5 Reasons To Avoid Google Translate When Learning a Language

Hej! Ever used Google Translate? Technology and the Internet is great, right? There is so much information available by a simple click of a button. Google Translate is a tool that may at first seem helpful when learning a new language. However, there are some issues with using Google Translate as a tool in your language studies.

Here are Swedish teacher Daniel’s top 5 reasons for why you should avoid using it when learning a language.

  1. Google Translate is a blunt tool

Translation from one language to another is not simply about translating word for word (‘direct translation’). You need to also translate according to grammatical, idiomatic and cultural patterns, which may mean that a sentence might look quite different in terms of the actual words, but mean the same thing. A quick look at direct translations of sayings illustrate this point. Or this:

Hjärtegryn is an endearing Swedish word (a bit like ‘sweetheart’), which does not quite translate as well into English…

The Vauquois triangle (below) shows different levels of translation. The higher up in the pyramid, the more precise the translation. The highest level of translation (‘interlingua’) is still an issue in Google Translate, which means sentences will still contain errors (sometimes grammatical, and often idiomatic).

Google translate is built on an algorithm that has access to a large amount of texts written in two languages, which allows for a basis on which to predict and make guesses. Translation is made sentence by sentence; the more text available, the better the predictions. The issue here is that a translation with 90% correct translation can still turn out as a result which is 100% wrong. On top of this, there are many poorly translated texts now on the Internet (many of them have used Google Translate). This means that they are now in ‘the system’ and have become part of the basis from which Google Translate predicts, making the errors self-enhancing and re-occurring.

Learning a language is like going on a long journey: you’re planning for the whole trip, preparing for bad weather, and you need routines. Google Translate stops your progress even if you don’t notice at first. When you do, however, you might have to turn back and choose a different road.

  1. You can’t trick anyone (at least not your teacher!)

A teacher’s job is to know their subject, but it’s also to know their student. They identify the student’s level, where they’re going, and how to help them reach the finishing line. While your teacher knows how intelligent you are, that perfect paragraph with no spelling errors is not your writing and hasn’t even been taught by your teacher yet.

  1. No learning

To learn anything from the beginning is an uphill struggle against waning willpower and outside influences. Don’t let Google Translate be part of that negative influence. Use a real dictionary, if you must.

  1. Learning from mistakes is essential learning

In learning, mistakes are the key ingredients to understanding what is correct. You don’t bake the perfect cake on your first try; maybe not even after your hundredth try. But each time you prepare the next batch of batter, you change something to avoid making the same mistake.

Google Translate doesn’t teach you the nuances of language. A particular sentence can be written in different ways, depending on context, and that is what your teacher will show. We all desire flawless work, but that has to be set aside while learning the language.

  1. Your writing is your reward

The feeling of personal satisfaction is more than ample reward for all the sweating, flicking through pages, and trying to make sense of something you previously knew nothing about. The glint in a student’s eye when they are able to produce a paragraph in Swedish is priceless, and doubly so when it’s written independently.

To book a lesson with a Swedish teacher, go to our booking system to check availability.

 

Hen – the debated Swedish pronoun

A note on hen

Hej! Anneli here. You may have heard of the gender neutral Swedish pronoun “hen“. It has been debated in Sweden during the past decade, and some people feel strongly about it. So what’s the fuss all about?

Swedish gender and pronouns

The Swedish language, like German, used to have three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. This started to change during the 14th century and the Swedish language today has two grammatical genders: the common gender (indefinite article en and pronoun den) – a merged form of masculine and feminine, and neuter gender (indefinite article ett and pronoun det).

Swedish also uses the third person pronouns han he and hon she for humans, known animals, and when biological gender is of interest. But what if you don’t know the gender of a person? Or if it is irrelevant? Consider a situation where you say you need to book an appointment at the dentist, and you hope that he/she/the dentist will be able to help you with your toothache. You may not want to assume that the dentist is a woman nor a man. Some people find saying ‘he or she’, or ‘s/he’ to be pretty clunky (especially in speech – how on earth do you pronounce ‘s/he’?), and to say ‘the dentist’ again may sound repetitive. So what can you say? In English, you can of course say ‘they’ – you hope that they will help you with your toothache. However, in Swedish, you do not use the third person plural for a singular person. In other words, you cannot say de they in this case.

