English daily, and you’ll find bilingual signs on the SL public transport network — along with various public services pages in English.

You will similarly have few issues communicating in English if you visit Gothenburg or Malmö, the second and third-largest cities in Sweden. When traveling to Malmö from Copenhagen, announcements on the train are made in Danish, Swedish, and English.

You also shouldn’t have challenges if you’re studying in one of the country’s university towns, such as Uppsala, Umeå, or Lund.

However, challenges might arise if you find yourself in one of Sweden’s smaller cities or locations that aren’t as frequented by tourists. Many people living in these areas are unlikely to have had much contact with English speakers, and they might have a harder time understanding what you’re trying to say.

English proficiency will probably differ between generations, too. Older people living outside major cities often won’t have levels as high as younger individuals, who consume a large amount of media in English.

Why do the majority of Swedes speak English?

At this point, you’ve probably gathered that the Swedes are pretty good with other languages. But why do people in Sweden speak English so well, for the most part?

Below are some main reasons why English proficiency is so high in Sweden.

Swedes are taught English at school from an early age

Perhaps the largest contributor to the Swedes having such good English skills is that they are taught it at school. And unlike in some countries like the UK, where languages are taught for the sake of passing a test, the Swedes are taught how to use English in everyday life.

From the age of seven, children in Sweden start learning English. By the time they leave school, they’ll already have a significant amount of experience under their belts — which will stand them in good stead if they want to work or study abroad.

Sweden has had an international outlook for decades

Sweden has adopted an increasingly international outlook over the latter half of the 20th century and throughout the 21st century. Swedes are excellent innovators, with several huge global companies — such as IKEA, Klarna, and Volvo — starting their path to fame here.

For a relatively small country population-wise, Sweden’s cultural output is also pretty impressive. Music groups like ABBA and the Swedish House Mafia have become global hits, for example, and many of them sing in English rather than Swedish.

Sweden has also seen a significant increase in immigrant arrivals. According to the country’s main statistics portal, 20% of people living in the country were foreign-born in 2020 — which amounts to just under 2.1 million inhabitants in total.

Many Swedes get regular practice of English daily

Sweden is a relatively small market, and many companies have adopted an international stance to thrive in their respective sectors. A lot of jobs in the country require candidates to have a high level of English proficiency alongside their Swedish, and English is often the default corporate language.

Swedes often need to communicate in English when working with international colleagues or clients. Additionally, many Swedes consume international media; popular TV shows usually have Swedish subtitles rather than getting fully dubbed.

Many popular English-speaking artists have also made a name for themselves in Sweden.

Signs in many Swedish cities are bilingual

If you visit any of the big cities in Sweden, you’ll notice that the most important signs are written in English and Swedish. Getting around Stockholm is a breeze for this reason, and it’s easy to navigate places you don’t know when street signs also have English translations.

On top of that, you’ll also have English options when using ticket machines for public transport — and many advertisements are in English (though most are still in Swedish).

Do People in Sweden Speak English

Can you survive in Sweden with English?

Do people speak English in Sweden to the point that you can get by without learning Swedish? To an extent, yes — but again, it’ll depend on where you live.

If you’re from abroad, you can use Swedish services — such as banking — in English. On top of that, you can easily translate food items in grocery stores — though you should keep in mind that many food items are written in Swedish only.

If you’re only visiting or living in Sweden for a short period, you might not feel like learning Swedish has much use. But if you plan to stay here for the long run, we strongly advise that you learn Swedish for the following reasons.

More job opportunities

Even if you moved to work for a Swedish employer, you might decide that you want to change your job later down the line. If you decide that you want to stay in Sweden, and you begin looking for opportunities without knowing the language, you will quickly discover that you’ve got limited choices.

Since most Swedes speak good English, you’re not a standout candidate for being a native speaker — unless the description explicitly asks for native English levels.

You’ll find it easier to make friends

Sweden is a notoriously difficult place to make friends for many people, and breaking into decades-old friendship circles requires a huge amount of effort. Many of these friendship groups will speak Swedish to each other, and they might not want to switch to English.

Learning Swedish will go a long way if you’d like to befriend the locals.

You’ll understand the culture better

Even if you’re from another Nordic country, you’ll probably experience at least a small culture shock when moving to Sweden. And if you don’t understand the nuances that take place in everyday life, you might find yourself getting frustrated quickly.

You can learn a lot about Sweden by observing the locals, but you’ll pick up even more if you can understand the language.

How similar is Swedish to English?

Learning to communicate with the Swedish population in their native language might feel like a daunting prospect, to begin with. However, the good news is that Swedish isn’t too difficult to learn if you already know English.

Like English, Swedish is a Germanic language. Deriving from Old Norse, it’s spoken by most people in Sweden — but the language also has official status further afield. Just over 5% of people in Finland speak Swedish as their mother tongue, with the Åland Islands being the clearest example.

While English is in a different Germanic language group, you’ll pick up various words in Swedish that sound similar to English.

Examples include:

  • God/gott = Good
  • Fantastisk = Fantastic
  • Bäst = Best
  • Her = Here
  • Katt = Cat
Do People in Sweden Speak English

Do people in Sweden speak English? In short: Yes

So, there you have it — now you know the answer to the “Do people in Sweden speak English?” question. If you’re only planning to visit for a short period, you won’t need to worry about speaking English and not being understood in major cities.

Further afield, however, might pose some challenges.

The Swedes are some of the best English speakers in the world for several reasons. Their mother tongue shares many similarities, and the country’s excellent education system ensures that young Swedes learn the language from an early age.

If you want to learn a Scandinavian language, you might want to think about starting with Norwegian — which is often considered the middle ground between Danish and Swedish. You can learn about whether it’s easy to learn for English speakers here.

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