My experiences trying out Swedish in Sweden!

Hey all! I finished my Swedish tree last month, just in time for my trip through Scandinavia (Oslo, Bergen, Stockholm, Copenhagen). I thought you guys might be interested in some of the things I noticed trying to use Swedish in Sweden!

1) It's crazy how fast people will figure out you're an English speaker. At first I would walk into a store and say "Hi" rather than "Hej," which is a dead giveaway. But later when I started saying "Hej," many times they would still figure it out based just on my pronunciation of that.

2) Swedes sure like speaking Swedish. Hah...this seems obvious, but before going there I had this weird idea that the young people would maybe pepper in some English here and there, since I heard it was considered somewhat "cool." I don't know where I got this idea, but the fact is I didn't hear anyone say a word of English if they weren't talking to an English speaker.

3) You will probably get a significant blow to your confidence in the language right off the bat. I went in thinking "I'll try to order everything in Swedish, talk to waiters, etc." The first thing I did after getting off the plane was get on a bus and say "Två biljetter tack!" I guess I pronounced it decently, because I was hit with a terrifying flurry of fast Swedish which I later found to mean "You can't buy tickets on the bus, you need to go outside and buy them at that machine." The bus driver seemed understandably annoyed, as we were holding things up by trying to speak Swedish and then having him repeat everything in English. After that I decided to pick and choose where I would try to use it, which worked better. I would just tell people "I'm learning Swedish" and they would immediately light up and say "Oh! What can you say?" They were very entertained and things went much better from there.

4) If you're staying in Scandinavia, use AirBNB! We stayed for around $40 USD a night in every city and got to meet locals who were all extremely friendly. In Bergen and Stockholm, after meeting them and talking for a bit, I said, "By the way, I've been studying Swedish for a bit and if you have some time, I would love to practice with you, it will take 5 minutes." Both times I ended up practicing with them and talking about the language for at least 45 minutes. I also recorded the conversations and it was funny to listen back later.

5) I was thrilled to understand a LOT of Norwegian. I actually went to see my favorite musical (Sweeney Todd) completely in Norwegian, and since I know every word in English, it was an absolute joy to hear it all in another language and actually understand it (and also understand where the translation is a little rough!) Also, when I practiced Swedish with my Norwegian host, I was asking him questions in Swedish and he was responding in Norwegian...and I understood! Which blew my mind.

6) I could not understand ONE WORD of Danish. Seriously, what is the deal with Danish. I went to a concert at Tivoli Gardens with a lot of banter from the band in between songs, and I couldn't understand so much as a "hello" or "thank you." Danish is crazy (but Copenhagen is amazing). Also, of the Scandinavian countries, Denmark seems to be the least accommodating of English. Everyone still speaks it there, but there is much less English on signs and the like, and peoples' accents are a little stronger.

7) Another fascinating experience I did not expect - hearing Swedish spoken with OTHER accents. There are convenience store workers that speak Swedish with Indian/Southeast Asian accents, which I was very surprised I was able to pick up on. Also came across a group of students from China, who were speaking Chinese among themselves on a bus and then turned to another passenger and started speaking perfect Swedish! In general I was shocked at the number of languages I heard - I live in Los Angeles which is considered a "melting pot" but it was nothing compared to hearing Swedish, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, etc. all in a short period.

7) Despite some of my troubles, and even though I could have been more bold trying to use the language, Duolingo absolutely gives you a GREAT base, ESPECIALLY if you've been really committing to the pronunciation. My Swedish AirBNB host was SO complementary of my speaking. He said he actually thought I was playing a joke on him at first, saying I have been learning for only 4 months and then pronouncing my first question perfectly. After our whole conversation, he said "You sound like a Swede trying NOT to sound like a Swede." Which made me laugh a lot and feel great. He tried to explain what he meant, which is that I sounded like I was a native Swede who spent too much time overseas and developed a vague foreign accent. Hearing that was honestly the highlight of my trip.

Anyway, those are my experiences, if anyone cares! Thanks again Duolingo, I am back to strengthening!

May 14, 2015


I'm surprised you didn't hear any English words in the Swedish you heard.

Words such as najs (eng. nice) are extremely common among young people.

May 14, 2015

Oh, you're probably right, I probably heard a bunch, but mixed in with Swedish I don't think I ever noticed it. Other than maybe "OK."

