A common conception is that Eskimos have over 100 words for snow, as they have so much snow in their everyday lives. By the looks of things, Swedes spend the whole winters rubbing snow in each others’ faces – at least judging by a survey a few years ago that found 95 ways of saying ‘rubbing snow in someone’s face’.
The survey was carried out by a radio programme on Swedish radio (Språket i P1), asking what words people use, or have used as children, to describe the act of ‘rubbing snow in someone’s face’. 6,000 people from the whole of Sweden participated in the survey, which revealed 95 ways of saying this. Here are some of the verbs, from south to north.
80 people use the word mula.
In the rest of Skåne, mula dominates, but not as clearly as in Malmö.
Mula 267, kröna 53, tvätta 17, salta 10, mosa 7, sylta 4, gnida in 4, gnugga 3
The survey states that kröna is typical of Skåne.
The survey found one unique word in this region: mora.
Mula 32, mora 24, gno 7, mosa 5, döpa 2
It is interesting to see how different the words are in Blekinge, compared to Skåne – even though they are so close geographically.
The Halland-dialect also had a unique word: molla.
Mula 91, molla 29, möla 13, klena 4, göra 4, kröna 3
There were large variations throughout Småland, but the general trend is as follows:
Mula 311, mylla 79, bryna 19, myla 16, mosa 12, gno 11, mulla 6, myra 2
Notice how some of the words form a kind of cluster, which is probably illustrating how one form has transformed into another one. This is probably the case with for example mula, mulla, myla, mylla and myra.
Apart from mula, mylla is considered typical for Småland.
Among people born after 1970, almost only mula and mylla are mentioned.
Mula 14, mylla 4, pula 2
Very similar overall patterns to Småland in general, according to the survey.
Bryna 19, mula 12, bröine 3
Bryna is the typical word for Gotland.
Myla 148, mula 142, pula 5, mylla 3
Myla is typical for this region. It is also interesting to note only 3 examples of mylla, which is the typical expression of Småland, just south of Östergötland.
Mula 126, pula 87, pöla 23, snöpula 5, möla 4
There was only 1 example of myla in Södermanland, which was the typical word in Östergötland – the neighbouring region. Some of the strong dialect boundaries are fascinating, don’t you think? Instead, Södermaland belongs to a greater pula-area, which can be found in Närke, Västmanland and neighbouring regions.
Mula 206, göra 86, grosa 23, möla 18, tvätta 16, gnosa 12, pula 9, gno 8, mylla 6, snötvätta 5, gni(da) 5, gnugga 4, sylta 4
Mula is top of the chart here, and möla is probably also a variation of mula.
Typical for Västergötland is the (hard g -pronounced) göra as well as grosa och gnosa.
Mula 159, göra 69, gira 43, môla 36, sylta 34, gura 16, salta 3
Typical for Göteborg is mula och môla, but also the words göra, gira, gura and sylta. Gura and sylta is not as common among younger people, but göra, gira and môla could be found across generations.
Mula 66, môla 11, mulla 9, mölla 7
All appears to be variations of mula.
Mula 17, môla 7, tryna 7
The last form, tryna, can also be found in Värmland.
Kryna 81, mula 45, tryna 27, krôna 14, bryna 11, mölla 7, mölja 7, pula 5, snöbryna 3
Typical for Värmland are kryna, tryna, bryna and krôna. Together, they are three times as common as mula. Mula and tryna are common among younger, whereas kryna, bryna and krôna are less common.
Pula 56, mula 35, snöpula 6, snötvätta 5
Pula is clearly dominating in this region.
Pula 64, mula 35, snöpula 6, bryna 2, tryna 2, snöpudra 2
Very similar pattern to Närke.
Mula 153, mulla 62, pula 24, snöpula 5, mudda 5, snömulla 3
Typical for Uppland is mulla.
Mula 800, pula 8
Stockholm is suprisingly homogeneous, despite a total of 843 participants: 98 % state mula. How come Stockholm has not been influenced by neighbouring regions?
Purra 18, pula 18, mula 15, snöpula 11, snöpurra 9, snötvätta 2
Typical for Gästrikland is purra and pula.
Pula 31, mula 27, snöpula 9
Hälsingland also belongs to the pula-area.
