Swedish Learning Techniques at IKEA Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Swedish Language, Vocabulary

At my friendly neighborhood IKEA, there is a sign staring back me when I leave, which is covered in green, yellow, and red smiley faces. The faces remind me of the best time to visit IKEA based on the number of people in the store. The red means super duper busy, the yellow super busy, and the green busy. Or something like that. I try to hit the green times to avoid the crowds. Fewer people means more time to browse and wander aimlessly—an easy thing to do in the massive stores. But wandering aimlessly in an IKEA (or clicking aimlessly on can also be a good way to learn Swedish.

IKEA in Schaumburg, IL. Photo Credit- Marcus Cederstrom

IKEA in Schaumburg, IL. Photo Credit- Marcus Cederstrom

We’ve already written about the way IKEA names its products using (mostly) Swedish words on our post IKEA Furniture – Cultural Differences. For example, bookcase ranges are named after occupations; bathroom things are named after Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays; chairs and desks are men’s names; materials and curtains are women’s names. You get the idea. Staring at product names while you’re shopping isn’t necessarily going to help you learn Swedish though. Of course, shopping can still end up being a learning experience. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your views on shopping, I suppose.

So how do we turn shopping at IKEA into a learning experience? It helps if your local IKEA is in Sweden, where everything is in Swedish. In lieu of actually spending the money to travel to a Swedish IKEA, head over to where you’ll be able to find not just the product names, but also the names of the actual object. For example, maybe you’re planning on making a delicious spaghetti dinner. You’ll need a few things to actually make the spaghetti. I usually end up using at least one kastrull (pot) with a lock (lid). And a durkslag (colander). Sometimes even a pastaslev (pasta server). Then I serve myself on the fanciest tallrik (plate) I have and use a kniv (knife) and gaffel (fork) to eat. I don’t use a sked (spoon) when I eat spaghetti. I just can’t do it. But that’s ok, because there are plenty of bestick (cutlery) to choose from.

It’s a silly example, I know, but it’s a useful one. All those words you need to describe what you do in the kitchen, all those words you need to describe what you want your living room to look like, all those words you need to make your bedroom just perfect? They’re all there. It’s a surprisingly simple exercise that can be very helpful in reinforcing vocabulary for things in the home. So give yourself a budget (real or imagined. Mine tends to be imagined.), go to IKEA’s website and put together a room in your imaginary house or apartment. Or maybe put together the whole house. Make sure you’re using the Swedish IKEA and you’ll suddenly have an entire website of flashcards with pictures.

Good luck!

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. Patricia:

    The books in the bookcases at IKEA are in Swedish. No one will bother you if you sit for a few minutes and read.

  2. Eric Olsson:

    Great advice, Marcus! I never thought to go on the IKEA website to learn Swedish. I may have to make some homemade meatballs just to get the right IKEA experience at home. Thanks!

  3. Marcus Cederström:

    Good idea, Patricia.

    And no problem, good luck, Eric!