Is Swedish Hard 1

Is Swedish hard to learn for English speakers? Swedish language basics!

Is Swedish hard to learn? This is one of the most common questions asked by people considering either visiting or moving to Sweden.

If you want to get a true experience of the Swedish culture, complete from Midsommer to other traditional celebrations, it helps to know a little of the local language.

Moving to Sweden makes learning the local tongue even more important. You’ll struggle to find a great career or earn your citizenship if you’re not familiar with the Nordic languages.

At first glance, Swedish can look like quite a complicated language.

Unusual sounds and a range of vowels set Swedish far apart from languages like English. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean Swedish is tough to learn.

Today, we’re going to explore the question: “How hard is Swedish for someone to learn?”

Let’s take a closer look.

Is Swedish hard to learn?

Swedish language basics

The first step in determining how difficult it is to learn Swedish, is to consider where your language proficiencies lie. If you’re asking, “Is Swedish hard to learn for English speakers?” the answer is more likely to be “yes” than if you come from Germany.

German is much closer to the Nordic languages. If you live in Denmark or Norway, Swedish could be even easier to learn.

So, how hard is Swedish exactly, when compared to the English language?

The pronunciation is likely to be the toughest challenge.

There are a lot of vowel sounds, including ö, ä and å. Just look at the word smörgåsbord for instance.

Sweden also has a lot of sounds that don’t sound how you’d imagine when you see them written down. Plus, there’s the extra issue of grammatical genders to think about, like using “ett” and “en” in front of various nouns.

The more you learn about Swedish, the more you’ll discover things like slang, semantics, and similar concepts which can alter words from one location to the next.

No matter how complex Swedish might seem, however, it’s worth remembering many people find English to be one of the toughest languages to learn too.

According to the Department of State in the US, and the Foreign Service Institute, learning how to speak Swedish is much easier than learning how to speak Japanese, Chinese, or Arabic. You can potentially learn Swedish within around 600 hours, depending on how quickly you pick up languages.

Obviously, the resources you have access to, and other factors can determine how quickly you learn Swedish, but most people agree it can take anywhere up to 3 times longer to learn a more complex language, like Chinese.

Is Swedish Hard 2

How hard is it to learn Swedish?

The tough parts

Usually, if you ask someone “Is Swedish a hard language to learn?”, they’ll mention a few different factors which can make this tongue a little tougher.

When you’re moving to Sweden, and you’re keen to pick up the language, you’ll probably find yourself struggling with one of these areas:


Phonetics are a complex issue when you learn to speak Swedish. Many people learning to speak this language say the phonetics are the toughest thing to grasp, because Swedes use a lot of vowels, and pronounce the words in a specific way.

Vowels and consonants can sound completely different depending on the meaning of the word and what you’re trying to say. The word for seven in Swedish, Sju, might look simple written down, but it’s a nightmare for pronunciation.

Don’t be embarrassed if you discover most Swedish natives can tell you’re not from the country as soon as they start talking to you. It’s hard to get the pronunciation perfect at first. Even the tone of your word can change the meaning.

For instance, anden means “spirit” or “duck” depending on your tone.

On top of this, as mentioned above, there are a ton of vowel sounds you just won’t be used to if you’re learning Swedish from English. Many English people attempt to use ö in the same way they’d use “o”, leading to serious confusion.

Complex words

Long compound words are pretty common in Sweden, which makes the language even tougher to learn. If you’re moving to Sweden, then you’ll encounter a couple of extra-long words straight away, such as the term for social security office: försäkringskassan.

Or how about the national employment office word: arbetsmarknadsdepartement?

Swedes have no problem combining different words to create one description, which can be a headache if you’re not used to these longer terms. Swedish is a language with a habit of forming complex and long words by gluing a bunch of different terms onto each other.

This might seem daunting — but it’s definitely a great thing for scrabble.

A compound word in Sweden can also mean something entirely different from the two words it contains. This is something even native Swedes struggle with.

As an example, the term “chicken liver” or kycklinglever includes the words kyckling and lever, which means the “chicken is alive”.

Gender issues

Is it easy to learn Swedish? Not if you’re uncomfortable with gendered nouns.

This is one of the toughest things for English speakers to come to terms with when learning other languages. Nouns have their own gender, and this can be tough to grasp. En and Ett appear a lot in sentences when you’re learning to speak Swedish.

Figuring out which words should have an en, and which should have an ett can be confusing. There’s no systematic gender system in the Swedish language like you’d get in France. Rather, Sweden has a similar structure to German, in which there are feminine, neutral, and masculine terms.

Over time, the feminine and masculine terms in Swedish have largely melted together, creating a wider number of “en” words.

Grammatical confusion

The Swedish language generally puts the verb in a secondary place when creating a declarative exception. Swedes also have a habit of piling consonants atop each other, making it difficult for some people to pronounce full sentences.

There are also some differences in the way Swedes use tense. For instance, there’s no continuous tense for something you’re doing in the moment. Swedes use the present simple, i.e. “I play tennis”, but there’s no continuous form “I am playing tennis”.

On the plus side, if you’re worrying about the question “Is Swedish easy to learn?” at this point, you may be relieved to hear there’s no verb conjugation to worry about. Every verb is the same, regardless of the person, so am, is, and are all translate to är.

When you’re first getting started with Swedish the ability to use the term interchangeably means you can express a lot with little effort, and few pronoun mistakes.

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Learning how to speak Swedish

At this point, you might be asking yourself “why learn Swedish” in the first place. If you’re visiting the country short-term, you can probably get away with not knowing much Swedish, as most of the people you meet will also speak a little English.

If you’re planning on joining the Scandinavian way of life, however, you’ll need to invest a little more into your education.

The reality is, like any language, it takes time to learn Swedish and feel confident using it. However, it’s not as complicated as it could be. Swedish is a wonderfully melodic language, and once you get used to the rhythm, you’ll find yourself falling into it more naturally with each conversation.

Consider trying your skills out with a real Swede whenever you get the chance. Let a local know you’re learning how to speak Swedish, and they’ll give you tips to help.

Sure, Swedish can be a language full of complicated compound words and strange vowel sounds, but it’s also a lot easier than some of the more advanced languages out there.

Plus, there are tons of great resources to help you start developing your skills, such as:

Once you’re confident with your Swedish abilities—who knows—you might even decide to learn some additional Scandinavian languages. Many of the Nordic languages are quite similar after all.

This could be your first step to becoming a multi-language master!

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Now read these:
How similar are the nordic languages?
Mastering the Danish language basics
The basics of the Finnish language
Is Norwegian difficult for English speakers?
Getting to grips with the Icelandic language

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