Mula 58, pula 2
Pula pretty much stops by the border between Hälsingland and Medelpad.
Mula 55, pula 45, snöpula 13, myla 6, möla 3, mulla 3, snötvätta 3
Dalarna also belongs to the pula-area. But how about myla – are there any connections to Östergötland?
Lack of participants here.
Mula 45, purra 21, pula 8, döpa 7
Typical was purra, alongside mula. Purra is thus used in both Jämtland and Gästrikland, even though these areas do not share any borders.
Mula 11, pula 7, möla 3, myla 2, snödöpa 2
Mula 78, mjula 6, mjöla 4, pula 3
Mula is definitely dominating.
Mula 78, mubba 10, möla 7, snödränka 6, mobba 5, möla 3, pula 3, snödöpa 3, snömula 3, döpa 2, tvätta 2, mööl 2
Second most common word was the unusual mubba, which was only used by participants born between 1950 and 1970. However, it may be related to the word mobba (bullying), which would make sense.
Mula 47, snöbada 29, snödöpa 7, snödoppa 4, gnida 4
Typical for Norrbotten are combinations with snö. 21 different words were mentioned, for example måda, mosa, gnugga, gnogg and, from Överkalix, gnäir.
Österbotten: mula 3, pesa 3, tvätta 2, tåväl 1, såvla 1, dövla 1, myla 1
Nyland: mula 6, pesa 6, tvätta 3, snötvätta 2
Åboland: mula 5, pula 2, snötvätta 2
Åland: måda 5, skura 2, mula 1, gnosa 1, gno in 1
In Österbotten and Nyland, the word pesa comes from the finish word for ‘tvätta‘ (to wash) with a Swedish infinitive form.
This is a common misconception, that all Swedes speak English so there is no point in learning the language if you speak English. While it is true that many Swedes can speak English, most learned English at school and do not regularly practice speaking it.
This comment comes from a native English speaker, who now lives in Sweden (found in The Local’s forum):
I don’t know where people keep getting this idea that all Swedes speak English as a matter of course during their days. Any Swede under the age of 60 learnt English while they were in school. 90% of them have never used it again since the day they walked out of the school gates. Most Swedes CAN speak some English, if they need to. Do they all walk around town speaking English ? No. Oddly enough, Sweden’s medium of communication is Swedish.
Many students ask how long it takes to learn Swedish. I have previously written a longer blog post about it, but I have now also worked out a little rough guideline to how many hours it usually takes to reach each language level. This is a very rough estimate, and can vary considerably between individuals, but it may at least give an idea of what to expect.
How long it takes to learn Swedish will depend on a number of factors. Some of them are individual learning pace in general, previous knowledge of grammar (those with much knowledge tend to progress faster), how much homework the learner is able to do between lessons (faster if more homework), and also if the learner has any particular areas that they find challenging.
The calculation below is based my own students and how long people in general spend to reach each level. It takes into account whether the student is a slow, medium or fast learner, and also on how much time the learner spend doing homework and other things outside of the lessons. The more hours you spend learning outside of the tuition hours, the faster you will progress (and it will be cheaper for you too!).
This is in my opinion longer than most people need. My fastest student reached level A1 after only 17 hours tuition on Skype! But some students have needed at least double the time.
Our lessons usually include the following:
- brief improvised conversation
- going through homework together
- working together in the course material
- new homework being given
It is important that you do your homework before the next lesson, if you want to progress your Swedish. You need to send your homework to your teacher before the next lesson. After every third chapter in the course material, you will do a test during a lesson.
You also need to set aside some time to revise what you have already learnt. We recommend to budget approximately 2 hours after one Skype lesson. It’s good practice to break the revision into smaller chunks. This could for example be:
- 30 min doing your homework for next lesson
- 15-30 min practicing with flashcards the new words you have learnt during the lesson
- 15-30 min practicing with flashcards words you have learnt previously
- 30 min revising exercises you have done previously (for ex creating sentences using old vocabulary, recording your voice when you speak)
Of course, this is the ongoing quest for all language learners. What method is the most effective? Are there any good shortcuts? With so many different apps, programmes, methods and so on, which ones are the most effective?
