Last month Education First ranked Swedes at the top for English Proficiency and I can second that assessment. Perhaps it's because Swedish isn't too useful outside of Sweden or perhaps it's because Swedish and English share a Germanic root language. But if you ask them, Swedes will attribute their awesome English to television. English programming has subtitles rather than dubbing, so Swedes - especially the younger generations - have grown up hearing English on T.V. and in films. And it shows. Whether it's a wide, nuanced vocabulary or a native-like understanding of idioms and slang, I am continually impressed by the English I hear. Sometimes I'll even hear Swedes apologize for their "terrible" English which is a) so far from the truth and b) ridiculous. I'm the one in their country asking them to speaking my language. I'm the imposition here. But still, the apologies come.
All of this excellence has an interesting consequence: It's really hard to learn Swedish here. Sure, having lived in Sweden for the better part of a year means I can understand and read it alright. But speaking? No chance. My patient friends have heard mostly "Hallå!" or "Jag förstår!" and still they tolerate me. #Thankful for them. I've tried Duolingo, but it lacks a speaking component for Swedish. I've added Rosetta Stone to my morning coffee ritual, but I'm not sold. I mean, there's only so many opportunities to slip "Varför luktar hunden illa?" or "Sköldpaddan är liten" into conversation. ("Why does the dog smell bad?" and "The turtle is small" for those who are following.) And then there's SFI, Swedish for Immigrants. The government offers a language course for immigrant adults, but reviews from friends and colleagues have been largely critical. SFI groups students by their education level rather than their experience with Swedish. So even though I have spent several months here, I could be placed with students who don't know the difference between "hej" and "hejdå". And often times, groups of varying levels all share the same teacher at the same time. It's tough enough to differentiate instruction for my fourth graders; I can't even imagine juggling masters level students in the same room as students who aren't literate in their native language. And the kicker? You need a personnummer to register for the course. Which I don't have. I guess it's pretty futile to complain about a service I can't use. So I'll keep muddling on with Rosetta Stone and hope for plenty of opportunities to talk about smelly dogs and small turtles.
More on my adventures learning Swedish later :)