Lucia and her buns

What is Lucia?

In this blog post, we’ll look at the Swedish lucia tradition, why Swedes celebrate an Italian saint, and we’ll also look at the traditional Lucia buns that are served at this time of the year. You’ll also get a free Lucia bun recipe, both in Swedish AND in English (so you can learn some new baking vocab while making your own!

The Swedish Lucia Tradition

Next week, on the 13 December, Sweden celebrates Lucia. The annual candlelit Lucia procession is maybe one of the more exotic-looking Swedish customs, with girls and boys clad in white full-length gowns singing songs together.

The tradition is that Lucia wears ‘light in her hair’, which means a crown of candles in a wreath on her head. Each of her handmaidens carries a candle, too. Many people nowadays taking part, especially younger children, use battery-powered candles. But there is still a special atmosphere when the lights are dimmed and the sound of singing grows as they enter the room. Parents gather in the dark with their mobile cameras ready. The star boys carry stars on sticks and have tall paper cones on their heads, and are also dressed in white gowns.

The History of Lucia

The Lucia tradition can be traced back to Saint Lucia of Syracuse, Italy. Saint Lucia was a Christian martyr who died in 304. But the tradition can also be traced to the Swedish legend of Lucia as Adam’s first wife. According to the legend, she consorted with the Devil and her children were invisible devils. The name Lucia can be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and it’s difficult to know the exact origins. What you can see in Sweden today is a mixture of traditions.

In the old calendar, Lucia Night was the longest night of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak (yep, we did really believe this). By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were told to eat seven or nine (!) large breakfasts.

Before industrial times, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs and scrounging for food and schnapps.

The first recorded appearance of a Lucia dressed in white in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The tradition did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. The old lussegubbar-custom disappeared with urban migration, and white-clad Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful shenanigans of the past. Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The tradition of a Lucia serving coffee and buns (lussekatter) dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.

The Lucia Buns

Lussebullar, or Lussekatter, are traditional saffron buns that Swedes eat during this time of the year. Each bun is shaped into an S-shape, which is supposed to resemble a curled up cat (hence why some call them Lussekatter), and then two raisins are added to represent the eyes. Nobody knows for sure the origins of the shape and the connection with Saint Lucia, but it seems likely that they were originally called djävulskatter (the devil’s cats).

Would you like to have a go at making your own Lucia Buns? Click here to download a free recipe.

Here are some other useful tips about the Lucia Buns

• Always freeze the buns as soon as they are cold and defrost only what you will use on the same day.

• Lussekatter are best eaten when freshly baked, so if you want them freshly made on the day, you could prepare the dough the night before, cover with clingfilm (food wrap) and store in a fridge overnight.

• For a little more flavour, add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom to the flour. Although cardamom was not traditionally added to lussekatter, many modern bakers in Sweden add a little to enhance the flavour of the buns.

• As saffron buns can dry out very easily take them out of the oven as soon as they are just the right colour, put them on a wire rack and cover them with a cloth. Another thing that you can add to the dough to make the buns less dry, is Quark or Greek Yoghurt.

• Lussekatter are best served slightly warm. If necessary, they can be reheated in a microwave for about 30 seconds on a medium setting (but be very careful not to overheat them). You can also warm them in the oven on low heat (but again, be careful they don’t dry out too much).

• Many Swedes like to drink glögg with their Lucia Buns. There is glögg with alcohol available to buy from Systembolaget, but also alcohol free in most food shops.

Download a free recipe for Lussebullar here

Swedish sayings t-shirts and more

Swedish sayings are crazy. There is no cow on the ice, owls in the bog, and gnomes in the attic… But they are fun, and always trigger laughs and discussions.

We now have a little shop on Redbubble where you can buy t-shirts, cups, note books, mobile skins, bags and more with some of these sayings. We have started with the following Swedish sayings (click on the links to view):

There is no cow on the ice (on Redbubble)

I suspect owls in the bog (on Redbubble)

Now there shall be other buns (on Redbubble)

In case you are looking for a Swedish-related Christmas gift, some of these might be fun. 🙂


Here we are in London, showing some of these t-shirts off. You definitely get looks and comments when you wear these!


