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Interview with a Swedish learner – Ben

Ben, born in 1970, is from the east coast of the United States. In 2000, a half year after meeting a Dutch woman while both were biking around Ireland (in opposite directions!), he moved to the Netherlands.

Within a few months they were married, raising her two young children together and he was speaking Dutch. Twelve years later, at the beginning of 2012 they moved to Värmland, Sweden, for the space, serenity and att ta det lugnt.

What led you to want to learn Swedish?

We picked Sweden as the place we wanted to spend the rest of our lives, and the first step was to learn the language. We work for ourselves, from home, so it doesn’t matter too much where we live. We are also avid gardeners and DIYers, and we wanted to live somewhere where there are people with similar interests and values. Also important to us were living in a country without vast wealth disparities (the root of all evil!) and with a well-developed social welfare system, good infrastructure and a stable political system. Sweden fit the bill.

When and how did you start learning Swedish?

We began learning Swedish in the Netherlands via our local adult education centre four years prior to our emigration. We took two-hour classes, once a week, 30-40 times a year, for three years. This led to a basic level of reading and listening proficiency, but provided very little in the way of writing or speaking skills. During the last year before our move I worked through all three levels of Rosetta Stone and began taking one-hour lessons, once a week, with Anneli.

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

We’ve lived in Sunnemo for about a year now. We watch Swedish television, read Swedish books and newspapers, and make use of many Swedish-language websites. We also converse with shopkeepers and service providers exclusively in Swedish. My wife handles all the household and business administration tasks and is able to converse reasonably well on the telephone. I, on the other hand, run and hide whenever the telephone rings. The local doctors and dentists we have been to so far have been Danish, Dutch and Iraqi, so we (happily) speak English or Dutch with them. The most important reason to be able to speak Swedish is to be able to converse with neighbours, not all of whom are able to speak English. Doing so has meant we were quickly made to feel part of the local community. We have many new friends here and have celebrated Midsommar and Julafton with our closest neighbours’ extended family for the past two years.

What have been the challenges for you in learning Swedish?

Since I work from home and spend much of my free time working on and around our property, it’s difficult to find enough opportunities to speak Swedish. Having learned Dutch as an adult, I’m confident I’ll eventually achieve full fluency in Swedish, but I really expected it to be easier. When I moved to the Netherlands, though, I was fully immersed in the language by living with two children, ages 6 and 8, who didn’t speak any English and constantly corrected my Dutch. A week after completing a 4-month full-time language program for university students I had a full-time job working at a Dutch company. My situation in Sweden is completely different… and I’m also 12 years older.

What is your proudest moment as a Swedish speaker?

I think it is still to come. I remember one of my proudest moments after having learned Dutch was when I was able to tell a funny story at a party and was rewarded with hearty laughter.

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

One I consider essential is David Hensleigh’s Common Swedish Verbs (ISBN 91-974220-0-2), it’s a quick reference for English speakers that really helps you learn your verbs quickly. I also like the engelsk bildordbok (ISBN 978-91-7227-521-8) published by Norstedts Akademiska Förlag. It’s a visual dictionary that provides pictures of everyday things along with their names in Swedish and English. They always have it in stock at Akademibokhandeln, so look for it the next time you’re in Sweden (also available in German-Swedish and French-Swedish).

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

The absolute best resource I know is the website Digitala Spåret (www.digitalasparet.se). It offers an enormous range of didactically sound learning content and is both practical and fun.

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

Don’t become discouraged. Learning a language is an enormous challenge. Just take it a day at a time.

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