Kivi and the monster dog

Lately, a new, gender-neutral pronoun has started to become more popular in Sweden – hen. The pronoun hen is defined as a gender-neutral personal pronoun intended as an alternative to the gender-specific hon (‘she’) and han (‘he’). It can be used to avoid a stated preference to either gender, and also as a way to referring to individuals who are transgender, agender, non-binary or those who reject the idea of binary gender. Even though this is a relatively new phenomenon in Swedish, several languages have gender-neutral pronouns. Finnish, for example, only uses a gender-neutral pronoun in third person. The word has been proposed in Sweden several times, first time in 1966 and again in 1994, but it did not receive wider acknowledgment until the book Kivi och Monsterhund came out in 2012. It is the first book that only uses hen as a personal pronoun, instead of han and hon. And the book caused a widespread debate in Sweden.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 15.19.58

The author, Jesper Lundqvist, wanted to write a book for children – rather than for girls or boys, and that was the main reason why he used hen in his book. He said he found it liberating to write directly to children, without having to think about all the stereotypical associations that surround boys and girls. Jesper says that some have misunderstood the whole idea of hen, and thought of it as a way of replacing han and hon. But this is not correct. Rather, it is more about having an “extra tool in the tool box”, linguistically speaking, he says.

Reactions to hen

The reactions among the Swedish native speakers were both mixed and passionate, to say the least. Those who did not like it usually fell into one (or several) of three categories:

  1. Those who felt that this was an attempt to linguistically eradicate male and female gender roles, perhaps highlighted by its use in a particular pre-school in Stockholm, something which sparked debate and controversy in Sweden and also received media attention internationally.
  2. Those who felt that there already existed functioning words like personen the person or vederbörande the person in question.
  3. Those who associated hen to the English word for a female bird. This argument is perhaps a little problematic, given many other Swedish words that mean something else in English (barn childfart speedbra goodprick dotpuss kisskiss urine, and so on).

Interestingly, another reason for the resistance to this new word may be that personal pronouns belong to what we may call ‘closed word categories’. Typically ‘open word categories’ are verbs, nouns and adjectives. These are categories where most people welcome new additions and creative solutions. The closed categories, like personal pronouns or prepositions, not so much.

The gender-neutral pronoun hen was included into the Swedish Academy Dictionary in 2015, with the advert slogan ‘Hen är här nu’ (Hen is here now). The debate is still on going, although we can probably assume that it will fizzle out with time and the pronoun will be fully absorbed into everyday Swedish.

Swedish vowels – hard and soft

Swedish vowels

Hej! Anneli here. Today we will be talking pronunciation. As you may already know, the Swedish language has 9 vowels: A, E, I, O, U, Y (note that y is always a vowel in Swedish!), Å, Ä, and Ö. However, there is another way of grouping the vowels, rather than just alphabetically – according to whether they are ‘soft’ or ‘hard’. Categorising vowels in this way will help with the pronunciation of many words in Swedish, as it can give you clues on how to say certain words.

feather stone

 

Hard and soft vowels

When we say that vowels are either hard or soft, what we actually mean is that different vowels will affect certain consonants before them – giving the consonants either a soft or a hard pronunciation. So, actually, it is not the vowels themselves that are pronounced in a soft or hard way, but instead they affect consonants to be pronounced in a soft or hard way. And which consonants will they affect? They will affect words beginning with K-, G– and SK-.

This actually happens in English too. Just compare how you say café and city. The words both begin with C, but they are pronounced differently. From a Swedish language perspective, I would say that café has a hard kind of C, whereas city has a soft-sounding C. Another example is the different pronunciation of G in the words guest and gist, where I would say guest has a hard-sounding G and gist is soft. So let’s see how this works in Swedish.

Soft vowels: E, I, Y, Ä and Ö

Hard vowels: A, O, U, and Å

If you have any of the so-called soft vowels following either K-, G– or SK-, these consonants change to a softer sounding sound.

