Why Do Swedes Learn English?

When traveling to a different country, most people want to learn the local language to make their stay easier.

However, this won’t be necessary when traveling to Sweden, where English is just as commonly used as Swedish.

Swedes learn English because it is similar to Swedish and relatively easy to learn.

They also use English to conduct international affairs and are heavily influenced by American pop culture, including English films and music. 

This article will discuss why English is so well known in Sweden and explore the similarities between English and Swedish.

In addition, the influence of American pop culture on the Swedes will also be analyzed.

Also, see What Are Swedish Pancakes? to learn more.

Is English Compulsory for Swedish Students?

English is compulsory for Swedish students and is taught from an early age in all schools in Sweden, which is why the percentage of English-speaking Swedes is so high. 

Students must pass English, Swedish, and mathematics to graduate. In the 1960s, the country passed a bill requiring all its citizens to learn Swedish and English from that point forward. [1]

Since then, every school child has learned English as their second language. 

So when visiting Sweden, there is no need to learn Swedish. Most locals will be able to communicate with tourists in English and don’t often expect American tourists to speak Swedish. 

The Swedes Rely on English in International Affairs

Another reason English is essential in Sweden is that it helps in international affairs. 

Many people outside Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark don’t use Swedish.

With this in mind, the Swedes have embraced English to communicate effectively and advance their interests on the international stage. 

Sweden and the United States are both part of many important international organizations, such as:

  • The United Nations
  • The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council
  • The Arctic Council
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [2]

So, good communication with other countries within these groups is always a plus when it comes to international affairs. Both parties knowing the same language is always an advantage. 

It’s also worth noting that many Swedish students study abroad, usually in English-speaking countries. While abroad, they get to polish their language skills.

Swedes also generally tour places like London. The cumulative effects of such international interactions are evident in their English proficiency. 

Similarities Between English and Swedish

One of the main reasons Sweden made the English language mandatory in their schools is that it is similar to Swedish.

Both languages are in the Germanic language family, which is where the similarities begin. 

There are quite a few English words that are used in Swedish as well.

When reading certain phrases in Swedish, it’s easy to see how they are closely related to the corresponding phrases in English.

English and Swedish have many cognates, words from different languages that sound or look similar and have the same definition. [3]

Here are some examples in the table below. 

Kom nuCome now
Hej darHello there
Hur mar du?How are you?
Vi ses senareSee you later
Hjalp migHelp me

When pronouncing the words above, it’s noticeable that they sound very similar, and the connection between the two languages is clear.

Now, this isn’t true for every word or phrase. Some words or phrases in Swedish look or sound nothing like their English translation. 

In both English and Swedish, most words are pronounced as they are written. There are exceptions for both languages regarding certain words or names. 

Another similarity is that the Swedish language has 29 letters, and English has 26.

English consists of 6 vowels and 21 consonants, while Swedish consists of 9 vowels and 20 consonants. 

The alphabets of both languages are identical except for the extra three vowels in the Swedish alphabet. This is another reason it’s easy to learn both languages.

Swedish is considered a category one language, which means it’s one of the easier languages to learn. [4]

Languages are on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest to learn and five being the hardest. 

American Pop Culture

In Sweden, citizens consume and enjoy many things from American pop culture.

Additionally, most well-liked television programs and motion pictures are in English and rarely come with a Swedish translation.

So, that also contributes to the interest in American culture.

When asked, local Swedes say American culture has greatly influenced them.

They observe that tipping at restaurants is now common in Sweden when it wasn’t before, indicating that the U.S. was the source of that concept.

Another thing is that social media and fast fashion have taken over in many places, including Sweden. TikTok and other popular apps have a lot of English content.

The prevalence of such apps in Sweden makes it easy for the influence of American culture to spread and with it the English language. 

As a result, even before children are exposed to formal English in schools, they will have encountered it on television shows at home or in videos over the internet. 

Swedes also use many American slang words and sometimes mix Swedish and English to create new slang words.

Another way American pop culture spreads is through music. It may not be common knowledge that many top artists from America collaborated with a Swedish producer or songwriter. [5]

Nicki Minaj, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Coldplay, Childish Gambino, and many others have worked with Swedes to produce some of the top songs in history.

So, it only makes sense that American music artists would be popular in Sweden. 

Since English is mandatory in schools, English shows, movies, etc., are easily understood among Swedes.

If, for example, Spanish was their second language, they may read or watch things that are in Spanish because they can easily understand them.

So if they are in Sweden and fluent in English, why would they not watch things in English? 

Considering the facts, it’s no surprise that American pop culture is so common in Sweden. 

[1] Source
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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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