Monday, December 17, 2001

Laurel just asked why I find Swedish so difficult to learn, and how am I learning it.

I started responding then and there, but I realized the answer deserved more of a prominent spot in my little scheme of things here.

In typical Francis fashion, I start with the second question. So, Laurel, here is how I am learning Swedish:

First, I've taken three classes, of which the last one was an extra-intensive course over two weeks last summer. My last teacher was an excellent pedagogue - she normally teaches 10 year olds - and I not only learned a lot, I got over a major hurdle and became much more comfortable in conversation, although I have backslid over the last couple of months, to my great displeasure. But not enough displeasure to actually do something about it.

Of course I learn in other ways, too - watching the news and other television, reading the newspaper - Dagens Nyheter - I even read Det Osynliga Barnet (The Invisible Child), a book of children's stories by Tove Jansson, looking up every last damn word I didn't know.

But what makes it hard are three things: fear, pride and laziness.

Fear of sounding like a five-year-old child, of being misunderstood, of not being able to be myself with people - show my sense of humor, for instance. I fear losing myself somehow, and I fear misunderstanding other people. I fear that I am too old to be learning a second language.

The pride, well, I guess the fear and pride are more or less the same thing. I foolishly want my Swedish to be perfect, which it will never be. Oh, I am proud that I can pronounce the difficult sounds, the -sj- and -stj- and -sk- and -skj- properly, and my pure vowels and soft -r- don't give away that I am American. At least not most of the time. But it isn't nearly enough.

The laziness, well, it's easy to get along with English here, people always want to practice their English and in Stockholm, their English is overwhelmingly excellent (it's hard not to compare my Swedish to everyone's English, and the comparison is so unflattering on my part that it hurts). The language at my company is English, and I speak English at home with my husband, which isn't likely to change soon because it is our language, though we do have some embarrassing Swedish endearments that I'm not going to go into here. And, in fact, I think part of my charm to him is that I do speak English - it's part of what he loves about me.

It's not all pain and suffering and failure, though. I think what I need now is another conversation class, which I expect will get me past another hurdle and truly start to try and speak Swedish every chance I get. I've already begun the switch at work - half of my meetings are now in Swedish - and I expect that'll take another six months or so to feel truly comfortable with it at the office.

I just wish I weren't ashamed of it, that I didn't feel like it is a terrible shortcoming and a failure. And I wish I weren't so annoyingly full of self-pity.

So, there you have it. I'm sure I've forgotten something, and if I remember it, I'll be sure to let you know, don't you worry.

- by Francis S.

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