May 14, 2015

Yeah we often pronounce them a bit "Swedified". I've met a lot of people who are surprised of the amount of English used by younger people.

Oh, and I forgot: nice post! :D

May 14, 2015

Sometimes when I don't understand a word, it was an English one that has been "Swedified" (or "Danified". ) My brain is not so tuned for English when I'm listening to Scandinavian. Comparing what I hear on TV now to what I heard when I lived in Denmark years ago, the amount of English included is increasing continually!

Also once you've learned Swedish you should at least be able to read some Danish ;)

May 15, 2015

There are also words like ‘vajer’ (from wire) that don’t seem English at first.

May 18, 2015

Aaah my jealous is palpable ;P Thank you for sharing your experience. Not to be too nosy (and you don't have to answer this) but how much did it cost to visit? Did you go with friends?

I've never been overseas and it seems kinda insurmountable :/ I just don't know where to begin if I wanted to visit another country. BTW Thanks for the Air BNB recommendation! Now I'm just looking at all the looking at all the options and pictures. It's so inciting T_T

Congrats on making it abroad :D

May 15, 2015

Well, I have to say, coming from Los Angeles it was UNBELIEVABLY cheap. Tickets from LA to Oslo were $270. Direct flight. Insane.

I went with one friend, and I want to say overall we spent about $1500 each, for a 12 day trip. We're pretty cheap, but you could definitely do it even cheaper. Food is going to be the main cost. In each city we got the "Stockholm Card" or "Copenhagen Card"'s about $80 for 3 days and gets you into literally everything you might want to go to for free.

Norway was significantly more expensive than the other countries. Oslo was a little less fun than the other cities, so if money is an issue you might focus more on Sweden and Denmark than Norway.

May 15, 2015

Thanks for sharing your story! I agree that Oslo is less fun than Stockholm and Copenhagen, but you shouldn't go to Norway for the cities. You should go there for the beautiful fjords and the mountains :).

May 16, 2015

Absolutely. One of the big highlights was hiking in the mountains surrounding Bergen. Norway is GORGEOUS.

May 17, 2015

Whaaaat? $270!? What sorcery is this? I was looking at flights and the cheapest I found was $1,200+ And the Stockholm card looks really cool :D So you guys must have planned this really well. Did you go in the dead of winter for stuff to be so cheap? I'm from the South so I'm pretty sensitive to the cold..

May 15, 2015

No, we went last month, April 15-27. It wasn't warm, but it wasn't cold either - it got up to 60 some days. Look on Google Flights and try all sorts of different dates, the prices vary a lot. We saved a ton of money by leaving on a Tuesday night and coming in on a Monday morning. Take a road trip to LA and then leave from there!

May 15, 2015

I also spent time in Norway, Sweden, and Finland in June/July. I rented a car in Helsinki for 17 days ($900 US), zig-zagged across Finland, drove up to Nordkapp, down to the end of Lofoten, ferried back, drove down the coast of Helsinki, over to Oslo, and ferried across to Turku, and drove back to Helsinki. Gas was about $7.25 per gallon in Norway, and about $6.50 in Sweden and Finland. I saved a lot of money by tenting (usually $15), renting a cabin (usually $25), and staying with friends for several nights. I got a hotel in Stockholm for three nights at $86 per night, but a single night at Storforsen was $127. A four person room in an Oslo hostel was $128. The expensive things were the tourist attractions, but I didn't find them unreasonable, being between $15 and $30 per person. Restaurant food is probably 1.5 times what you're used to in the US for a meal, but it wasn't much more than I pay here in Canada. Keep in mind that tipping is not expected. Grocery stores had comparable pricing to what I pay at home.

The biggest advice I can give is to have a chip-and-pin credit card. They're the standard payment mechanism in Scandinavia (and here in Canada). I gather that's not the case in the US. I had my card not work about 2 times in 100 (both times at groceries stores -- I guess they figure foreigners don't eat. My travelling companion paid those times). I had to use cash only three times, once on the boat to Treriksröset, once at a hotel/restaurant in Norway, and once at a tourist attraction in Estonia (I was there for a day). Really though, you don't need much cash, if you have the chip-and-pin card.

I found it a myth that Scandinavia is expensive (except gasoline and car rentals in Iceland... ouch). It costs far more to sleep in New York City for instance. Given the relative strength of the US dollar, now would be an excellent time for you to go. Get your passport, and look for flights 6 to 12 months out for the best deals. I went with Iceland air as they do up to 7 days of stopover in Iceland at no extra charge (it's amazing what you can see and do in 24 hours with no sleep lol).