Tala inte svenska med mig är du snäll

We also have another range for Swedish learners in particular – Tala inte engelska med mig är du snäll (Don’t speak English with me please). The perfect thing if you want to discourage Swedes to speak English to you, so you can practice your Swedish.

Here’s a unisex t-shirt but there are loads of other type of clothes and also note books, stickers, cups, mobile skins and more.



Swedish Language Advent Calendar 2018


Christmas is nearly here, and this year Daniel and I thought it would be nice to provide a Swedish Language Advent Calendar. From 1st of December and until 24th (the Swedish Christmas day), you will learn a new word every day through the context of a festive little poem, courtesy of Daniel! You will not only learn the words, but there will also be specific notes on each word, like for example all verb tenses for the verbs, and handy little tips and tricks on how to use them.

Where? Instagram (but we’ll share it on our Facebook page too)

When? 1 Dec-24 Dec 2018


How to create plural endings in Swedish

Swedish plural endings

Are you confused about all the different plural endings in Swedish? In this blog post we’ll look at the different forms and groups so you can create and identify plural endings. There is also a free download of a noun plural cheat sheet, so you can print it out and put up somewhere as a reminder! But first, let’s look at all the noun forms.

The 4 noun forms

Swedish nouns have 4 forms; singular indefinite, singular definite, plural indefinite and plural definite.

singular indefinite (en hund a dog)

singular definite (hunden the dog)

plural indefinite (hundar dogs)

plural definite (hundarna the dogs)

The plural forms

The Swedish language have more plural endings than in the English language. In English, you mainly put an ‘s’ at the end of a noun to make it plural. Swedish nouns plural endings broadly group according to whether they are en or ett words and they also have sub-categories; three for en words (group 1-3) and two for ett words (group 4-5). Let’s go through the groups.

Group 1

This group contains en words that in singular indefinite ends on an ‘a’. They replace the ‘a’ with ‘or’ in plural indefinite and also add ‘na’ in plural definite.

en flicka a girl

flickan the girl

flickor girls

flickorna the girls

Group 2

In this group, we also find en words, but they will have some other endings. It’s usually short words ending on a consonant or ‘e’, or longer words that end on ‘ing’. These nouns take ‘ar’ in plural indefinite and add ‘na’ for plural definite.

en bil a car

bilen the car

bilar cars

bilarna the cars


en pojke a boy

pojken the boy

pojkar boys

pojkarna the boys


en tidning a newspaper

tidningen the newspaper

tidningar newspapers

tidningarna the newspapers

This group contains words that have a Scandinavian or Germanic origin, but that can sometimes be a little hard to tell, unless you are a language expert!

Group 3

The last of the en word groups mainly contain longer words ending on a consonant (although there are a few short ones in here too). They take ‘er’ in plural indefinite and also add ‘na’ for plural definite. Like this:

en apelsin an orange               

apelsinen the orange               

apelsiner oranges                

apelsinerna the oranges

In contrast to group 2, these words are international loan words and they often originate from English, French, Russian, Latin or other languages.

Group 4

Ett words that end on a vowel in singular indefinite belong to this group. They add ‘n’ in plural indefinite and add an ‘a’ for plural definite. For example:

ett piano a piano

pianot the piano

pianon pianos

pianona the pianos

Notice how the plural indefinite makes the word looks like a singular definite en word! This can be quite tricky, but you can look out for ’plural markers’ before the word, for example tre pianon three pianos, många pianon many pianos, några pianon some pianos.

Group 5

The fifth group contains ett words that end on a consonant in singular indefinite. These words take no ending for plural indefinite and add ‘en’ for plural definite.

ett hus a house

huset the house

hus houses

husen the houses

Can you see how the plural definite form makes the word looks a bit like a singular definite en word? This can be even harder than for group 4, so it is best to learn these words by heart.

Download our FREE Noun Plural Group Cheat Sheet for a visual model of these 5 groups, so you can remember them more easily.

Swedish vowels – Y

Of all Swedish vowels, the vowel Y tends to be hard to get right, but I have found a way to describe it that seems to be helpful. Firstly, say the Swedish I (or the English ‘ee’) and analyse what your tongue is doing. Secondly, keep that tongue position absolutely still, but move your lips from a wide smile to a trumpet-like shape (i.e. push your lips forward, quite aggressively). So when going from I to Y, your tongue position should be exactly the same, and the only thing changing is your lips – going from a wide smile, to a trumpet-shape. A bit like doing duck lips. 🙂 In this video you can see me doing my very best duck lips.