I found a very useful summary by a language coach called Gruff Davis (yes, that is his name!), which I wanted to share because I wholeheartedly agree with all his points. He is using French as an example, but it can of course be applied to Swedish as well. Here it goes.
1. Understand the Language Learning Journey
Language learning has an appalling abandonment rate. A mere 4% of students embarking on language courses in schools achieve a basic level of fluency after three years. 96% fail to achieve fluency and/or abandon courses completely!
People almost always wrongly conclude two things from this:
Myth 1) Learning languages is hard.
Myth 2) Other people (but not them) are naturally good at languages.
One of the biggest reasons cited for abandoning is that students don’t feel any sense of progression. A GCSE student with an A* will visit France and find they can’t even have a basic conversation. People largely give up because they had the wrong expectations set. So let’s bust some myths:
1) Learning a language isn’t hard. It’s just LONG.
2) Everyone is naturally good at languages. You already learned one, remember? You’ve just forgotten how long it took.
I’m going to use a metaphor that I hope will help you get the knack.
I think of learning a language a bit like climbing a mountain (a large but easy mountain, the sort that anyone can climb so long as they keep going).
Here’s what most teachers won’t tell you: It takes 600+ hours of study & practice to reach fluency in French (unless you already speak another latin-based language – a so-called romance language). Think about this. If (say) you learn 1 hour of French per week, then in forty weeks you’ll do 40 hours. You’ll need fifteen years at that rate to become fluent, not counting all the stuff you forget because of the gaps between study. (Harder languages like Russian or Mandarin can take 1,200 hours!)
At the other extreme, if you study really intensively, you can rack up 40 hours in one week!It’s possible (but not guaranteed) to achieve fluency in ten to twelve weeks at that rate. Most people don’t have the spare time to give that level of intensity, but understanding the journey helps you be realistic about what you can achieve so you won’t get demotivated.
2. Intensity is vital to learning a language quickly.
This is a double-whammy. 1) Immersing yourself as deeply as possible in the subject allows you to rack up the hours as quickly as possible. 2) Memory fades unless it’s used. Low-intensity studies (i.e. school French) are ineffective because their intensity is so low that you end up forgetting a large percentage of what you learn. So, try to learn as intensely as time will permit you to.
To use my mountain metaphor, the ground is icy and slippery and if you go slowly, you’ll slip back as much as you progress. The faster you can climb, the less you will slip back.
3. Be kind to yourself
I’ve used sunlight in this mountain metaphor to give you an indication of how it feels to be at these levels. It’s not until B1/B2 that the light comes out and it starts to feel really good speaking French. That happens around the 350-400 hours mark if you’ve never learned a second language before.
Expect a lot of fog and confusion for the first few hundred hours. It’s completely normal and you’re not stupid. EVERYONE feels this way, even the people who seem really gifted at languages. The difference is, anyone who’s already been through that and reached the sunlight expects this stage, and it doesn’t phase them because they know they’ll get there eventually. So, if you catch yourself saying things like, “I’m rubbish at French” or “I’m stupid” just stop for a moment and remind yourself that you’re neither and you will get it if you persevere.
4. Prepare for the journey
If you’re a complete beginner I find it’s really important to absorb the sounds of the language before beginning serious study. I listen to hours of audio (audio books are great for this) without trying to understand the content, but still actively listening to the sounds of the language to embed them. I usually find after a while I end up babbling them a little like a baby which can feel a bit silly . Which brings me my next piece of advice:
5. Practise looking stupid
Being self-conscious is your biggest enemy. You cannot speak a foreign language without feeling stupid at some point. You have to get over that. You have to twist your mouth into strange new shapes that make you feel like a caricature; you will speak and not be understood and you will listen and not understand. A LOT. It’s really okay and in fact necessary to learning. If you think about it, what’s the big deal? So you look stupid. Who cares?
If you instead give yourself credit every time you feel stupid you can turn this around. Give yourself a little mental gold star each time you feel stupid because those moments are learning moments. Feeling stupid is actually a sign of progress, or the moment just prior to progress.
6. Find out where you are (and therefore what the next stage is)
I strongly advise you measure your level using CEFR levels ( ) as these are now standard across Europe.
(and here is a self assessment test you can do to find out your Swedish level according to the CEFR levels).