Julie pratar svenska – speaking a Scandinavian language as a foreign language

Julie pratar svenska – speaking a Scandinavian language as a foreign language

When the teachers at IA Sprog aren’t teaching you inversion or the soft ‘d’, amongst the lot of them they speak quite a number of foreign languages.

Some teachers speak languages which are completely different from Danish, while Danes can already understand some of the foreign languages without having learned them. But do we actually call them foreign languages at all then? Teacher at IA Sprog Julie Roesen here relates a bit about her experience learning and being able to speak the language of neighbouring Sweden.

Listened to Swedish at home

During her childhood in the 1970s, Julie heard Swedish spoken: Her mother translated Swedish shows, and they often watched Swedish television channels and heard Swedish music on the radio, and she has also lived in Sweden for 5 years.

“I learn with my ears a lot,” says Julie. “First, I learn how a language sounds, and afterwards I learn the rest of the grammar. Once, when I was at a holiday camp in Sweden, I simply decided to only speak Swedish, and so I did as best I could.”

What is it like to learn another Scandinavian language as a foreign language?

It is both an advantage and a disadvantage that Swedish is so close to Danish. Many Danes think that it is very easy to learn Swedish, because we already understand Swedish without really having been trained at it, but perhaps it is precisely for this reason that many people will be surprised at how difficult it can be. Swedish being so close to Danish is perhaps why so many underestimate how much you really need to practice to be able to speak good – and correct – Swedish.

“Of course you have a great advantage as a Dane, because the structure of Swedish and most words are almost the same as in Danish,” says Julie and goes on: “But you mustn’t believe it is all that easy, because then you may easily end up speaking half Swedish and half Danish. You must look at each word one by one and concentrate on the correct grammar and proper Swedish pronunciation.”

“If I didn’t speak Swedish, I wouldn’t feel that I could communicate perfectly when I’m in Sweden, even if you can often just speak Danish. In that way, Swedish really is a foreign language, even though it is so similar to Danish.There are still some things that can be difficult, for example, I still sometimes have trouble remembering whether it is supposed to be -er or -ar, when conjugating a verb in the present tense.”

In Danish the only vowel in grammatical endings is an e, but in Swedish you can have three different vowels: a, e or o, as in växlar, besöker and skolor, where Danish would be ‘veksler, besøger, skoler’.

Julie is convincingly fluent in Swedish, but she does still feel there are some things that can be difficult.

“The Swedish high vowels i, y and u sound different than the Danish, and the Swedish letters b, d and g are voiced – which they aren’t in Danish. That is why is makes a big difference whether someone says skid or skit (in Danish ‘ski’ or ‘skid’), and that may give rise to some funny misunderstandings,” Julie laughs.

What do you get out of being able to speak Swedish?

Julie also mentions something that many might recognise from themselves – that you are a slightly different version of yourself when you speak another language. When you speak a different language, it’s a bit like acting and being in a different role. You use different muscles to pronounce the language’s sounds, your body language is different, and you become part of a different cultural world.

When you learn a foreign language, you also learn to be this new side of yourself, and this is perhaps especially important when the new language is so closely related to one’s mother tongue.

For many Danes, it is odd having to learn a language that sounds almost like Danish, but with a strange pronunciation and some strange words, so in a way it might be even harder to learn a language closely related to your own, than learning a language completely different from Danish. So it is important to really just let yourself slip into the Swedish version of yourself.

“You shouldn’t think of it as Danish that needs a bit of changing, think of it as a truly foreign language with a couple of advantages,” Julie states.

I ask how Julie’s Swedish personality is, to which she responds: “I think my Swedish version of myself is a little friendlier and softer, not as sharp,” she laughs.


Julie teaches Danish as a second language, among others at Metro. Here is a small clip with Julie who has swapped the role with one of her students.