Interview with a Swedish learner – Matthew

Interview with Matthew

Matthew is 39 and originally from South Manchester in the UK. He has been living in Sweden for over 3 years now with his Swedish partner Sofia and more recently their two children James and Grace. They feel very lucky to live on the island of Hönö just off the coast of Göteborg in a very beautiful environment. Matthew has worked within the field of IT Infrastructure for around 15 years and has continued to do so since he moved to Sweden.

What led you to want to learn Swedish?

For me learning Swedish was somewhat of a necessity after I had moved to Göteborg in August 2015. My journey to Sweden happened when I met my now partner Sofia whilst we were both travelling on the other side of the world on the North Island of New Zealand. For me personally it was very important a few months after I had arrived to start a new journey in learning the language. I wanted to make sure that in time conversations would not pass me by and I knew that it would be advantageous in my career in Sweden

When and how did you start learning Swedish?

I initially registered for a Swedish course with SFI in Göteborg around January of 2016. My schedule was meant to be 3 hours on a Monday night in a class of 38 students and I managed just 1 class!!

At that time I was still getting to grips with a new job and my partner was pregnant and expecting our little boy anytime, so for us it simply was not going to work!

What I needed was something much more flexible that could work around my other commitments. After some searching online I came across Swedish Made Easy and rest as they say …… is history!

How much do you currently use the Swedish language, and why?

Well if I am honest not enough! I listen to a lot of Swedish in and around work and with my partner and her family. I also use it in casual situations when shopping or out for a coffee and I guess the conversation is more predictable.

We are starting to be a little more disciplined at home with my partner forcing the Swedish conversations on me!

What have been the challenges for you in learning Swedish?

Without a doubt my number one challenge has been finding the time. Having a young family around putting in those extra hours even for a bit of homework has proved difficult. It has also been a challenge to start learning a completely new language … in the sense I had no prior knowledge whatsoever. I studied German, French and a little Spanish during school …. But no Swedish! My outlook on learning Swedish, however, has always been a realistic one though and I am in no real rush, I know that more words, understanding and confidence will come given time.

What is your proudest moment as a Swedish speaker?

Proudest moment is for sure having a half decent understanding during an ölvandring (guided beer walk) through the streets of Göteborg. The guide had a very strong Skånsk accent but I really tried hard to pick my way through it (I knew most of the subject matter!) and I think I maybe understood 60 or 70% of the tour. Plenty of the jokes passed me by as did very specific details on the history of places but I tried to get a few keywords from each sentence and stay with it. My understanding got slowly worse as the tour progressed but that was more to do with the free beer! As the tour ended I even managed to get 3 of the multiple choice beer quiz questions right, more than my Swedish drinking partner!!

Can you recommend any Swedish books that are good for learning Swedish? (Could be course books, grammar books, novels, or children’s books – anything!)

I have been subjected to a lot of kids/toddler Swedish in the past couple of years whether it be via kids books or YouTube. Strangely lots of that kids stuff really sticks after a while and its useful as you know you are identifying all these everyday objects and increasing your vocab.

I have also used the Rivstart series to follow the main curriculum and more recently complemented that with Anneli’s “Teach Yourself Complete Swedish”. I found this has really helped a couple of times when I have read though an explanation coming from a slightly different angle to what I knew previously. I also like that much of the explanation is also coming in English.

Can you recommend any online/media resources for learning Swedish?

I used the free Duolingo app for a while which is good for new vocab but it can be a little repetitive after a while. The exercises provided with Rivstart online are also very useful to try and really practice what you read in the books. I would say Swedish Made Easy is also a great starting place to learn especially if you don’t have any easy access to a tutor led course and if you are not a natural when it comes to learning languages by yourself.

I would also thoroughly recommend Bron for a bit of Swedish / Danish crime drama …… it’s a great watch!

Do you have any other advice for future, budding Swedish learners?

I would say to try and think about your situation, why you are learning Swedish and be realistic with your expectations and your pace of learning. For me personally I know that learning Swedish to a point where I am very comfortable and confident will take some time yet, but I am fine with that.

