One of the most interesting things about being in Sweden is learning the language. My school has been closed and I go to New York the day after it opens, which means no Swedish classes for me for 6 weeks. I will have to study more and use the language on my own. Since this is a big concern of mine and is on my mind, I decided to go through my notes and see what I can share about what I’ve learned so far.
Something people should know about Swedish is that it a very particular and specific language, there are a lot of details, rules, and reasons that really make learning the language difficult but interesting. A lot of things cannot simply be translated. Many phrases or words are just said differently. There are words in both languages that simply don’t exist in the other. Letting go of needing to “translate” instead of just learning is the first step.
When I tried to say “We will see” in Swedish as “Vi ska se” My husband corrected me: “vi får se.” Which technically means: “We receive sight.”
And when I tried to tell me friend that “I’ll find out” as “Ja ska hitta ut” She corrected me: “Jag ska ta reda” Which word for word translates to “I will take clarity”
Despite the words being different and seeming odd to an English speaker- the meanings are the same.
“He is kissing his wife” Sounds like a straight forward sentence in English – in Swedish they add a question, ‘Whose wife?”
His OWN wife, or his wife (that guy over there). Suddenly the sentence is scandalous!
Swedish clears this up by using more possessive language than English.
“Han kysser sin fru” = He is kissing his own wife.
“Han kysser hans fru” = He is kissing the wife of that other guy.
This applies everywhere – if an action is being done to someone, you have to be careful to be specific. Usually the confusion is more humorous than scandalous like accidentally saying your friend is brushing someone else’s teeth instead of her own, or your husband is shaving someone else’s beard instead of his own.
When translating “Grandfather” and “Grandmother” to Swedish, you would need more information.
Nothing can be lost or confused when you talk about your grandparents in Swedish- your grandfather is either your mothers father or your fathers father. Your grandmother is either your mothers mother or your fathers mother.
“Morfar, Farfar, Mormor, Farmor.”
The language leaves no questions, which sometimes come up in English – “On your mothers side or your fathers side?” It’s already in the name.
To think, to think. or to THINK?
In English we would say the following sentences:
“I think we should go on vacation” (Opinion)
“I think it will rain tomorrow” (Belief)
“I was thinking of you” (Thought)
In Swedish you specify the intent of the word “think,” instead of it being implied.
“Jag tycker att vi ska åka på semester” (It is my opinion that we should go on vacation)
“Jag tror att det kommer regna i morgon” (I believe it will rain tomorrow)
“Jag tänker på dig” (I was thinking of you)
These three different terms were confusing and easy to mix up at first, but it is now easy to make the connections and understand the why and when. It fills in gaps I didn’t know were there.
“I will miss you!” and “You will be fine!” are perfectly normal sentiments in English, but in Swedish you must keep in mind that you don’t actually know if you will miss someone or if they will be fine. It is a feeling or state of being in the future that you can not control.
“Will” in Swedish = Ska. But that word is not used in this context as myself and the rest of my class assumed.
Instead “kommer att” is used to portray the future: “I am going to miss you” “You are going to be better”
“Jag kommer att sakna dig!” “Du kommer att bli bra”
“I live with my husband” “I am shopping with her” “I have an appointment with the doctor”
While in English the word “with” can be used for all of these situations, in Swedish these sentences would be treated differently.
Most commonly “with” = med. But not always. If the situation is “there” and not “here” and/or “now” then the word used is “hos.” (I haven’t much experience with this, does anyone have a better explanation?)
“Jag bor med min man” “Jag handlar med henne” “Jag har en tid hos läkaren”
“I am here” “I drove here” “He is there” “We are walking there”
Location, location, location. NOT. Its not only where you are but where you are GOING. “Here” and “there” are not so simple in Swedish. If mode of travel is involved, the word changes from “här” and “där” to “hit” and “dit.”
“Jag är här” “Jag körde hit” “Han är där” “Vi går dit”
“He plays the piano” “She plays soccer” “The kids are playing in the sandbox”
In Swedish toddlers/young children do not “play” the same way one plays an instrument or a sport.
The common word for play in Swedish is “Spelar” but when you talk about young children playing, they specifically “Leker.” It’s a different type of playing.
“Han spelar piano” “Hon spelar fotboll”, “Barnen leker i sandlådan”
Every language has its nuances, it doesn’t make a language better or worse- just more complex to learn. When I point these things out to a native Swedish speaker the response is often a shrug, “I don’t know,” or “I never noticed or thought about it” We don’t reflect upon our own language, it is what it is. Learning Swedish makes me see how specific it is compared to English, but perhaps English is unspecific compared to many languages.
Any other examples of a language being very specific? Any corrections or further explanations to the ones I listed?