Jag taler lita svenska.

Attended my first formal Swedish lesson last night. It's great to recapture the simultaneous thrill and frustration of trying to have a conversation in a language you don't really know.

It's a small class - Swedish isn't exactly one of the "big-name" languages out there. I always feel sorry for the student who can't seem to shake the bad American accent. I remember in high school, we had a student who spoke German with a thick Midwestern accent. It was painful to listen to.

I thought it was just me, but it seems to be a common trait: When people are learning their third language and they get stuck, they instinctively fall back, not on their first language, but on their second. For me, it means that when I can't find the Swedish word for something, I substitute the German word. One of my classmates falls back on Spanish. (Technically, German isn't my second language, but I never got very good at the other language before German, so German acts as the de-facto second language.)

I'm pretty sure nobody finds this fascinating aside from me...

Comments (13)
  1. Stuart says:

    What I find fascinating is that Swedish is an actual language. I always thought "Swedish" was simply English with elongated vowel sounds and the occassional "bork bork bork" tossed in for good measure.

    Learn something new everyday, I guess!

  2. Joe says:

    It happens with me, as well. I’m idly attempting to learn Japanese, and occaisonally when I’m trying to create sentences that I absolutely do not have the vocabulary for, I end up substituting a Spanish word. The way I characterize it is my brain is in "Foreign Language" mode. And for me, "Foreign Language" mode is synonymous with "Spanish Mode" because there really hasn’t been any other state that fits in FL mode, therefore by default I grab a Spanish word. I don’t pick an English word because FL mode has long been established as different from "Native Language" mode — I’m not allowed to draw from NL mode in FL mode except in extreme cases.

    Also, Japanese has the same vowel sounds as Spanish, so there’s that.

  3. C-J Berg says:

    I’m amazed, and humbled, that you want to learn Swedish (of all languages)! What made you decide to learn it?

    Anyway, you swapped ‘e’ with ‘a’, it’s spelt "Jag talar lite svenska." (I speak some Swedish.)

    Here’s a useful online dictionary you can use (ENG-SWE/SWE-ENG): http://www-lexikon.nada.kth.se/skolverket/swe-eng.shtml

    If you want a more complete dictionary, I suggest you buy WordFinder 7 from http://www.wordfinder.com/ – It’s simply great.

    Till slut kanske jag kan skriva på svenska här! :) Good luck!

  4. lejordet says:

    Actually, the substitution seems to happen with a word in the language "one level up"… my third language is German (approximately), but I had some Russian in high school, so when I now try to learn Japanese, I substitute with the appropriate Russian word without thinking :) It’s a mess…

  5. Yeep says:

    I’m currently taking Spanish lessons, but when I can’t figure out the word I don’t substitute it with my second language (english), but with french (which I don’t speak at all!). Only because spanish looks like weird french to me.

  6. I found that this doesn’t happen just for words, but for pronunciation as well. I studied German for a year in college, but I tended to speak it with a Spanish accent.

  7. Chris Cooney says:

    I do that with German and Japanese – I try to say a sentence in German and end it in Japanese. Very odd, since it happens so smoothly.

  8. Mike Dunn says:

    My languages go like this:
    Native – English; 2nd – French (several years); 3rd – Mandarin (1 year)
    French and Mandarin are obviously very different, but whilst I was actively studying Mandarin, I found it really hard to speak French without the Mandarin words interjecting themselves. Like, I would want to say "Donnez-moi ce livre" but what came out was "Donnez-moi ce shu". ;) Like Joe said earlier, every non-English language got thrown together in my brain’s "Foreign Language Mode"
    And now when I try to speak Spanish, I find myself saying it with a French accent. Weird.

  9. Mattias says:

    Fint att du försöker lära dig svenska! Du kan fråga mig om du behöver hjälp! (Great that you’re trying to learn swedish, feel free to ask me if you need any help)

  10. Jonas B. says:

    Don’t worry about substituting Swedish words with German ones, the languages are actually rather close. Due to the great German influence during the medieval ages about a third of the words in Swedish are lended from German.

    This differentiates Swedish somewhat from the other Scandinavian languages. For example, ‘fönster’ in Swedish is taken from the German word ‘Fenster’, whereas the Norwegian word is ‘vindöye’ (wind-eye) which has become ‘window’ in English.

    Most of the everyday words in the Germanic languages (German, English, Dutch, Danish, Icelandish, Norwegian, Swedish, ..) share the etymology though. For example the word ‘hand’ is (almost) the same in all the languages. Other examples I can think of are ‘foot’/’fot’, ‘apple’/’äpple’, ‘glass’/’glas’, ‘bed’/’bädd’, ‘lamp’/’lampa’.

  11. Andreas Magnusson says:

    I find this very fascinating. My languages are Swedish, English, Thai, German and Mandarin (very limited yet). And my de-facto fallback language is Thai. It was actually quite funny (well for me it was embarassing) when I was in France at the end of this summer and was able to understand some French, but not knowing how to respond, I sometimes out of reflex answered in Thai.
    So please keep writing about your encounters with Swedish. I find it very interesting (and not only because I’m Swedish).

  12. BobSmith says:

    I find it interesting. I notice whenver I couldn’t remember a word in Mandarin (my 3rd language), I’d fall back on Russian (my 2nd) rather than English.

  13. Raymond Chen says:

    Commenting closes after two weeks. I was slow to close this one.


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