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Why I Study Sweden Posted by on Sep 24, 2010 in Culture, Swedish Language

My mother is American, my father Swedish. For as long as I can remember, mamma speaks English with me, pappa speaks Swedish with me. It’s just the way of the world.

That world was turned upside down one day when I was about four. Being the oldest child, I also doubled as a guinea pig. So they decided to play a dirty trick on me. My mother, the American, spoke Swedish to me. My father, the Swede, spoke English to me. And I, the Swedish-American, was confused.

I refused to give in to their little games. I refused to respond in Swedish to my mother just as I refused to respond in English to my father. Pappa spoke Swedish to me, and I responded to him in Swedish. Mamma spoke English to me, and I responded to her in English. My four year old brain couldn’t handle responding to the wrong parent in the wrong language.

To suggest that this was some sort of watershed moment for me would be to exaggerate. I don’t remember this happening. Instead, I have heard the story more times than I can count from my parents, who always have a strange look of satisfaction and demonstrate just a hint of schadenfreude when they tell the story. My family ended up moving to the US and I fell into the habit of responding to my father in English, despite him always prattling on in Swedish. Apparently my 16 year old brain and my four year old brain were not quite the same. Strange, I know.

But the story sticks with me. Especially now, as I continue to study Scandinavia, Sweden, and the Swedish language. The household that I grew up in, with Swedish and English flowing freely from both parents, has followed me. It is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful reasons for my continued study. Why I moved to Sweden. Why I moved back to the US. Why I do what I do. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it leads me to a question… why are you here? What has drawn you to Sweden and the Swedish language? We all have our reasons, I’d love to hear yours!

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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.


Comments:

  1. Christian:

    My main reason is that I love languages and the Nordic Countries 🙂 Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved winter, and it seemed amazing that there are places where winter lasts almost half the year!

  2. Agnes:

    I´m studying swedish at the University of Iceland. I have a swedish boyfriend and at the moment we live in Iceland but are planning to move to Sweden in about 2 years, when I finish my study.
    Along with swedish I´m studying translation, and hopefully that will help me find a job in Sweden. I think it will make things a bit easier if you understand and speak the language in the country you are moving to.

  3. George Russell:

    Why, the normal reason I hear from many other invandrare is a Swedish spouse – so, now I try to learn Swedish faster than my children.

  4. Quim:

    Since I’m going to move to Sweden I think it’s a good idea to get to know the language and it’s culture. Hope it doesn’t take too long for me to get a good grasp of Swedish ;}

  5. Jack:

    All four of my grandparents emigrated to America from Sweden, beginning in the late 1800s. My dad spoke only Swedish until he began school, but never passed the language on to me. My mother’s family spoke mostly English in the home, except among the older generation. I love my heritage and study svenska on my own with varying degrees of success! You are fortunate, Marcus, to have been raised with both languages.

  6. Christina:

    Hej Marcus!
    Interesting story… especially as I am just about to work as a modersmålslärare as a native English speaker. I’ll help those children at school with one or both parents speaking English at home rather than Swedish.
    Until this August I had always lived in the UK, brought up by an English father and Swedish mother. Both parents spoke English at home (tyvärr.) My folks decided to move to Sweden to retire. Turns out, a few years on, that I have followed them here.
    Now learning the language, finding my roots and – so far – having a great time soaking up the landscape and culture (including fika) here in Sweden!
    Ha det så bra, Christina

  7. Jimmy:

    Jag lär mig svenska för närvarande därför att jag älskar de nordiska länderna i allmänhet. Jag började med norska och ett par av mina vänner från Norge föreslog att jag bör lära mig svenska också. Jag kan bestämt säga att jag är glad att jag har följt deras råd.

  8. Danielle:

    I have a passion for languages, and Swedish especially is a beautiful one 🙂
    Plus, there is a special someone from there whom I want to spend all my life with!

  9. Camille:

    When I was in sixth grade I did a country report. I was the next-to-last person to choose, and I sulkily chose Sweden. I didn’t know a thing about Sweden; I didn’t even have any idea of where it was. But as I studied and researched Sweden, I found that the country had an interesting culture, beautiful nature, and (I was delighted to learn about this) allemansrätten. Less than a year later I wanted to learn a second language, and I decided to choose Swedish.

    I’m really glad that I did! It’s a beautiful language…I’d love to visit or live in Sweden when I’m older. 🙂

  10. Madrid:

    Id like to find a job in sweden as spanish teacher.
    I have many swedes friends, and all they are great people, when I was in Stockholm this summer id love it, so i just wanna go back soon 🙂

  11. Claire:

    I went on Lund on exchange and has fallen in love with Sweden…. as well as with a Swede! 🙂 But I am not proficient in Swedish. Only know some simple words. 🙂

  12. Claire:

    Correction: have fallen

    Plus, it would be nice to know some Swedish cuz my bf’s parents don’t speak much English.

  13. Isa:

    My grand dad was Swede and even though he passed away 20 years ago already, I have kept this interest and “attraction” for his home country..which is not mine.
    I even lived 2 years in Sweden. It was a great experience despite the fact that the Swedish people are so hard to get to know…

  14. gabriel:

    Together with thousands of others, I am a love refugee. Met my Swedish wife in Guatemala.

  15. david:

    Well, it started with some innocent hiking trips. Then an exchanges semester and I was hooked on Swedish nature, culture and society. So after finishing studies I decided that I want to live and work here and haven’t regret my decision even though it is just a bit more than a year.
    Swedish language is in large parts still a mystery to me even though I understand most of it now. I like the sound of it and solving mysteries is really fun since I my case you learn a lot about your own language as well.