For example:

G– : göra (to do) – is pronounced with a soft y sounding sound: “yöööra”, whereas gammal (old) – is pronounced with a hard-sounding G, a bit like in the name Gandalf.

K– : köpa (to buy) – is pronounced with a soft sounding ch: “chööpa”, whereas kan (able to/can) – is pronounced with a hard k, like in the English “can”.

SK– : sked (spoon) – is pronounced with a soft sounding sound, the same as in the number 7 (sju): “scheeed”, whereas skola (school) – is pronounced hard, like it reads (a separate s followed by a separate hard k): skola.

Because of theses pronunciation rules, there are some Swedish words that seem familiar to the English ear, and may even mean the same thing, but will be pronounced differently. I call these types of words “false friends” – they seem easy and familiar, but are in fact something else. For example:

kilo – means the same thing, a measure of weight, but is pronounced soft because of the I: “chiiilo”

sky – means sky in Swedish too, but is pronounced soft and with a long Swedish Y (like an English “ee” but with a more trumpet/forward-shaped mouth): “schyyy”

sko – means shoe, but this one is hard, because of the O: “skooo”

Of course, there are some exceptions, as always. Look out for the words kille (guy – should theoretically be soft, but we pronounce it hard), and (queue) or en kör (a choir) – again, should theoretically be soft, but is instead hard. Many students also struggle with the word människa (person, human being), and try to pronounce it as it reads, although we actually pronounce this “sk” in a soft way: “männischa”.

Here is a summary of the structure of hard and soft vowels after G-, K-, and SK-, taken from my new book Teach Yourself Complete Swedish.

 

 

The Swedish sin

The Swedish sin

The Swedish sin is an internationally known phenomenon that has influenced foreigners’ views on Swedish women for years. The source of the epithet is a speech given by US president Dwight D Eisenhower in 1960, in which he claimed that “sin, nudity, drunkenness and suicide” in Sweden were due to welfare policy excess. People soon forgot the link to welfare policy and the rest but the sin remained or remains.

However, today we’ll be discussing a different kind of sin. 🙂 The reflexive possessive pronoun sin.

It is a grammatical issue in Swedish that many, especially English speakers, find difficult;  how to use the reflexive possessive pronouns sin, sitt and sina.

I personally think that the Swedish language is pretty neat in this way, that we can easily distinguish between:

  • Hon pratade med grannen om hennes bil. She spoke to the neighbour about the neighbour’s car.
  • Hon pratade med grannen om sin bil. She spoke to the neighbour about her (own) car.

Isn’t it pretty cool to be able to clarify that with the uses of hennes and sin? This distinction does not exist in English, which can give rise to confusion (and require clarification about who you are actually referring to).

We use this reflexive possessive pronoun when we say that the noun belongs to the subject in the sentence. Hon talade om sin bil. She talked about her (own) car. The word sin links back to the subject (hon), and means that the car belongs to the subject.

We use sin in this example, because sin is the en-word version – and the word bil is an en-word. If it was an ett-word instead, let’s say hus, then the sentence would look like this:

  • Hon pratade om sitt hus. She spoke about her (own) house.

We would use sitt, because this is the ett-word version of this reflexive possessive pronoun. Sin and sitt are used when the noun is singular (just one thing).

If the noun is in plural, you would use the plural-version (regardless of whether the noun is en or ett in singular) – sina – like this:

  • Hon pratade om sina bilar. She spoke about his own cars.

But if she was talking to the neighbour about the neighbour’s house, or cars, the sentences would look like this:

  • Hon pratade med grannen om hennes hus. She spoke about her house(s).
  • Hon pratade med grannen om hennes bilar. She spoke about her cars.

So the important thing is that the noun belongs to the subject of the sentence. If so, you use sin, sitt, or sina.

Sin, sitt, sina are only used in this way for the third person – both singular and plural. So, in other words, this only kicks in when you talk about someone else (not jag or du). It could be han or hon, or de. It could also be when you use people’s names when you talk about them in third person.

However, it is important to remember that we only use sin, sitt, sina when it is in the object position. We do not use it when the noun is a part of the subject.

Hon pratade länge med sin granne. She talked for a long time with her neighbour.

Here, hon is the subject and sin granne is the object.

