Something Swedish


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Swedish Scrabble – Alfapet

Whenever I teach an English course I always suggest different ways to practice the second language casually at home:

1) Read books you have read before in your own language
2) Read magazines or blogs about topics you’re interested in
3) Read or watch the news in your second language
4) Watch TV or movies with subtitles
5) Listen to music or audio books
6) Play games

Since I’ve moved to Sweden and started learning Swedish I have tried to integrate the language into my day to day life by doing as many of these things as possible. I especially like to use my Swedish while playing games – it makes language learning more fun, social and casual:
(As a sidenote: board games in Sweden are way more expensive than in the U.S., 300-500kr in stores, depending on the game)
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I’ve always enjoyed Scrabble, so I figured: What better way to work on my vocabulary than playing scrabble in Swedish? After being here for 2 years and refusing to pay 400kr for a board game that I’ve bought for 100kr in the past, I finally found one at a fleamarket for 40kr. Score!
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Now, Scrabble does come in Swedish scrabble as well, but more popular is an almost identical game called Alfapet. (The Swedish spelling of “Alphabet” is actually “Alfabet”)
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As you can see, the board and premise are exactly the same, but there are a few differences:
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In Afapet, not only do you try to build on tiles that give you bonus points, but you try to avoid tiles that take away points. (Note the dark blue tiles)
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Naturally, there are a few new tiles due to the different letters in Swedish. I was surprised that there weren’t more of these, as they are commonly used letters in Swedish.
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Like in Scrabble there are blank tiles, that can be used as any letter without collecting value.
Now it gets interesting, as these next tiles don’t exist in Scrabble at all:

The black tiles represent stops. Once you use this tile you can spell a completely unconnected word next to or after another word: no common letters needed.

The arrows make it possible to turn your word another direction, making space constraints a thing of the past. This also allows you to turn your word so that you can collect bonus tiles that normally wouldn’t align.
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We played for the first time last week, and it was a lot of fun. We initially agreed to use both English and Swedish words, so that I would have a fighting chance, but we played 95% Swedish words, anyway. It was a really great way to practice my Swedish – and I thought this variant of Scrabble was a lot of fun.


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Swedish Keyboards, Letters, and Words

For the past year I’ve been stubbornly hanging onto my laptop not wanting to switch to the scary Swedish keyboard.  A lot of the keys are in different places and there’s new letters and symbols that my fingers and eyes are just not used to! Once I get over accidentally typing _ instead of ?, ” instead of @, + instead of -, and åöä instead of whatever keys are normally there  – it’s actually been great!!

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Lets compare Ö (Oh, that’s where the colon button was…let’s try again :

keyboards

After using my Swedish computer for just a day I can tell that it’s going to improve my Swedish a lot! First of all, programs and websites are in Swedish now including Microsoft Word – which means that my spelling mistakes are getting pointed out instead of me making the same mistakes time and time again.

Until now whenever I typed Swedish I would simply leave out the öäå because they were too hard to copy and paste into my sentences. For a long time I didn’t realize it made such a big different and thought Well, they are just ‘a’ and ‘o’ with accents, people will understand what I mean.”

My husband tirelessly corrects me and reminds me that they are actually letters and not ‘ ‘A’ with two dots,‘ ‘O’ with two dots,‘ and ‘A’ with the bubble.

Now that I have this new keyboard and can start saying what I actually mean to say in Swedish it makes a huge difference.

Skipping the Swedish letters? This is what you can be saying (more or less):

Jag väntar i kön = I’m waiting in the queue
Jag vantar i kon = I gloves in the cow

Jag gillar räka = I like shrimp
Jag gillar raka = I like straight

Ska vi käka? = Shall we eat?
Ska vi kaka? = Shall we cookie?