August 18, 2015

Lovely to hear your experience, thanks for sharing. I visited Stockholm one month ago and truly loved it. I announced everyone I would be moving there :D While I don't really know about that... (hehe), I know that slowly working on my tree is my biggest pleasure right now.

After reading you I'm looking forward to go back to Sweden in a while and try out speaking Swedish ^_^

May 14, 2015

Great post, and thanks for sharing that! I was fascinated with the entire thing and it was great that you were able to use what you have learned on DuoLingo! You should be very proud of how well you did over there! I think it is great that you recorded your conversations to play back later. How fun, and very useful!

May 14, 2015

"Anyway, those are my experiences, if anyone cares!"

I care! I'd love to be in Scandinavia right now, so it's nice to live vicariously through your account of your travels.

"At first I would walk into a store and say "Hi" rather than "Hej," which is a dead giveaway."

At least you're good with "Hi" in Denmark :)

"Swedes sure like speaking Swedish"

Relatively speaking, they really do speak a lot of English. The Swedes I know seem on the fence as to whether English is a their second language, or one of their two primary languages. So English is kind of like their 1.5 language. Having said that, outside of the workplace or a conversation between a Dane and a Swede, you would mainly hear them speak English by dropping in English loan phrases like "Det är otroligt irriterande. Give me a break! I alla fall..."

May 14, 2015

Yeah, another commenter pointed out that Swedes do use a lot of English - I guess for whatever reason I didn't catch it! Even after finishing the tree it was very hard to keep up with basically any conversation going on around me. I had to practice in very controlled settings!

May 14, 2015

I have often wondered how well Duolingo works in action. Thank you so much for filling us all in. I've been watching a lot of Swedish movies and shows, even listening to podcasts (that's harder, though, without the visual cues), trying to train my ear to how it is spoken. Hopefully that will pay off whenever I finally finish my tree and find a way to talk to some Swedes.

Love the part about sounding like a Swede trying not to sound Swedish :)

May 16, 2015

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I am very happy for you. I would like to take a trip through Scandinavia and I'm more motivated now.

May 14, 2015

We are all in awe!

May 15, 2015

veery nice story, I agree that danish is impossible, even they don't understand each others, all the words sound like mumbling.

May 16, 2015

This is very inspiring! But I'd like to ask if you was just using Duolingo all the the time? Or simultaneously with other material? Thanks!

May 17, 2015

Speaking with natives is a great way to hone your skills! Some years ago I lived in the US for some time and went to the school there. At first I knew very litle English (I still remember terrible mistakes like "gooder", "badder" etc.) but after half a year Americans were mistaking me for a native!

May 17, 2015

This is great to hear. I am planning a trip to Sweden and Norway next year, and you've given me confidence that I will be able to make myself understood.

May 14, 2015

Great story :D I want to travel to Sweden sometime in the future

May 14, 2015

You had me at "what is the deal with Danish?"

Nice story. I'm glad you got such a great time here!

May 14, 2015

Funny, some politician in my country made a video in danish recently, and I was surprised to understand everything. Must be because of his obvious french accent. (

April 1, 2017

This is a great post. Thank you for sharing your story; it was very fascinating and it has made me even more motivated. :)

May 20, 2015

Thanks for the helpful story! :)

September 29, 2016

"I guess I pronounced it decently, because I was hit with a terrifying flurry of fast Swedish" If you speak Swedish, even poorly, you show that you have some understanding in it. People tend to stick to their native language when they get the option. It's not uncommon for people here to have a thick accent, but can still have an extensive conversation.

March 8, 2017

Good story! I hope that you back soon.

May 24, 2015

Ah that's awesome! Thank you for sharing your story! :D

May 25, 2015

Oh those Danes!

June 3, 2015

Interesting point two. I'd ask where you're from but since this post is over a year old, I'm not sure if you still use Duo. Before I learnt Swedish I would actually say "hi" or "hello" on purpose when speaking to people, else I'd always get fast Swedish back when saying "hey". I learnt not to say it after the first few times!

May 17, 2016

Aww, such an amazing story. Well done for sharing and good luck with your language learning. Have a lingot from me.

August 28, 2018
Learn Swedish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.