Swedish is a North Germanic language with around 10 million native speakers who live in Sweden and to some extent in Finland and Estonia.
The Swedish language is closely related to its neighboring languages Danish and Norwegian, but it also has some similarities with other Germanic languages such as Dutch, German and English.
But does the Swedish language's proximity to the English language make it easy for an English speaker to learn?
As it's the case with any language, Swedish demands a lot of time and patience to learn to fluency. The pronunciation may be a little difficult, but grammar and vocabulary are generally easy. In reality, Swedish is probably one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn. But you can't do it over night.
And that, for sure, is an over simplified answer to the question. To really decide how difficult it is to learn Swedish, we need to look at a lot of different factors like the learner's educational and linguistic background, his or her learning approach, as well as the work that is put in. Finally we need to look at the Swedish language itself and how it compares to other languages.
Your Background Plays An Important Role When It Comes To Learning Swedish
If you want to learn Swedish, it makes a difference who you are and and your background is.
If you're an English speaker, you already have an advantage. But if, on the other hand, you only speak Korean, Arabic or something more exotic, Swedish might seem as strange and difficult at these languages seem to a Swede.
Since you're reading this article in English, however, you probably have that bit covered.
But is English the only language you speak, or have you had some kind of previous experience with learning foreign languages? The more languages you speak (or have attempted to learn) the better off you will be when taking up Swedish.
Why? Because learning a foreign language demands that you are open to seeing the world in a different way. Having already been faced with other ways of communicating will make it much easier to take up a new language.
Then there's the question of your educational background, which is in fact very important when it comes to learning Swedish.
I am not saying that you should have a masters degree in linguistics or something like that. But if you're somewhat used to academics, or simply to learning, taking notes, being disciplined about a study routine and so on, you'll have a great advantage over someone who isn't really used to studying.
Your Approach To Learning Swedish Can Make Or Break Your Language Learning Progress
How do you count on learning Swedish?
Are you going to enroll in a class or sign up for a course, use Duolingo, buy a book or listen to audio lessons?
There are many different ways that you can learn Swedish. Many people swear by this or that method, and in reality, which one is best for you depend on your learning style and your preferences.
But if you choose a method for learning Swedish that's inefficient, you'll be having a hard time actually getting fluent.
The truth is that many language courses are extremely slow paced and focus on the wrong aspects of languages, like grammar analysis and speaking about Swedish in English.
Likewise, there are many apps, courses and programs out there that simply aren't very good.
The only thing that these offers never fail at, is to ask you a lot of money.
I personally find that the best way to learn languages is to carefully plan out a self-study routine that's both varied and that focuses on what works. I like learning vocabulary and grammar through context and on the go rather than trying to memorize them. (LingQ and Glossika are online courses that both focus on this).
If you study Swedish the right way, it'll be much easier than going for ineffective courses or language classes.
What About The Swedish Language Makes It Difficult (Or Easy)
When focusing on the Swedish language itself there are some aspects that are easy and others that are a little more challenging to learn.
Swedish, compared to most of the world's languages, is easy (for an English speaker). The grammar is uncomplicated, the vocabulary is very much like English and the pronunciation is - mostly - doable.
Things that might pose a challenge is that in Swedish, nouns have gender, which means that you need to know the gender in order to decline the noun correctly.
It has a lot of irregular verbs (like English) which means that you'll need to learn a lot of verb conjugations by heart, because the rules simply don't apply.
Then there's the fact that Swedish likes to jumble words together into long "compound words" a little like it's the case with German. "Realisationsvinstbeskattning" means "capital gains taxation".
But in reality, while these things seem challenging when you first learn about them, they're actually not that bad as soon as you make a little progress.
You simply learn the gender along with each noun as you go. The irregular verbs, although many, don't have a lot of forms and conjugation, so they're easily memorized. And the compound words simply are just individual words without the spaces in between.
Pronunciation might take a little getting used to. Swedish has a few more vowels than English does. Some of the trickier ones are Y, Å, Ä and Ö. Other than that, in Swedish, you need to thrill your R's. To get a better idea of the pronunciation of the Swedish alphabet, watch the video below.
So generally, there aren't any particularly difficult grammar points that makes Swedish difficult to learn, the vocabulary is more or less similar to English because of the two languages' shared Germanic ancestry and the pronunciation, although not the simplest in the world, is something you can learn.
(Come on, you can do it!)
Is Swedish Difficult To Learn According To Linguists?
So we've discussed your background, your learning method and the Swedish language in itself. But what do the experts say?
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the American government institution that teaches foreign languages to US diplomats and envoys due to going to the world's foreign regions.
They've got a lot of experience in teaching a vast range of languages and they've divided the languages that they teach into different categories dependent on the time they judge that it takes an average English speaker to learn a given language to "High Professional Working Proficiency".
The FSI approach is to teach intensive courses in a classroom setting, and they're aiming for a very high level of fluency. This means that the numbers that they cite might not be completely comparable to you, your method and your Swedish-learning goals.
In fact, I recommend that you study Swedish by yourself rather than taking a course. And I suggest that you aim for an upper intermediate or lower advanced level of Swedish rather than FSI's "High Professional Working Proficiency". This will allow you to get there faster, and you'll be able to improve and perfect your Swedish while actually learning it.
But still, the FSI's numbers can be interesting to compare to other languages, and the amount of time it takes to reach a high level of fluency might give you an idea of how long you'll need.
The first group is for languages that are close to English and considered easy. This is where we find Swedish alongside Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, French, Spanish and other languages. According to the FSI, these languages take some 5-600 classroom hours to learn to fluency.
The second group is for languages that are either more complicated or more exotic, like Swahili, Indonesian and German. These take around 900 hours to learn.
In the third group, we start to see languages that are known for being difficult, such as Russian, Thai, Finnish and Hindi. These take around 1100 classroom hours.
And finally, in group four we find the very difficult languages Arabic, Korean, Japanese and Chinese which are said to take 2200 hours!
But let's get back to Swedish: 5-600 hours...
And I'd actually argue that Swedish might be one of the easier languages on that list, perhaps alongside Dutch. So let's say that 500 intensive classroom hours could take you to an advanced level of Swedish. That's around 1 hour a day for a year and a half, if you were to study by yourself.
And if you were to aim a little lower than professional fluency? Then I'd say that you could learn Swedish in a year or less!
Finally: Is Swedish Hard To Learn?
No, I don't think that Swedish should be considered a particularly difficult language to learn. You can easily learn it by yourself in less than a year. But in order to get there, you need something that I haven't yet touched on in this article.
It's consistency, patience, motivation and willpower. If you lack any of these, Swedish will become difficult for you to master and it might even become impossible.
If you're not able to stick with learning Swedish for at least a year, and if you're not consistent with studying every day and keep doing it, you most certainly won't get there.
And that's probably the hardest thing about learning Swedish!