The language of campfires and storytelling days

Swedish. The language so disliked by so many Finns, because they cannot see the point of learning it, but still they have to. It is obligatory, because there is a Swedish-speaking minority in Finland and it is the second official language. A compulsory suffering.

Of course, I disagree. Swedish is one of my favorites. It is beautiful, song-like and intriguing, and brings to my mind stories and fairytales. I’m rather attracted to Sweden as a country, too – it is a bit like Finland with its four seasons and pure nature, but in Sweden, they have a more beautiful capital, perhaps more jovial people, higher mountains, a king and princesses.

I am almost certain that somewhere in their forests, Ronia the Robber’s daughter and her friends still live, and there, the campfires’ and storytelling days aren’t over  – “Där är det ännu lägereldarnas och sagornas tid.” (The Brothers Lionheart, Astrid Lindgren).

“Där är det ännu lägereldarnas och sagornas tid.”

Swedish is my personal victory in language learning. English I just sort of automatically learned, little by little, because you just hear it everywhere, and I can’t remember when I started to get fluent. In the case of Swedish, I can remember not always being good at it, and then, within a quite short timeframe, noticing how I started to improve.

And that’s why it’s the language which has taught me a lot about how to master a language. There are two important reasons, why I now find Swedish almost as easy as English. Those are the two things I think learning to speak a language truly require: Learning loads of vocabulary, and learning to dare open your mouth and speak.

Me in Stockholm in 2011
Me in Stockholm in 2011

I started learning Swedish in elementary school, when I was 13. In high school I changed to a more advanced Swedish class, where most of the other students had studied the language since they were 9 or 7. I realized I need to work hard to catch their level. Our teacher gave us a lot of vocabulary homework and made us write a lot of texts. I studied all the vocab by heart and tried to use it as much as I could. It was in writing skills that I first noticed my  progress. The texts I wrote were often praised by the teacher.

In the end of my second year, the teacher sent me to a scholarship language course where students from different high schools all around Finland visited Stockholm and studied the language intensely for one week. The course included all sorts of speaking activities, where we had to just go and talk to the local people.

During that week, I completely got over any nervousness to speak Swedish, and noticed that even if I don’t get everything correct, people will understand what I say. After that, I felt like I can rate my Swedish “fluent” in my CV.

However, I haven’t needed to use the language very often during the last five years. I’m sure much of the vocabulary gathered with hard work is already forgotten. Luckily, there’s a chance to refresh and use my skills in sight: I’ll be doing an exchange semester in Sweden next year!