Proper Swedish Pronunciation?

Posted on 31. Jan, 2009 by in Geography, Vocabulary

A couple of weeks ago, I think it was Daniel, who mentioned that he would like to know how Swedish should be pronounced. I have not responded right away, simply because I was thinking about what the proper answer should be.

You see, there are as many ways to properly pronounce Swedish as there are regions in Sweden. People in Skåne say things their way, people in Jämtland say things their way and people on the border with Finland say things in a way that… oh well, I’m not even going there :)

My hairdresser is from Jämtland and her accent is so thick you could slice bread with it. I have seen and heard her switching between Swedish and English when other Swedish customers can’t understand her.

There is such an animal as rikssvenska (rikssvenska eller standardsvenska är det svenska standardspråket som talas i Sverige), and people do learn it in school, but what they learn and how they actually speak in daily life are two different things.
You see it even on TV. There is no one standard accent – different presenters and newscasters say things their way.

But compared to other languages (like English, for example) Swedish is pronounced pretty much the way it’s written.

There are certain rules and if you follow them, chances are people will understand you.
A good start to becoming familiar with how Swedish is pronounced is right to the right of this post. See that BYKI box with Swedish word lists? Give it a try, most of them have audio files so you can both read and hear the word or phrase listed.

Normally, the letter combinations that give Swedish learners the most trouble are:

  • sj – pronounced in as many ways as there are regions in Sweden (good examples are: sju, or sjuk, or the superhard – sjuksköterska)
  • kj, ke, ki, kö – these combinations can be tricky as well.
  • rs – this one can be confusing, because it not only applies when there is “rs” in the middle of a word, but also when one word ends in “r” and the next one begins with “s”

Try to find words with these letter combinations in the BYKI word lists to the right and listen carefully to how they should be pronounced in rikssvenska.

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10 Responses to “Proper Swedish Pronunciation?”

  1. Kenia 4 February 2009 at 9:26 am #

    Hej Anna,

    Yes, swedish pronunciation is somewhat tricky, mostly those combinations you mention above. However what gives me more troubles is not to pronounce a single word, but to give a phrase the correct intonation. It’s like the voice falls at the end of the sentence. I can repeat it and I think I do it right, but when it comes to make one myself, then I become a mess =).

    Cheers,

    Kenia

  2. Curre 21 March 2009 at 2:44 am #

    Not to mention accents from Gotland island. I´m working with a gotlänning (person from Gotland) so I´m used to it, but even to me it sometimes sounds like a foreign language.

    Keep smilin´

    Curre

  3. Jimmy 21 April 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    Hej.

    I’m learning Swedish and I have a question about the pronunciation of ‘sj’. I hear different pronunciations every time, some pronounce it like ‘kh’ in ‘khaled’, some as ‘sh’ in ‘shelf’. Sometimes I can even hear the ‘j’ more stressed.

    If I were to learn proper, commonly used Swedish, what pronunciation should I use? Is there a prefered one, how do they teach this to Swedish children?

    Tack så mycket :-)

    Jimmy

  4. Linda från Kalifornien 21 April 2009 at 7:30 pm #

    Hej Jimmy, I have found two ways to pronounce the “sj” It really depends on what region of Sweden the people you are conversing with. My husband is from the northern region and they say “Hu” so sju for 7 would be pronounced “Hull”. My first Swedish instructor was from the central region and she pronounces it “shu”.
    I was confused for a few weeks as my husband corrected me to his dialect and my instructor continued with her dialect. When I asked my instructor about it she said they were both correct, just different region dialects. So my advice is use what you are comfortable with or what your fellow Swedish speakers are using.

    I had a classmate who’s in-laws pronounced ham “skinka” in two different ways. The mother-in-law said “Hwinka” and the father-in-law said it “shinka” so the classmate pointed it out to them and they said both ways were correct. It was due to the In-laws coming from different regions, and after all the years together they never noticed the mother-in-law pronounced it in a different dialect.

    So hopefully my long-winded comment gave you a little help.

  5. Jimmy Cappaert 22 April 2009 at 1:41 am #

    Thanks, Linda!

    I’m learning it from books, Swedish music and every day Rapport (the news) with Swedish subtitles on SVT :-)

    I think the ‘h’ pronunciation sounds more genuine but is harder to pronounce as a non native speaker. For now, I will stick to the ‘sh’ sound then.

    Jimmy

  6. Zack 15 August 2009 at 3:55 am #

    Ok so I’ve found this helpful explaining the “sje” sound and realising that it’s very much a regional thing…
    My question is though, is it all one or the other, or do they mix and match.
    For example, might a person from region X pronounce skinka and stjärna differently due to the different spellings, or do people generally use only one sound for all possible spellings of that tricky “sje” sound?
    Thanks!

  7. Linda från kalifornien 18 August 2009 at 3:40 am #

    @Jimmy: Varsågod!

    @ Zack: At first I was using “Sh” for the pronuciation and then when speaking with my husband would revert back to “Hu”. I mostly use “Hu” now, since that is what I hear most at home and have become comfortable with it.

    I think usually one pronounces it one or the other, not mixed. Either way, I believe you will be understood, just choose which you are most comfortable using or what is commonly used among those you interact in Swedish with. Hope that was helpful. Lycka till!

  8. Phillip 29 January 2010 at 1:08 am #

    I have what may be a peculiar request. I’m teaching chorus (short-term, at the moment), and I’ve picked out a song in Swedish. Is there any way I could send you the text and get you to send me back a recording of the correct pronunciation? Or at least know who or where I could get somewhere with that?

  9. Ketutar 29 July 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Funny :-) I posted about this in my blog. I’m Finnish living in Sweden. Swedish is the second official language of Finland, so I learned some in school. We don’t have many sh-sounds in Finnish, so this is rather difficult to us :-)
    I would like to remind you of two more… stj as in stjärna and tj – even though that is more “t-sh” than pure “sh” :-)

  10. jess (sydney) 10 April 2011 at 11:34 am #

    I don’t know if this is helpful or 100% accurate, but i use translate.google.com – i type in the words in swedish and click the ‘listen’ button. it even changes in tone if you stick a question mark on the end of the word!!

    tusentack anna for the blog posts


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