Friday, November 22, 2013


I wrote this post the week after we got back from Sweden in August and it's just been sitting here waiting for the right moment to be published. I think the right moment is now for several reasons. We'll be going back to Sweden in December to spend Christmas and New Year there so I can hopefully re-enter the Swedish  language without too much trouble as long as I can remember the things I learned the last time around. And maybe more importantly, I'm too lazy to come up with something new and exciting to write about. So here it is as written the first week in September.

I've spent the last month living in Swedish. Sure, people who knew me talked to me in English (when they could) but not everyone speaks English and naturally every sign is in Swedish. Unless I carried my address around on a piece of paper in my pocket I had to learn to say a few key phrases. Street signs turned out to be great practice for me.

We spent 4 weeks driving around Sweden and all I did was make very lame attempts to read the signs out loud. Leif would patiently correct me. I do mean patiently...I don't think I could have maintained my cool after (X) hours of listening to someone butcher my mother language so brutally and then expect a cheerful correction or even a hearty brå! Which is Swedish for good.

I dare you to try. Go ahead.




I bet you get every one wrong. I know I did the first ten times I tried to pronounce them. I still can't quite get my tongue around the Ö. It's an "o" and an "eh" and a "u" at the same time, but not. If I get everything else right, people will always know by my Ö that I'm not really Swedish.

I can live with that. I mentioned my difficulty to one of our hosts and he started in on a dissertation about the vowels that left me speechless and a little glassy-eyed. Swedish has like 3 extra vowels and of course they're called as they sound so every time he mentioned a vowel I thought of the English ones which of course have nothing to do with the Swedish ones in sound. Somewhere between all the ah, eh, aoh, ee, and other sounds I got lost.

On the other hand, as we walked and drove around I continued to read the signs out loud and at one point he said to me that I sounded just like a train conductor. I took that as a compliment. I spent days on the Stockholm subways repeating every stop as the cheerful recorded voice carefully enunciated each stop, which I could also read on the little displays in the car. Yes, I got a lot of strange looks. I'm getting used to  it.

I do feel like I've mastered a few of the pronunciation rules. So does Leif, enough that he started giving me the dialect pronunciations. Like technically a word is said one way, but in this region they skip one letter or even a whole syllable. I had to get firm with him. No dialects unless I need them to talk to his dad. I'll speak the kind of Swedish that TV newscasters have to speak....clear and as unaccented as possible. I hope.

About halfway through our trip I started to flag in every language. I couldn't come up with the word for anything in English, Italian or Swedish. I was slowly becoming mute. Luckily this too passed and I was able to speak in full sentences again.

But of course I don't need Swedish for a couple of months again. Now I need to take my new-found language focus and get my Italian a little more fluent. Like being able to answer in a short but complete sentence instead of simply responding si.

I didn't exactly blossom in the Italian department on our return, but that will come. I'm almost looking forward to reading Swedish again (which, I repeat, shouldn't be confused with actually speaking Swedish) and working on making it less of an interpretive dance. Leif says I sort of throw my whole body into it sometimes. He's right, I do, but that's because it's the only way I can remember that nearly every syllable is stressed (not the measly one stress that most English words have). I'm also working on sounding more Sven & Ole without actually being more Sven & Ole. Here's hoping it's possible.

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