Swedish vowels – U

This is perhaps the hardest one to explain, out of all Swedish vowels. When you say the vowel U, your lips should be relaxed, your tongue touching the bottom-row of your front teeth, and your jaw should be slightly pushed forward. It sounds a little bit like the disgusted expression “Eew”, but more like the end-part than the first. Check out the video to find out how to also pronounce the short U-sound.

Challenges in language learning

Last Saturday, we were at the Language Show Live in London, to give a talk about challenges that you may face as an adult language learner, during the language learning process. We wanted to talk about the most common challenges that we see among students. Not just Swedish students, although that is of course the language that we have experience of teaching. But we do believe that these challenges are general, for all adult language learners.

We spoke about the voices in our heads, that can often create barriers in the way of our language learning journey. Because – let’s face it – no matter how much you know that you should study more, use certain techniques, do your homework, spend more time, and so on, you might still not do it. But why do we not do the things that we know are good for us, that we know will help us to achieve our goals? Well, by taking a closer look at some of the voices in our heads, it can help us to understand why we procrastinate, why we tell ourselves that we ‘can’t do it’, and why we may not have a realistic view of the language learning journey.

We also talked about time management and motivation. And finally, we presented our Toolkit, that is designed to help with some of the challenges that you may face.

We had a great time at the Language Show, it was wonderful to see so many people there and we received some really interesting and useful feedback afterwards too.

We recorded the talk too. The audio is not brilliant as it was in an open space with lots of people around, but you can still hear most of it pretty ok. So here it is – our talk about Overcoming Challenges as an Adult Language Learner.

Ju – stating the obvious (at least to you!)

Many of our students ask us about the sentence adverb (satsadverb) ju. On the whole, it means something along the lines of as you/we already know/are aware of, or as I have already mentioned.

Here are 6 examples of how you can use ju in sentences.


1. As I’ve mentioned before….

It can be used when the speaker wants to express that they have already told the listener something.

Vill du ha köttbullar? Do you want meatballs?

Nej, jag är ju vegetarian. No, as you know, I am a vegetarian.


2. Really?!

It can express surprise and disbelief.

Ska du gå hem redan? Klockan är ju bara åtta! Are you going home so soon? It’s only eight o’clock!


3. But I told you…

It can also be used to express frustration, perhaps when something has already been said before, like in this example:

Stina: Köpte du mjölk på vägen hem? Did you buy milk on the way home?

Lisa: Nej. No.

Stina: Men jag sa ju att mjölken är slut! But I told you we are out of milk!

Lisa: Förlåt, jag glömde… Sorry, I forgot…


4. But…(picking a fight)

It can be used argumentatively.

Ligg inte i sängen hela dagen! Don’t lie in bed all day!

Men jag är ju sjuk! But I am sick!


5. Everyone knows (stating the obvious)

It can be used to state something obvious.

Sverige är ju väldigt mörkt på vintern. Sweden is (of course) very dark in the winter.


6. Everyone/a person should know

It can be used to express that the listener should know.

Sverige ligger ju i Europa. Sweden is (as I am sure you’re aware) in Europe. 



There is also another set phrase where the word ju turns up. These are phrases like ‘the more, the better’, as they have a special construction in Swedish that includes ju.

First use ju + comparative, and then desto + comparative.

Ju mer, desto bättre. The more, the better.

To construct a longer phrase, like for example ‘the more I buy, the less money I have’, the following construction is used. Pay attention to the word order in the first and the second clause (especially the relation between the verb and the subject), as they are different.

Ju mer jag köper, desto mindre pengar har jag.

Two verb-construction:

Ju bättre du kan tala svenska, desto bättre kan du förstå.


Lycka till!

Swedish vowel O

How to pronounce the Swedish vowel O

How do you best pronounce the Swedish vowel O? This vowel is a little bit different than the English O.


The vowel O can be hard to pronounce, because it is a bit more extreme than the English ‘oh-sound’. The ‘oh-sound’ in English requires fairly relaxed lips, and also a relaxed tongue. The Swedish O requires a very tense mouth and hard lips pressed together, like when you are whistling a tune, or sucking a straw. The tongue is pulled right back in the throat, like you do if you eat something that is too hot and you try to protect your tongue. I think it sounds a little bit like an owl! This is however just the long sound. This vowel has 2 more ways to pronounce it, check out the video to find out what they sound like.