  16. Michael:

    My great grandfather and great grandmother came from Sweden. Although, regrettably, the language was not passed on, the love of things Swedish was. Add to this an interest in linguistics/languages, and here I am! Some linguists say this is the “fourth generation” phenomenon. The first generation spoke the language and came to US. The second heard the language but parents encouraged them to speak English to fit in. The third generation was all English. Now the fourth generation turns back to the “roots” and tries, with the usual difficulty, to learn the language that is really its heritage!

  17. Amelie:

    As someone put it nicely on a comment above, I’m also a love refugee. The boyfriend is Swedish. We’re expecting our first child and I plan on speaking English with the kid while dad will speak Swedish. I was wondering if that might confuse the Little One, but you seem to get along pretty well in both languages, so your story really inspired me to stick with my original plan.

  18. Marcus Cederström:

    Very fun to read all of these everyone!

  19. Shae:

    At the age of 5 I saw the cover of an album with these 4 beautiful people in a very cool helicopter. All I knew was that they were swedish. At the age 12 I got Sweden as my country to research in geography class: the spelling of the highest mountain (Kebnekaise?!) was foreign & wonderful. By 22 I got a job in a Swedish company and was introduced to tall blonde people & viking drinking games. At 25 I went to Sweden and developed a taste for salt licorice, Pim Pim’s, Kex & etrid ericson elephants. I’ve been there 5 times and just got back from another month there. I’m an Australian of Italian descent & have no connection to the place. But I am in love: with the language, the scenery, seasons, music & the care with which Swedes seem to treat every part of their lives in a very pragmatic but beautifully conceived way. I also love crayfish and am partial to a sauna. I do believe if I could marry this country, I would.

  20. Efrutik:

    Good question. Now funny story is that I added this blog to follow b/c I was actually trying to add the Dutch one but it didn’t work. I tried a couple of times but since still it didn’t work I decided to keep this one still.

    Still I love languages. Especially those that I don’t speak it seems too. I also speak a couple and even if not by choice at first learning new cultures is a part of who I am. Hence I still follow the bog. And even though my Dutch bf and I have a funny saying about Sweden, we only joke of course, I really enjoy reading about the ins and outs of that country.

  21. Alastair Reid:

    I am learning Swedish because I want to be able to communicate with my wife’s grandaughter who lives near Gothenburg. She is being brought up hearing both Swedish and English from her parents. Dad speaks only English to her including reading bedtime stories in English. Mum does the same in Swedish. She certainly understands English but does not yet speak it – I am sure she will soon. At the moment we get a torrent of Swedish in mostly simple phrases that we can understand. She now has DVDs of Teletubbies in both English and Swedish!
    My wife and I will be buying a fritidshus soon in Sweden so that we can offer a babysitting refuge and so that we do not fall too far behind her granddaughter in Swedish!

  22. Erik NorCal:

    My son spent a year in Falun as an exchange student. Began checking Sweden out on the web and one thing lead to another now I read many blogs about life in Sweden listen to Sveriges radio. Sweden has become somewhat of a fantasy of mine to visit and explore. Would love the luxury of spending months in the country exploring the culture, people and the food. A couple of weeks would just be to short. I’m also interested in the Swedish fascination/obsession with light and dark. I wonder how the reality of Sweden will hold up to the Sweden of my mind.

  23. Helga Sigrún:

    My connection with Sweden is an interesting one. I was born outside of Sweden, but my mother is Swedish. When I was barely a year old, our family moved to Sweden for 5 years. That’s where I learned the majority of my Swedish.
    Unfortunately when we went back after those 5 years, I started school, learned French, English, those overpowered my Swedish and I noticed I didn’t use it anymore. Having an Icelandic father, English was also a language commonly used in our house since it was the one that my parents could communicate with each other easily in. So you don’t really want to know how bad my Swedish became..
    This is why I’ve been doing everything possible right now to get it back like it used to be. I am studying in university and I am planning to go on an exchange to Uppsala so that I can surround myself with everything Swedish for a good amount of time and really get a chance to use Swedish and ‘drown’ in the culture 🙂

  24. Marcus Cederström:

    more great comments everyone!

  25. Sylwia:

    To comment on your story first, what your parents did was impossible to work out. Small children easily learn many languages when they have one person work with one language. Or may people but one person speaks always a certain language. There were experiments when a kid knew even 6 languages when they had 6 people speaking just this one language to them.
    When you have a parent speaking to you two languages from the beginning…these kids will not learn the language as good as the 1 Swedish 1 English parent. It also depends on the difficulty of the language, but Swedish is easy in comparison to many other European languages.

    And to answer your question, I actually have nothing to do with Swedish. I am studying the Finnish Swedish, for practical reasons. Live in Swedish speaking area of Finland 🙂

  26. Marcus Cederström:

    very cool, thanks!

  27. Karin Hatch:

    My mom was born in Vasa, Finland, a Swedish community there. She came to Canada when she was 9. My grandmother (Momo, slang for mormor) always spoke Swedish and everyone one else spoke back in English. Now, many years later, I have connected with family from my grandmother’s side who are in Mariestad, Uppsala and Stockholm. I plan to go back to Sweden and to spend quite a bit of time there, perhaps in a little cottage on the ocean, and would like to be able to use the language which I do love to listen to.

  28. Marcus Cederström:

    very fun, good luck!