I’ve stopped learning Swedish for a few months now.
Reflecting on how determined I was to master this language when I moved here, I would never imagine that I would lose interest at all, let alone feeling sick at the thought of learning this language. Now, save for a weekly speaking session with an informal tutor and occasional emails in Swedish, I have very minimum interaction in Swedish.
This was in stark contrast with a year ago, when I was a voracious learner. I borrowed Swedish books from the library, read the news from Swedish media, watched Swedish TV series, and did a lot more. Now I really can’t be bothered. I set my browser to automatically translate all Swedish texts to English, I’ve stopped doing the course, and I keep Swedish out of my media consumption.
So what happened?
I guess it all started before summer last year. As we were heading off to the long summer vacation, my boss told me, “After the summer, we should talk only in Swedish. No more Swenglish.” Before I applied for the job, I explained that I was a beginner at Swedish and still learning, and asked if the job would still be suitable for me. He said while Swedish was preferred, it would be okay. So I applied and got the job. Up until then, I thought I was managing well with a company where all the communication, documents, and everything was in Swedish. I was doing my best, I was keeping up. But after he said that, I was afraid to speak, as I knew I would struggle for words here and there. My default was carrying Swedish conversations and only using English for words that I didn’t know. What should I do then when that option is not available?
When I was back after the summer, I was asked, “So when can we expect you to speak fully in Swedish?” Bear in mind that at this point, it had only been a year since I started learning Swedish. My reactions varied, depending on my mood, the situation, or how irritated I was with said people. Some of them:
“I’m doing my best.”
“I don’t know. Maybe in a year?” (while inside, I chuckled. No, a year wouldn’t do.)
What I actually wanted to say, every time, was: “Why don’t YOU try to pick a new language to learn, and ask me again after you’ve learned for 1 year?” Because expecting someone who’s only been learning for 1 year (while also having a full-time job) to be fluent and use it 100% is, frankly, insane.
At the same time, I started a new Swedish class. I’d finished my course at SFI (Svenska för invändrare/Swedish for immigrants), and moved on to the next level, SAS (Svenska som andraspråk/Swedish as a second language). This course has the curriculum equivalent to that taught in Swedish high schools. For this course, they expected students to spend a minimum of 20 hours/week for learning. With a full-time job, there’s no way I could manage this, and on top of that, things weren’t as ‘fun’ as SFI. The reading materials were longer and more boring, and I spent 3-4 hours every weekend to do homework and prepare for the weekly quiz in class. It was exhausting.
And one day, something in me just snapped. I could not be bothered with it anymore. It felt like I’d been sprinting for a year, doing my best and making enormous progress, and still, it didn’t meet their ‘target’ (at work in particular). And like everything in life, setting an unattainable target often does the opposite: it discourages, rather than motivating. Learning is a process, and it takes time. You can’t expect someone to master it in a short time.
So I stopped going to class in October. At work, I just clammed up, knowing that whatever sentences I had to say, I was bound to struggle with some words.
Since then, I’d taken a break from learning Swedish. Chalk it up to burnout, adverse reaction, or even retaliation, but I just need to pause.
I also got a new job shortly after that, where the business language is English. There are conversations in Swedish here and there, mostly at lunchtime or when it’s only a small group of Swedes in the room. Here, I relish getting a small dose of Swedish every day, hearing a few phrases occasionally without the pressure to master it quick quick quick. There’s immense relief in that.
I want to get back to Swedish again someday, but I don’t know when that will be. If you have any tips to rekindle that kind of love again, it would be greatly appreciated.