6 ways to become fluent in the Scandinavian languages

Today I want to present you 6 different ways to become fluent in Swedish, Norwegian or Danish at home, that is to say, before you start your life as an expat.

Over the last couple of years I tried to learn Swedish more or less effectively. I first wanted to travel to the country and learned the most useful expressions. Later on, I wanted to study in the country and therefore started to learn the language "properly".

Now I'm preparing for a life as an expat in Norway where my Swedish comes in more than handy as you can understand Norwegian if you speak Swedish and vice versa. Anyway, after now almost 4 years of learning Swedish part-time with a lot of pauses in between, I can proudly announce that I can now read Swedish novels without major problems, watch Swedish TV and films without major problems and communicate with Swedes in everyday life.

I think that's a huge achievement even though I still lack the ability to express myself properly in discussions or on topics that go further than discussing the weather.

I don't think you can achieve this last bit while living in your home country but you can get to my level (which is B2+) in most languages (certainly not Russian or Mandarin) while also pursuing full-time studies or work.

Side note: I refer to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in this post, which you might want to familiarize yourself with first.

1. Use an app

become fluent in swedish norwegian danish

I tried this option before I began to learn Swedish "properly" (before I started my first Swedish course) and it proved to be the worst method, at least for me. You can find loads of language apps nowadays and while I haven't tried them all (obviously), I can't say I've learned much of the ones I have tried.

Okay yes, you can hear, read and write foreign words and even sentences but in the end - can you really use them? Is there someone to correct you AND tell you what exactly is wrong? Can you use the new words and sentences in different situations? Is there someone to explain you grammatical structures?

My rating: 1 out of 10 points for usefulness


2. Visit a language course at your local university or community college

I began to learn Swedish "properly" in my first year at University. All in all I attended 4 Swedish courses (level A1 to A2) and they all had some pros and cons. First of all, I think you need to visit at least a beginner's course if you really want to learn a language properly. In a beginner's course you learn more about grammatical structures, pronounciation and even the alphabet.

learn swedish norwegian danish

Some languages (like the Scandinavian languages if German, Dutch or English are your mothertongue) can easily be learned independently but you need to do at least one course to learn about grammar and sentence structures. Beginner courses are also a great way to find out if the language is the right one for you. I did a beginner's course in Russian at Uni and the language turned out to be too difficult and time-consuming for me at that time. The Swedish courses were quite alright although I have to admit they were boring. The study pace was just too slow for me.

 So be careful to choose the right level and talk with the institution before you apply for a course so that you don't end up paying tuition fees for a course that turns out to be boring and ineffective for your personal language studies.

My rating: 6/10 - nice to start with, but heavily depends on your tutor and fellow coursemates


3. Study on your own

After my 4 Swedish courses I decided to study on my own for half a year. I worked through the study material that I already had from of my course and then checked all the study materials on the next level (B1) and bought one that I found suitable. I worked my way through it and really liked to study independently at first.

how to learn swedish norwegian danish

Later on I noticed that my vocabulary increased and my listening skills improved but my writing and speaking skills still were bad. This was due to the fact that I didn't do every writing task (due lack of motivation) and that I had no one to talk to in Swedish. All in all my listening and reading skills got to the level B2 whereas my speaking skills stagnated at level B1. I found out about that when I did an entrance test at a language school abroad (namely at Folkuniversitet for those wanting to learn Swedish / you can do them for free and as often as you like).

So if you want to study on your own, don't forget that you have to be really motivated and ambitious and may have to kick yourself in the butt to get some work done sometimes. And also bear in mind that your speaking skills will hardly improve that way.

My rating: 6/10 - study in your own pace and whenever you want to, but keep in mind that your speaking skills will not improve and there is no one to correct you or kick your butt if you're lazy


4. Do a distance course

I recently started a distance course in Swedish level B2+ at Folkuniversitetet Lund. I had to pay 5000SEK (500€) which included all my study material (which was sent to Germany), plus an internet study program and a personal tutor. It is an expensive option and as with the self study alternative, you don't get to speak the language. But your tutor will explain your mistakes and help you to improve. He or she corrects all your homework and tells you what you can improve in a detailed way (at least my tutor does).

how to become fluent in swedish norwegian danish

The program I'm doing has the concept of you as a learner acting as a journalist. The course takes a maximum of 15 weeks (15 units, you have to do one per week but can of course do more) and you play the role of a journalist during that time. Every week there is another topic (culture, health, crime etc.) that you have to cover at the newspaper. First, you read all the newspaper articles in your textbook, then you have to listen to an interview and answer questions in the same book and later on you have to write and translate all new vocabulary in your exercise book and do grammar tasks as well.

At the end of each unit you have to write a newspaper article on your own which then is revised and uploaded into the online version of the fictional newspaper by your tutor. So apart from the exercise and text book, you have a whole online newspaper with articles that were written by fellow coursemates, that you can read through. I really like the concept and my tutor, but this option must go hand in hand with the everday use of Swedish media for a great outcome.

My rating: 7/10 - study whenever you want in the pace that is best for you and get corrected by a tutor who is there to explain all your mistakes and answers all your questions, but it heavily depends on your tutor and the program of course


5. Use Scandinavian media every day

learn the scandinavian languages

Which brings us to the next option. There are a few Scandinavian newspapers, radio stations and TV programmes that you can access at home. It is of course a limited selection but you can access the whole range of Scandinavian TV by using a VPN. It will cost you around 5€ per month but enables you to watch foreign TV programmes whenever you want to. You then can also watch the new hip series or the amazing thriller instead of only watching the news programme every day, which in turn gives you more vocabulary.

Since I got back from Sweden I watch Swedish TV almost every day and I'm always happy like a little child at christmas when I understand everything ;)

Another option is reading foreign books. Now don't panic! If you're not at an advanced level yet, you can simply buy books for beginner's. For example, I read a few Wallander novels by Henning Mankell which were re-written into easy Swedish. Sentences are shorter and vocabulary is easier but the overall content of the book remains.

My rating: 8/10 - you can get a feeling for the language this way and improve your vocabulary without having to learn words by heart


6. Visit a language school abroad during your holiday

I know I said earlier that the topic of this post is how to learn Scandinavian at home but let's be honest: You can't fully learn a language without speaking it and without being surrounded by it every day. I only spent 4 weeks in Sweden doing a B1 Swedish course at Folkuniversitetet Stockholm but during that time my language skills improved rapidly!

swedish course in sweden

I remember watching "Emil i Lönneberga" (an Astrid Lindgren film version of a children's book) in Swedish at Christmas and didn't understand a word. Recently they showed an episode of the series on Swedish TV and I suddenly understood almost everything. How amazing is that?

And I didn't learn vocabulary excessively in Stockholm. In fact I didn't really learn at all. I did my homework and watched Swedish TV and of course communicated with my hosts, fellow coursemates and cashiers in Swedish and that was it! I didn't spend my time learning but instead going out, visiting museums and exploring the city. But because I was surrounded by the language, because I heard the language every day and because I had to use the language every day, I somehow improved my Swedish.

Learning by doing - as simple as that.

So, I think if you really want to learn a language you can of course do so by all the other options I mentioned, but eventually you just have to go abroad and do a course there at least once. And even if it's just a 4-week course, your language skills will definitely improve! Why not spend the summer learning Swedish in Stockholm? You can explore an interesting city and learn a language at the same time! It is of course the most expensive option as you not only have to pay the course but also flights, rent and food, but in my opinion it's just the best and most effective option of all!

My rating: 9/10 - if you're surrounded by the language you will easily learn it but it is an expensive option of course

More expat advice from the nordics: