Förlåt, min svenska är inte så bra…

The title of this post is Swedish for “Sorry, my Swedish isn’t that good.” This is something that I repeat constantly. Here’s why.

It will be hard for this to sound like anything other than woefully self-pitying and bitter, but this is something that has been bothering me for a while. I’ve posted about this on Facebook so this may be a bit of repetition for some of you.

I’m pretty embarrassed about the fact that even after living in Sweden for nearly six years, I still struggle with the language. My level of listening comprehension is fairly high, but carrying on a decent conversation is still difficult for me. It’s. Just. Really. Hard. I’m reminded of my shortcomings on a daily basis because all of the meetings and conferences at work are held exclusively in Swedish, and many of my Swedish colleagues speak to me only in Swedish. Fair enough, even though this is an international school that employs several teachers whose Swedish ability is mediocre at best. This uncompromising policy has really improved my Swedish immensely in the last two years.

The problem (if one could even consider it a problem) is that it’s really not essential to know Swedish to live in Sweden. Just about everyone here speaks English to some degree, and it’s usually easier to just use English with a Swede than to struggle to communicate in the native language. Most Swedes are delighted to meet a native English speaker and relish the opportunity to show off their English skills. Because of this it’s easy to become lackadaisical in learning Swedish. Therefore, English speakers tend not make any real effort to learn the language until they end up in a situation where they really need to know it.

Despite my pitiful but gradually improving ability, I must acknowledge that my colleagues have been wonderfully patient and supportive. Indeed, most teachers are.

Unfortunately, the people who make me feel really stupid are certain members of Swedish boyfriend’s family. My listening ability is actually quite good (as previously mentioned), but many of them speak way too fast. Others have the heavy guttural Gothenburg accent, which makes it hard to understand them. When they speak to me I might not give an immediate response because my brain is still trying to process what I just heard. I must have pretty confused look on my face during this pause. Then they try yelling the same thing to me thinking that’s somehow going to help. It usually just confuses and flusters me even more. When that doesn’t work they try talking to me in that patronizing “I’ve told you a thousand times” way that an adult talks to a child. It’s unpleasant.

What’s even worse is when I make a mistake and get ridiculed for it. The other day I was talking to Tobbe’s grandmother and I mispronounced one word. We were talking about his sister and what a talented photographer she is. “Hon har mycket talang” (She has a lot of talent) I said. But I had mispronounced the word ‘talang’ as ‘talång’ (pronounced ‘Ta LONG’) She laughed. And laughed. And laughed. Apparently she didn’t notice that I wasn’t laughing with her. I was mortified. Really humiliated. Being laughed at in a ridiculing way is one of the things I hate the most. I wanted to crawl into a hole in the ground and die.

Not being able to speak the language well is utterly frustrating for me because I’m a perfectionist. I really hate having to do something knowing it’s going to be a half-ass effort. Learning to speak a new language is hard enough without someone laughing at you whenever you make a mistake. I have so little confidence in my ability. Therefore, whenever I’m about to speak Swedish to someone I’ve just met, I have to apologize for the awfulness of it first. Then at least they’ve been forewarned and hopefully won’t be insulted by my hopeless but unintentional butchering of their precious language.