Hon och hennes granne pratade länge. She and her neighbour talked for a long time.  

But here, hon och hennes granne are together the subject. In this case, we use hennes instead as sin/sitt/sina can never be a part of the subject in a sentence.

Interestingly, according to research, this distinction is become more blurred – especially among young people who do not have Swedish as their mother tongue. They are less likely to use sin, sitt, sina and would instead use hans, hennes or deras. They are also particularly likely to use hans, hennes or deras after a preposition, such as or av. So for example: Vem är han arg på? Who is he angry at (/with)? hans mamma. (At) his mother. Whereas those who have Swedish as a mother tongue are more likely to say sin mamma, in this case.

But does this mean that this grammatical rule is slowly changing? Researchers are divided, but it seems that this kind of use of the reflexive possessive pronoun does not influence “mother tongue speakers”, so it seems unlikely that the rule will change within a near future, even though examples of alternative uses may become more common in the future.

Learn Swedish study group on Facebook

HEJ! 

We are very excited about our new study group – Learn Swedish with Swedish Made Easy – that we launched last weekend on Facebook.

This is a community study group for those you are studying Swedish with Swedish Made Easy, or those interested in studying with us. In this group, you can find some company, inspiration, help and motivation! I (Anneli) and Daniel are both there to help, and you can also connect with other people around the world who are also studying Swedish.

Studying via Skype/on your own can be a bit lonely sometimes, so in this group we can share recommendations, tips, tricks and ideas with each other.

Hope to see you there!

/Anneli

Letters we don’t pronounce

Letters we don’t pronounce

Hej! Daniel here!

In this week’s blogpost, we’re talking pronunciation. We have a saying in Sweden that goes Har man sagt A får man säga B (If you’ve said A, you should say B). However, this doesn’t translate into how Swedes actually speak; the saying continues with …så får vi C vad D E (…and we’ll see what it is). The letters C, D, and E represent “see”, ” it” and “is”. Depending on the region, we like to drop letters differently to how they are spelt. Today we’ll go on a journey through Sweden and delve into our peculiar speech.

A classic Swedish children’s book is Astrid Lindgren’s Emil i Lönneberga. This story takes place in Småland, a region in the southern part of Sweden. The following is a dialogue between the young Emil and his best friend, a farmhand called Alfred:

Dä ä du å ja Alfred. (It’s you and I, Alfred).

Tro ja dä, du å ja Emil. (You’re right about that, you and I, Emil).

In written form, this exchange would look different:

Det är du och jag, Alfred.

Tror jag det, du och jag Emil.

Note that the pronunciation here is typical of the Småland municipality. In most other parts of Sweden, we would say de (=det) and e (=är) instead.

Here you can watch that particular scene from the old Astrid Lindgren movie.

A popular way of saying good morning in Gothenburg is Gomorron, which also was the name of a television breakfast program for many years (Gomorron Sverige).

Here the ‘d’ is dropped and stuck together with the word morron. Correct spelling is god morgon.

Another classic is a series of comedy films from the 80s and 90s called Jönssonliganthat take place in and around Stockholm. One of the characters there, Dynamit-Harry, (played by the same actor who plays Alfred in Emil i Lönneberga) enjoys dynamite and beer a little too much. After each successful operation, he has this to say:

Vicken jävla smäll! (What a darn blast!)

The correct spelling is vilken, but it’s easier to pronounce the world without the ‘l’, especially when you’re excited.

The municipality of Närke, Östergötland, Västmanland and Värmland in the middle of Sweden are jokingly called Gnällbätet (The Moan Belt, because of how people sound). They often drop the ‘r’ at the end of a word, such as körkort (driver’s licence) which instead becomes kökot.

Common for most Swedish regions is the drop of ‘g’:

Något (something) becomes nåt.

Någon (someone) becomes nån.

Några (some) becomes nåra.

It happens often that a Swede would contract several words in speech (similar to good morning), especially when the expression is common and the sentence only consists of a few words. This means that a Swede who hasn’t seen anything (Jag har inte sett något) would say Ja:nte sett nåt.

To explore more pronunciation patterns, book your lesson here.

Ha det gött! 

Daniel