This morning I attended the first of ten 2.5-hour Swedish language classes at Stockholm’s Medborgarskolan. I’m not a fan of school, but I have dedicated myself to becoming proficient in using and understanding the Swedish language, so taking classes is obviously the most efficient way to speed up that process.
Prior to registering for the class, I took a placement test to evaluate which level I should start in. I know a lot of Swedish words and I can put basic sentences together, but more often than not, I’m using the wrong case, verb form, or gender, or just pronouncing everything so poorly that what I’m saying is indecipherable. If I’m just listening to people talk, I think I’m truly taking in maybe 10% of what’s being said.
I knew I shouldn’t be in a class with people who haven’t started learning Swedish yet, but my test score placed me farther along in the courses than I expect to be. I’m at the point where I can follow conversation topics and answer simple questions, but I know I am a long way from being able to confidently say, “I speak Swedish.”
The first few minutes of the class I felt like I was in way over my head. The group of students – all adults – has apparently been studying together before this particular course began. They all know each other and the teacher. He is a cool, older guy who is typically Swedish: white hair, glasses, sweater, super friendly. After a half hour or so, I was more comfortable with being in this level. I noticed that although the other students knew things I didn’t, I also knew things they didn’t.
The class is small with only six students. Four are from Germany and one is from Malta. It was awesome to hear them speaking German before the class started and when explaining things to each other. Maybe I can say that I speak very basic German. I’m not able to have a discussion about economics in German, but I certainly can have a friendly conversation about everyday things. More than a few times, I have had to use German in situations in other countries when it was the only option and I’ve been impressed with myself.
Since I started learning Swedish, I’ve felt the ease of thinking and composing sentences in German slipping away. I’ve been afraid of that. When I try to start writing something in German, as I did with an email to my friend Cornelia yesterday, it quickly slips into Swedish. Regrettably, I ended up keeping the message short and typing it in English.
This morning when I heard my fellow students speaking German, I realized that I’m probably not really losing my ability in German. I understood a lot of what they were saying. The German language is still in my head somewhere and it can come back when it needs to. Hearing it again was like seeing an old friend. I would say that it’s similar the feeling I get if I hear someone speaking English on the sidewalk or in a restaurant, but that happens so much it’s not particularly unusual.
My German is still much better than my Swedish. It comes to me more naturally once it gets going. Of course, that’s because first real class in German was over twenty years ago and I’ve had lots of informal training and practice during those decades, whereas all of my training in Swedish has been informal and self-administered before this morning.
While I may not be losing my German, something I most definitely have lost is knowing anything about substantive case, objects, adverbs, and all that stuff. Jesus, I don’t even know that stuff in English, which I suppose I have to relearn if I expect to understand it in Swedish. Ouch, my poor head.
The class meets twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, for five weeks. I think it’s going to be incredibly beneficial. There are more advanced classes that follow, if I can afford them when that time comes. If I eventually get a proper job with a Swedish company, language classes are free and provided by the government. That could be nice, though I’ve heard those classes are sometimes not as focused as Medborgarskolan. Those classes are populated with the general immigrant public and I can see where that might not allow for the small class size and direct attention it seems like I’ll be enjoying. My first impression is that Old Timey Tower’s return to school will be a really good investment.