Min får är mjuk = My sheep is fluffy
Min far ar mjuk = My father is fluffy

Hon behöver båda = She needs both
Hon behover bada = She needs to bathe

Receptet kräver kräm = The recipe requires cream
Receptet kraver kram = The recipe requires hug

Vill du höra nyheten? = Do you want to hear the news?
Vill du hora nyheten? = Do you want to whore the news?

med hela min själ = with my whole soul
med hela min sjal = with my whole scarf

Var testet svårt? = Was the test difficult?
Var testet svart? = Was the test black?

Jag tar ett tåg =I’m taking a train
Jag tar ett tag = I’m taking a while

Köpt du en båt!? = You bought a boat!?
Köpt du en bat!? = You bought a bat!?

Can anyone help me out and think of some more funny or awkward sentences when you skip the accents?


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Awkward & Offensive Language Mishaps # 3

Language is all I think about nowadays. People say that in the beginning you learn the basics quickly, but then you plateau for a few months, which feels like an eternity of not absorbing a single thing, but then after that halting rough patch, you start picking it up faster and more fluently. I feel like I’m finally there – gaining more insight, understanding more, being more comfortable speaking, while learning more grammar and vocabulary every day.

With this progress comes more and more mistakes:

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  • When you want someone to be quiet, you would say: “Tyst!” Instead I told my husband, “Tysk!”  – I called him a “German!
  • While cooking one day I was excited to use a new vocabulary word that I thought meant to pull something apart, to separate it. So, I tried to ask my husband if he can cut up the whole roasted chicken: “Kan du skilja for mig?” Instead of asking if he can divide it for me, I asked if he could divorce me. Make sure you understand new words!
  • While eating fish sticks, my husband pointed out that they call it “Fish fingers.” Taking this literally, I went into a supermarket and asked someone “Vet du var jag kan hitta sås for fisk fingrar?” Do you know where I can find sauce for fish fingers? Met by an odd look and a shake of the head, I thought nothing of it. The actual name for fish sticks is “Fisk pinne,” meaning… fish sticks.  (Apparently he meant they call it fish fingers when they learn it in British English, comparing the variation of English names- not in Swedish.)

  • Trying to learn all of the many ways you can use “slå” [roll dice, mow the lawn, hit, beat, knock on, bang on, ring...], I wanted to tell my husband to hit on me, as in flirt. This doesn’t translate too well; “slå på mig” is literately “beat me.” Whoops, nevermind.

Sometimes these language mistakes leak into and combining with my English vocabulary. I now make mistakes like:

  • The capital of a country is called “huvudstan” – translating to head city. Combining Swedish into my English I said Athens is the “Head capital” of Greece.
  • A nipple is called a “bröstvårtan” – translating to breast wart, (*giggle*) resulting in me saying, “Nipple wart.” Lovely.

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Enjoy past blunders:
Awkward & Offensive Language Mishaps #2
Awkward & Offensive Language Mishaps #1


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Awkward & Offensive Language Mishap # 2

Not as offensive or awkward as #1, but too many mishaps in one week to ignore!

I’ve come to a language crossroad. This week I have been tongue tied and confused, making funny mistake after mistake in both Swedish and English. It feels like a speed bump, having learned so much so quickly, maybe I am at my brains temporary capacity.

  • So, while reading a Swedish children’s book out loud in English,I came across the word bajspåsar and kept nonchalantly reading it as “Blueberry pie.” While blåbärspaj is a tasty treat, “bajspåsar is certainly the opposite. If you read this post you will remember that “Bajs” means poop. The word that I was translating out loud meant poop-bag … as in the kind you bring with you when you  walk a dog. “When I bring my dog for a walk I make sure to have a blueberry pie in my pocket” doesn’t make sense but my brain really couldn’t understand poop-bag, two words I know but have never combined. I might never be able to order a blåbärspaj from a cafe again.

  • In class we were discussing clothing and whether it fits or not. The teacher asked “Är dina skor för stora” which I understood as “Är dina skor förstår?” In text these look so different but in speech they sound very similar. Instead of hearing, “Are your shoes too big?” I could have sworn my teacher was asking “Are your shoes understanding?”
  • As a friend was asking for a cigarette lighter in Swedish I misunderstood and thought she asked for teeth, which obviously boggled my mind. “kan jag ha tändaren” and “kan jag ha tänderna” are just too similar for me to ignore or understand, so after a stifled giggle I asked how to say lighter in Swedish and pointed out how similar the words are. If I was working as a dental assistant in Sweden I would certainly be talking about lighters all day.

