A couple years ago, I started trying to improve my Swedish, and I have noticed my comprehension has improved a lot. This is true also of Skånsk, the southern Swedish dialect which, like all southern dialects, has a little bit of a drawl to it. See if you can hear the difference:
Besides the guitar, you may have noticed a slight difference. I know for an absolute fact the Swedes do. But somehow, as with all dialects, despite the pronunciation differences it is still Swedish, and the Swedes of course understand each other.
Unless, that is, I am the one trying it out.
Other than with close family and friends, ordering food, or having a beer, whenever I speak Swedish it is not uncommon for people to look at me like I have just tried out my latest Swahili on them. The situation is pretty standard:
- I try out a common Swedish phrase. Something like, “Is that from Ikea?”
- The conversation goes completely quiet; the Swede squints their eyes like Clint Eastwood.
- I sweat a little bit, and then repeat the statement, this time sounding like The Swedish Chef from the Muppets.
- Further squinting and silence.
- We switch to English.
As the one on the losing side of this linguistic exchange, the conversation leaves me feeling something like this (click the picture):
Now I know my Swedish is bad, it isn’t that bad. I know a few words and don’t mind placing them in sentences together with my Danish (which places me in the dubious realm of speaking “Scandinavian”). But still, even when I avoid Danish and throw my best Swedish accent onto a Swedish word, I often end up feeling like a complete doofus.
Now before I take this further, let me remind people that:
- I am married to a Swede
- I get along quite fine with all of the Swedish family
- I have several Swedish friends
- I love spending time in Sweden
- I have absolutely no formal training and have never lived in Sweden – and no, Copenhagen is not, “just like living in Sweden”
Fortunately it seems a lot of people are in the exact same boat. There is a good blog post here about this, and judging by the comments, the conclusions have managed to rile a few Swedes up! But the section about understanding foreigners when they mispronounce things I completely sympathize with. Bra jobbat!
So this is what baffles me. I learned Danish when I was an exchange student in Copenhagen. As bad as my Danish was, I didn’t get quite the same reaction from Danes as I do with Swedes and Swedish.
I suspect, based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that this is because the Danes expect Danish to be butchered by foreigners. Ask a Dane, “Can you teach me a Danish word?” and 9 times out of 10 they will go the nuclear route and come back with, “rødgrød med fløde,” just to get a good laugh. The Danes know their language is tough to pronounce, so they are ready to hear it mangled by people like myself.
Swedish, on the other hand, it quite a flowing, singing language to listen to, a bit like French, and is pronounced the way it is written (with the possible exception of Skånsk). Swedes just don’t get the same joy from hearing Swedish roughed up by foreigners.
Thus attempts to speak Swedish often get more of a, “did you just fart?” kind of reaction. People simply aren’t as familiar with foreigners bludgeoning their language. As such, I will thus say learning Swedish is a little tougher and taking a little longer than I hoped.
Undeterred, I will continue to say things like, “skojar du?” and “Kristianstad”, usually repeated about 4 or 5 times, until I crack this pronunciation thing.
I have also decided I will learn Skånsk. That way if anyone notices my accent, I should be more likely to get a, “Jasså,” rather than a, “Var kommer du ifrån?”
To which the appropriate Scandinavian response would be, “Jag kommer fra Danmark. Vill du ha lite rødgrød med fløde?” and we enjoy a nice moment of silence.
Önska mig lycka till!