LearnSwedishwith Us!Start Learning!
I live in a very culturally diverse part of Uppsala where there are many non-Swedes. As a result, many of my friends and acquaintances in the area are in the process of learning Swedish either just for fun or in order to really dig into the Swedish culture – after all, you can’t really get to know a culture without being able to communicate with the people in it in their native tongue, the language which feels most natural and real to them. Being a linguist of Scandinavian languages, I get lots of questions from these people about various areas of the Swedish language, and one of the most common questions from beginners is this:
“Tala, prata, snacka. What’s the difference?!”
Usually people wonder because they’ve learned to say tala in school, prata from friends, and heard snacka in some song they heard on the radio. I mean, how many ways can there possibly be to say something as simple as ‘I speak Swedish’?!
Well, first, here’s how you say “I speak Swedish” with each of the three words:
Jag talar svenska.
Jag pratar svenska.
Jag snackar svenska.
All three sentences here basically mean the same thing: to ‘speak’ or to ‘talk’. The only difference is the choice of verb, and while each of these verbs have the same meaning, they do not have the same associations. Tala is generally used in more formal situations while snacka, on the other end of the spectrum, is very informal and considered by many to be slang, mostly used by the younger generations. Prata is much more neutral and can be used in virtually all contexts. Compare:
Jag behöver tala med dig. – I need to speak with you.
Jag behöver prata med dig. – I need to talk to you.
You will also notice that prata is the option of choice for most people. Tala sounds rather old-fashioned to most.
Finally, I’d like to mention that tala, prata, and snacka can each mean both ‘speak’ and ‘talk’. So don’t take the above examples and think that Jag talar svenska means “I speak Swedish” while Jag pratar svenska means “I talk Swedish”, which you wouldn’t say in English. All three words can mean either ‘speak’ or ‘talk’ depending on the context, so don’t be afraid to use the same translation for both. However, as a general guideline, stick to prata as much as you can to not seem too formal or too informal. Using prata makes you lagom*. 😉
(*For those of you who don’t know, lagom is a special Swedish word meaning ‘not too much but not too little – just right’.)