Many people have jokingly warned me to not forget my English while I learn Swedish. Well, it seems that it has begun.

  • My husband and I hi-five a lot… we just like to, okay? The other day I turned to him and blurted out “Give me a hand-slap!!” Apparently my brain couldn’t manage the word “hi-five.” Not only did I call it a hand slap (Which I think is very Swedish by the way, joining two descriptive words to make a new word), I somehow managed to add a German twist to it and said “hand SCHLAPP.” Yep, there goes my English- right out de window.
  • Two days later I was trying to tell my husband that I couldn’t hear him because I had my ear plugs in. Except I called them ear muffins. Yep.

Meanwhile I found my two new favorite Swedish words that make me laugh whenever I think or hear them.

  • Ett handfat  means a bathroom sink, which translates roughly to “hand bowl” but when I see the word I can’t help but to imagine “hand fat,” as if all the disgusting fat from your hands can be washed away, which is just such a perfectly grotesque image for a sink that it made me laugh in class.
  • En sköldpadda is a turtle, which literally means “shield toad.” Now I think of turtle shells as shields and turtles as warrior toads. Maybe the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are actually toads? Nothing awkward or offensive about that, but it has just stuck with me.

Too many words swimming around in this brain, but so many more to learn- I think this is going to get much messier very soon.

Illustrations made by a bored Megalagom.


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Right Word, Wrong Meaning.

Last summer I noticed a joyfully jibber-jabbering toddler atop his  fathers shoulders up above the crowd in an amusement park. Amongst his noises he kept repeating “Bye-bye” and to me it seemed like the opening and closing of his tiny fist was a wave. I giggled and exclaimed how cute it was that the baby was saying bye-bye to everyone who passed, not really thinking it’s unlikely he would be picking up English at 2 or 3 years old. Through fits of laughter my husband explained that “Bajs bajs” is common child speak for “poop,” the child was announcing to the world that he needed to, or already had pooped and there I was thinking it was adorable.

When I  misunderstand Swedish because I jump to a familiar meaning too quickly, this is the scene that always pops into mind.

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From google images.

The most popular three words that are recognized for being spelled like English words are Sex, Slut, and Fart. But it’s not what you think, really.

It’s likely you will see sex everywhere in Sweden, but don’t blush- it’s just the number six.

Everyone has their own fart, it’s nothing to be ashamed of- we all move at own speed, or pace.

Every Swedish story has a slut – an ending.

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And so I decided to hunt for more words that might cause confusion:

  • When a family talks about their barn it doesn’t mean they own a farm animals – they have children.
  • Being stung by a bi is more literal than being hurt by a person interested in both sexes – bee stings can be lethal.
  • When buying from the fruit stand and a sign saysask it doesn’t mean that you can bargain for the price- it is the price per case or pack.
  • If someone asks you if  you want a gift, be careful- they are either offering you a marriage or poison.
  • Being invited to the bio isn’t as odd as it seems. You aren’t being asked to use the bathroom, or for your autobiography- Movie theaters are a fun source of entertainment!
  • You’ll hear a lot of chatter about bras, but its not lingerie – bra means good.
  • Don’t ask your chef to make food for you – it’s your boss.
  • Tack!” isn’t a warning that your about to sit on something sharp – it means thank you.
  • Being full in Sweden doesn’t mean that you’ve had too much to eat – it’s having too much to drink, being drunk.
  • When someone says they are going to spy on you don’t be nervous – but do move out of the way because they are about to vomit.
  • Bland is not boring – it means mix.
  • When someone tells you that they go to gymnasium, it doesn’t mean that they play sports or games all day- they attend high school.
  • Wiping your feet on a mat isn’t as polite as it sounds- no one likes dirt on their food.
  • If your friends sign an email sending you lots of puss don’t be grossed out- they are sending you kisses.
  • And when you think they’ve started to called them kisses but messed up and said kissa, they are actually talking about taking a piss.

