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The Swedish SJ-sound

When you’re learning Swedish, you’ll pretty soon come across the SJ-sound. Or ‘ɧ’, as it is symbolised. Most learners first encounter this sound in the number 7 = sju. 

Some Swedish learners find this sound hard to pronounce, and others find it a bit easier. It depends on what your mother tongue is, and what you’re used to doing with your tongue and your vocal tract!  

What is the SJ-sound?

This sound is a voiceless fricative sound. Voiceless means we don’t use our larynx to produce it. Fricative means a consonant sound that we produce by forcing air through a narrow channel. And this is exactly what we do when we say the SJ-sound. We force air through a narrow channel in the back of our throat.  

Do all Swedes use the SJ-sound?

It is found in most dialects in Sweden. But for example some regions in the north of Sweden do not use this sound. They would instead use a ‘fronted SJ-sound’, where you place the tip of your tongue on the alveolar ridge and force the air through there (like when you’re telling someone to be quiet, “shhh”). 

And there are regional variations in the SJ-sound too, where the position of the narrow channel in the back of the mouth varies as well (some a bit further back, some a little bit more forward). 

Is the SJ-sound always spelled SJ?

No! There are MANY different spellings of this sound in the Swedish language. There are at least 14 of them! But some are more common than others. 

How can I learn how and when to pronounce the SJ-sound?

We have a FREE video lesson for you where we show exactly how you produce this sound in your vocal tract, and also the most common spellings of this sound. Just sign up to our mailing list and you can watch it straight away. When you have watched this video, you will know not only how to create this sound, but also all the different spellings, so you know what Swedish words include this sound. And we will also show you how we can help you to keep improving your Swedish pronunciation.   

Speak Like a Swede

Hej! Anneli & Stefan here! We’re currently on a mission to help Swedish learners improve their Swedish pronunciation and reduce their accent. Anneli is a Swedish teacher, the founder of Swedish Made Easy and the author of Teach Yourself Complete Swedish. Stefan is an opera singer, a voice trainer and an Estill Master trainer. We’re collaborating to put together our areas of expertise to help you with your Swedish pronunciation. 

We’re not saying it’s bad to have an accent. In fact, we love accents and think they make you who you are! However, sometimes accents can make it harder for native speakers to understand what you’re saying. And it’s easy to let your own, natural ‘Attractor State’ dictate how you say Swedish words. By identifying exactly what the tongue, the lips and the vocal tract do, you can reduce your accent so you sound more Swedish and so that people will understand you better.

We have also created a unique online course for Swedish pronunciation and accent reduction, called Speak Like a Swede. Click here to learn more. 

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