Who learns Swedish?
Earlier this year, I (Anneli) was contacted by Annika Beth Jones, a UK journalist student making her final year project: an audio documentary about the rise in Swedish learners during the past five years. She asked me if I wanted to participate in the documentary, to which I said yes!
The documentary theme stemmed from Annika’s own experiences of learning Swedish, and that in the last 4-5 years the numbers of learners and online resources have exploded. Duolingo is currently recording over 5m registered learners, which considering that of the less than 10m living in Sweden 90% speak English, begs the question why the sudden popularity? Who learns Swedish?
Annika had spoken to lots of people with different reasons for learning, including relationships with Swedes, learning for the joy of it or the kudos – polyglots, refugees, those with Swedish ancestry they wish to connect to, those who have moved to Sweden for educational opportunities or simply because they love the idea of Sweden. These interviews would then be crossed with interviews with linguists, Swedish language youtubers, etc.
What she wanted to discuss with me firstly was some facts about Swedish itself. None of the language experts she had spoken to knew much specifically about Swedish. Annika was looking for someone to explain about the background/origins of Swedish and how it fits into the European language landscape.
She was also interested in my take on language learning, how it’s changed, what the future might hold and what that means for learners, teachers and eventually maybe the languages themselves.
One theme that had come up time and time again is that the world seems to be in love with the perceived culture of Sweden, so she was keen to discuss that and how accurate those perceptions are, how learning a language is a way of buying into that, etc. She asked: “As a Swede is it strange that so many people want to learn your language?”
We had a long, interesting conversation over Skype that we recorded, and you can now listen to the full documentary – Who learns Swedish – on Annika’s soundcloud profile. I think many will find this piece very interesting.