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Surprisingly a lot of the words that look the same in English are actually the same. Skimming through a pocket dictionary, this is about 1/3 of the words spelled identical to English but the others had the same meaning, and then add another bunch that were spelled close enough to be recognizable. Sometimes the spelling is off just because the language, alphabet, and pronunciation is different- many C’s are K’s, I’s and Y’s are mixed up, W’s and Q’s are rare, and ending E’s disappear. Often when I can’t think of a word for something in Swedish it’s because the word is too similar to English and being obvious, I overlook it.

But beware of some- this list is just the beginning, can anyone think of any others?


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First Two Days: “Första Två Dagarna”

After months of talking about it, thinking about it, anxiously waiting and wishing it would begin- my SFI classes finally started this week. I’ve been excited and counting the days until I would be officially learning Swedish, but once the letter arrived in the mail … I panicked.

Suddenly I was nervous and stressed with an uncomfortable amount of anxiety. As quickly as it hit me – it disappeared. Once I got to the school and saw some of my classmates my heart was beating at a normal pace again and I wondered what I was so freaked out about. I’ve always enjoyed school, and have missed it the past three years- now I am finally back in a class room learning. I’ve been sitting at home day after day with nothing substantial to do for four months – now I finally have a schedule. I am now able to socialize more and most importantly I am learning Swedish.

We have two teachers who teach on different days, they have very different personalities so the change will be refreshing. The class is taught 95% in Swedish, only switching to English when something is crucial to understand or someone asks a question or says, “Jag förstår inte” - I don’t understand. I understand about 90% of what the teachers say (80% actually and 20% through context), it’s nice having someone who understands the limitations, knows the right speed to talk and which words we would grasp. It is a beginners class but you can tell that almost everyone has studied before. There are about 20 people in the class, all around 20 – 35 years old. For these first two days there was a lot of “presentera sig” – introducing ourselves (especially because of the two teachers) in Svenska of course.

Jag heter Meghan.
Jag kommer från U.S.A.
Jag talar Engelska
Jag bor i Halmstad.
Jag har bott här i 4 månader.
Jar är gift.
Nej, jag här inga barn.

We also practiced with the other students, both asking and answering these questions. It’s nice to be able to practice speaking and pronunciation, especially with people who are at the same level as  you. Most people have been in Sweden for a 4-6 months, the longest being a year and the shortest being one month. Some people are more advanced than others, some just pick it up faster. Most people in the class are bilingual or better, so learning another language is not as difficult. There are people from Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Dominican Republic, Peru, China, England, New Zealand, England, and a few others – I’m the only one from the States. So far everyone is social and friendly, which is a relief.

It’s only the second day so we are doing basics like the alphabet, sounds, numbers etc. The most important part for me is practicing speaking and pronouncing since it is a big mental road block for me.

A few interesting things about the Swedish alphabet:

W and V are basically the same letter – They both have the “V” sound.

G and K are “special” in that the G sounds like a soft “je” [y]  and the K sounds like a “sh” when they are followed by certain vowels.

“rs” combination in a word sounds like ‘sh”

There are basically no words in Swedish that begin with “Q” it is really only used in names. Some words used to start with Q back in the day such as”kvinna” which means woman, used to be “qvinna.”

There is a lot of emphasis on how your mouth is shaped to get the right sounds – this was pretty funny to watch the teacher repeat and do as a class.

The word for the relationship status of “sambo” is from “Vi bor tillsammans, “We live together”

It wasn’t all letters and sounds – Some useful words we learned to fill in for always saying “ja” or “nej”:

gärna – Yes, very much, of course, would be happy to
jaså – Really
jaha – Oh well, aha, oh yea?
javisst – Yes, for sure
tyvärr – No, sorry, unfortunately, sadly

The translations are lose because it is more of a sentiment behind each.

