…I’ve just had a blinding light-bulb moment:
I am pretty good at Swedish! Yay – let’s get the flags out, and set the brass band going!
For those that don’t know me (which is around 99.99999% of you), this revelation is not me ridiculously blowing my own trumpet. Usually, I am pretty crappy at bigging myself up. No, this is the sudden dawning that I am doing okay.
The revelation has come after speaking to another expat that I can truly see myself in, the first time I lived in Sweden: the continual beating yourself up when you perceive that you are not quite good enough, when in reality, you should be patting yourself on the back. Learning another language, whilst simultaneously trying to integrate into a foreign society, is tough; morale and confidence take a bashing on a daily basis, particularly if you are equipped with low self-esteem. I remember last time that I stoutly refused to speak English, anywhere. I would rather struggle in pigeon Swedish with a supermarket cashier, than revert to my native language. I felt an enormous pressure to try to speak Swedish. H would just gaze incredulously at me, saying that everyone speaks English, that they didn’t care if I didn’t speak Swedish. But I cared. I cared way too much.
This time around, the pressure is off. When we have Swedish friends and family round, they speak Swedish, and I respond in English. It’s okay. It works. Many Swedes feel just as uncomfortable speaking English to a native speaker, and so this suits everyone. When I am relaxed (or with those that don’t speak particularly great English), I use Swedish. I was surprised to realise the other night that I don’t translate from English to Swedish before speaking; it flows naturally. That threw me for a second, but then it gave me the biggest boost imaginable: can’t be too crappy at Swedish if you don’t need to translate the words in your head before you speak, eh? Don’t get me wrong, I am not brilliant nor perfect. But I don’t need to be.
So my advice to anyone beginning to learn Swedish is take it at your own pace. If you feel comfortable trying to speak Swedish from the word go, then that’s brilliant. If you don’t, then don’t. Listen to the people who tell you how well you are doing; my father in law always tells me that I speak very well, but up until now, I have just scoffed. But why would he say I was good, if I wasn’t? No reason. So, it makes sense that I probably am. Try not to set your bar too high: if you have been here for six months and know only two words, then perhaps it isn’t going too well, and you should try Spanish instead. However, if you’ve been here six months and you can write and speak Swedish, then give yourself a high-five.
I also no longer apologise for my shortcomings. I used to begin every sentence with “I don’t speak very good Swedish”, in Swedish. So, not only was that setting me up for feeling inadequate, it also made me look like an idiot. Had I said it in English, then fair enough; but to say you don’t speak Swedish in faultless Swedish is just ridiculous. Also, telling people you are not good at something just reinforces the subconscious belief that you are rubbish.
I accept and acknowledge my weakness. I have seriously trouble when I suddenly need to speak Swedish unexpectedly. For example, the dog ran off this morning, and a woman found him; although I managed to speak to her, it was basic and grammatically incorrect Swedish. I felt an idiot, but much less than I used to. Swedes are tolerant people; they accept your attempt at Swedish with good grace, warts and all.
Så mina engelskatalande vänner – vara stolt! Lyssnar på och tror de som säger att du är duktig på svenska, för det är absolut sanningen! Om du kan läsa detta, har du klarat det! Stå stolt!
So, I welcome my eye-opening light-bulb moment with open arms. It feels good.