How to Learn Swedish When You’ve Got Other Shit to Do

Have you recently moved to Sweden, or are you thinking about moving there in the future? You may have heard that Swedish, and the Scandinavian languages in general, can be challenging to learn. While that may not be true for everyone (I’ve heard everything from “it’s impossible; don’t bother!” to “I learned within two months!”), I think we can all agree that learning a language as an adult is never easy-peasy (unless you’re one of those people. Are you? Well bully for you! Teach me your ways!).

Taking immersive classes is certainly the best way to learn if you have the time to do it. But most of us don’t – especially if you have a full time job or children. Being able to attend class and having enough time for homework is a privilege that many do not have. But worry not! You can still learn Swedish (albeit a bit more slowly), even if you only have an extra few minutes in the day.

Here’s how to learn Swedish when you’ve got other things on your plate (because of course you do!):

List Marker: Number 1Duolingo, Babel and other Apps

There are wonderful apps these days to help with learning language. Our favorite is Duolingo, but we’ve heard excellent things about Babel and Memrise too. These apps are free and you can use them for as long – or short – a time as you’d like. Try starting with five minutes per day! It may seem like nothing, but that vocabulary will build up quickly. Expert tip from someone who’s been there: once you’ve finished a lesson, re-do it a few times. It’s tempting to move forward fast, but keep in mind that the goal is retention and it’s not a race.

Download Duolingo, Babbel and Memrise.


List Marker: Number 2Online Courses

Although in-person classes are often the most intensive, online courses are great because of the flexibility they allow. There are plenty of good options for Swedish lessons.

Check out these online courses:

Distance Learning Overview
Swedish Institute (this course is free!)
Swedish Online

You may find Loecsen, a tool that helps with pronunciation, to be extremely helpful.


List Marker: Number 3Television & Film

Not only will watching Swedish film and television help you learn the language, it will give you a window into the culture. This is particularly true of zeitgeist-y TV shows and classic films. A useful thing to do is to turn on subtitles with your native language so you can connect the words and phrasing to what you’re hearing.

Check out these television shows and films:

Television Shows

Real Humans
Anno 1790


Emil i Lönneberga (1971)
Fanny and Alexander (1982)
The Hunters (1996)
Let the Right One In (2008)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)


List Marker: Number 4Your Daily News

Watching the news or listening to the radio in Swedish on a daily basis is a great way to get in some learning time. You’re bound to hear a few words you know and connect the dots; you can even look at parallel stories in your native tongue and Swedish to get the gist of things until you feel more comfortable. If you can put closed captioning on your Swedish television, it’s an additional boost to see the words written out.

Check out these Swedish news sources:

Dagens Nyheter (DN)
Svenska Dagbladet (SvD)


List Marker: Number 5Start Small and Stick With It

Learning a language can seem like this big monolithic thing; that one day you’ll just wake up and know it. But of course it’s not really like that. Instead, you learn a language in tiny steps. Sometimes those steps are even in the wrong direction (anyone else had a moment when they realized they’ve been saying something incorrectly for years?). So do what you can, when you can. If you know how to ask for directions, or order your coffee, in Swedish, then do it every time. If you know how to ask “how was your day?” then make an effort to ask your colleagues or classmates when you greet them. It will take time, but slowly your day will become filled with little bits of Swedish that form something bigger.

For a dose of Swedish fun, cynicism and phrasing that you can use every day, check out the beloved comics of Jan Stenmark.

My bell is broken, but I’d rather run people over than shout “Ring ring!”


List Marker: Number 6Insist on Swedish

This is the hard part! Swedes can speak English so well that, for English speakers, it can seem easier to just switch over to English when things get confusing. If it happens, that’s okay; don’t beat yourself up about it. But remember that you can gently remind a Swede that you’d like to practice your Swedish, and that it’s all right if the conversation takes a bit of time. Only a real jerk would say no to that.

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Rebecca Thandi Norman

Rebecca Thandi Norman is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Scandinavia Standard.