Something Swedish


Teaching English in Sweden

2013-04-03 08.31.44This month I was hired by Folkuniversitetet to teach an English class. Folkuniveritetet (The Peoples University) is an adult education foundation with over 100 locations all throughout Sweden. They offer tons of classes ranging from psychology to photography, but are probably best known for their language courses. The classes aren’t free like most education in Sweden, but they are more convenient. It’s specifically a great place to learn Swedish if you don’t have a personnummer and aren’t qualified to go to SFI.

I applied to Folkuniversitetet a few months ago, and while they were interested in having me onboard, my classes didn’t get any student sign ups. This time around they had a class with no teacher and called me. I was offered two other classes, but neither worked out for other reasons, but its nice to have my foot in the door and be requested.

My class is a 90 minute conversational English class three times a week and it has been a blast! I love helping people improve their English and seeing my students build confidence. It’s fun creating lesson plans and coming up with fun and interactive ways to use the English language. It’s very different teaching adults, but I am enjoying it just as much as teaching kids.

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I’ve decided to take my TESOLS certificate class this year and continue my education towards a pedagogy degree in January, which means a lot more Swedish studies this year so that I am on a High School level. Right now, it feels great to be teaching and putting my English degree to use. Hopefully I will get more classes, or even a job at a school eventually.

Another part of me is torn. It feels a bit like cheating to be working in English instead of Swedish. I want to use my Swedish skills and continue to improve them. Right now I appreciate the balance between teaching English, having a language internship at a restaurant, and substituting at a preschool all in Swedish.

All this temp work is coming to an end soon though, so we will see where life takes me! All I can say is moving to a new country means starting over again, being sent back to a 5th grade learning level, working hard to prove yourself, being busy studying your way up to an understandable level, trying new things, never turning down an opportunity, not being over qualified for anything, needing to make a lot of connections, enjoying new experiences, and going with the flow. Oh, and holding your thumbs. (Swedish way of saying crossing your fingers)


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 :


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?


First Four Days: “Första Fyra Dagarna”

The day after my interview a classroom of ten year olds looked at me with curiosity and hesitation. I felt a bit like something brought in for show and tell (Does that exist in Sweden?). Finally they started asking questions and telling me about what they like to do. Some were better at English than others, some were braver or more excited, some would shy away and giggle.

The first two days I helped with math and geography, walking around and asking if anyone needed help, making sure they were doing their work, and starting small conversations in English. I didn’t force anyone to speak with me if they were uncomfortable, and sure enough, eventually they wanted to try.

I asked a group of boys who were ‘working’ together if they can explain the assignment to me, because I can’t read Swedish and don’t understand. They were excited to be the teachers, forgetting that they were hesitant to speak English. We practiced our English while learning about the geography of Sweden.

When a student was scared to speak in English I would try in Swedish, which made them relax, “I like when you talk Swedish, you sound funny.” It gave them the courage to ‘sound funny’ in English. Continue reading


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.


Majblomman & A Step Forward

Today I decided to be a little bit braver.

Every April  in Sweden you will see or be approached by children between 10 and 13 years old selling Majblomman. For the past couple of weeks I avoided them, not understanding what they are saying or selling and not knowing how to respond. Today after passing a few girls by with the quick “Nej, tack,” I decided to go back and talk to them- in Swedish. I know what to say and how to say it, I need to start speaking. And who else is better to practice with than children?

“Hej, min svenska är inte så bra och jag förstår inte vad du gör. Kan du förklara för mig?” Hi, my Swedish is not so good and I don’t understand what you are doing. Can you explain for me? The girl froze and looked at me for a few seconds, I assume not knowing how to respond. Then I asked “Talar du Engelska?” to which she quickly looked at the second girl who ran to ask the third girl for help. At first I thought maybe my Swedish was so bad that they couldn’t understand a thing, but it was just that the third girl spoke the best English.

She explained that they are selling May flowers and that the money goes to children in Africa that have nothing, “As you can see there are many of us selling them.” I was blown away by her English, “Din engelska är jatte bra!” Your English is very good! I tried to respond to her in Swedish as much as I could, while she continued in English. She asked if I was from England and if I am visiting or if I live here. “Jag kommer från New York och jag bor i halmstad nu.I am from New York and I live in Halmstad now. I asked her how much a Majblomma is and bought one for 30 kr. There are a few different types available, ranging from a simple single flower pin for 10 kr to a large patch for 50 kr, showcased in a pouch the kids carry with some information and prices.

The Queen buys the year’s first Mayflower pin: /thequeenbuystheyearsfirstmayflowerpin. 5.4a3da1313658e148c3518.html

I wish I snapped  a photo of the three girls I bought from, they were so adorable and helpful.

Majblomman has been sold in Sweden since 1907, it is one of the worlds oldest children’s charities originating in Goteborg as a foundation where children could help children. Thought up by Beda Hallberg, the effort started off as charity towards children with tuberculosis, its success spread the cause to 17 other countries by 1932. Nowadays only Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Estonia still participate in selling May flowers, whose cause has adapted over the years to help support children in need. Right now the majblomman being sold are an effort to tackle poverty. The idea of majblomman was so that everyone has an opportunity to help, with a price so low that anyone could buy a flower. For a woman to try to sell  over 100,00 paper flower pins for 10 cents each (Remember this is 1907) was very controversial, even more so when that goal was exceeded and 139,000 were sold. Beda Hallberg was the first woman nominated by the Goteborg City Council election in 1912. The majblomman purchased today is not the same as from 1907, or any other year; every year the design for the Majblomman changes color and sometimes flower type (My favorites are from 1907-1922). The designs can be voted on by the public for next year here.

If you see children trying to sell you something from a little pouch in the month of April, know that it is for a good cause and to not hesitate because they are only collecting donations for two weeks. Not only does the money go towards a good cause but it is also an effort to get the children involved.

Min Majblomma:

I’m excited to have a memento to remember this small interaction in Swedish while contributing to a good cause and learning about an amazing woman who created such a long lasting charity that is now a staple of a Swedish April. It really goes to show that something small like making an effort and talking to a child for a few minutes makes a huge difference, I felt more comfortable and able – which is a long way from two months ago.


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.