So, after this week I will hopefully adjust to my schedule – get up earlier, eat my meals earlier, get things done before 11 am instead of after 3. Go food shopping after school at 4 instead of at 1 or 2. Nap after 5 instead of sleeping until 10. I won’t be around for phone calls I normally get between the hours of 11:45 and 4:30. Soon I’ll get adjusted and won’t be as tired so things will be back on track. We get a 20 minute break and the class ends 40 minutes earlier than is listed – so it will be easy peasy! Once I’m ready I will start trying to look for work and see what I can do with school smack in the middle of the day. For now I am happy with finally getting started with SFI!


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Fun Swedish Idioms: Kul Svenska Idiom

Idioms are not only phrases or figures of speech, but they are cultural references. There are over 25,000 idioms in the English language (According to Wikipedia). Just like accents or dialects in a language idioms are not only different cross culture but even cross region. Sort of like the informal slang of a language, idioms are used to become more comfortable and confident in a new language or place. It is also the most likely part of language to be misunderstood, not only because of metaphoric references but because these phrases do not translate well. This results in some funny and interesting figures of speech that I want to share with you all. Add any that I missed and enjoy!

First, some idioms that we can relate to, the meanings are the same:

  • To Kick the Bucket: Trilla av pinnen = “To fall off the stick”
  • Easy as Pie: Lätt som en plätt = “Easy as pancake”
  • To have luck on your side: Ha millimetrarna på sin sida =“to have millimeters on your side”
  • To keep your fingers crossed: Hålla tummarna = “to hold your thumbs”
  • Heard it through the Grapevine: Höra via djungeltrumman = “Heard it though the jungle drum”
  • I’m giving you gold: Kasta pärlor för svin = “To cast pearls before swine”
  • Written like chicken scratch: Kråkfötter = “Crows feet”
  • To run for it: Lägga benen på ryggen = “To lay the legs on the back”
  • All bark and no bite: Mycket snack och lite verkstad = “Lots of talk and no shop”
  • To go too far: Måla fan på väggen = “To paint the devil on the wall”
  • To knock on wood: Ta i trä = “To touch wood”
  • To turn a blind eye: Se genom fingrarna= “To see through the fingers”
  • Now you’ve done it!: Skita i det blåa skåpet = “To shit in the blue locker”
  • To kill two birds with one stone: Slå två flugor i en smäll = “To hit two flies with one slap”
  • All talk: Stor i orden = “Big in the words”
  • Raining cats and dogs: Stå som spön i backen = “Stand like whips in the ground”
  • Speak of  the Devil: Tala om trollen = “Speak of the trolls”
  • To smell a rat: Ana ugglor i mossen = “To sense owls in the marsh”
  • Have a bone to pick: Ha en gås oplockad = “Have a goose to pluck”
  • To know like the back of one’s hand: Känna som sin egen ficka = “Know like one’s pocket”
  • The straw that broke the camels back: Droppen som fick bägaren att rinna över = “The drip that caused the beaker to overflow”
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play:  När Katten är Borta Dansar Råttorna på Bordet  = “When the cat’s away dancing rats on the table”

Now to some Swedish idioms we don’t have equivalents for:

  • Glida in på en räkmacka: “To slide in on a shrimp sandwich” = Refers to someone who has it easy
  • Ingen ko på isen: “No cow on the ice” = No stress or danger
  • Ha en räv bakom örat: “To have a fox behind the ear” = To be cunning
  • Göra en höna av en fjäder: “To make a hen out of a feather” = To exaggerate
  • Lägga en pizza: “To lay down the pizza” = To vomit
  • Låtsas som att det regnar: “Pretend as if it is raining” =  To act innocently, inconspicuously
  • Skilja agnarna från vetet: “Separate the wheat from the chaff” = To distinguish good from the bad
  • Falla mellan två stolar: “To fall between the chairs” = When two authorities can’t cooperate, someone will be forgotten by the both.
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