Without a doubt, the world’s worst online Swedish lessons

Lesson 3: Schomething schtranger (mp3) is part three of a series of four (so far) horrifically bad Swedish lessons. (Warning: Off-color content and copious swearing, but nevertheless very funny.) Boz has been living in Sweden since June, and two of his so-called friends have been putting together Swedish language tapes for him. Listen along as he goes through the tapes, trying to repeat each of the phrases.

Each of the lessons does illustrate a genuine detail of the Swedish language, even though Slaygon and Makke choose to illustrate the points using sentences you're unlikely to encounter in your average Swedish textbook...

  • Lesson 1: Homographs, words spelled the same but with different meaning, sometimes with different pronunciation.
  • Lesson 2: Inflections and compound words, where two words change meaning when combined into a single word.
  • Lesson 3: The sj and tj sounds, two difficult sounds. The "sj" sounds like rushing wind, which I tend to mispronounce as German frontal "ch" because I forget to lower my tongue and open my mouth cavity in order to get that echo-ey whistling effect. The "tj" sound is close to English "sh" (differing in some subtle way I have yet to learn).
  • Lesson 4: The letters K, G and Y. The pronunciations of "K" and "G" vary depending on context. The "Y" is a tricky rounded vowel.

One fine point of pronunciation that doesn't get much attention in textbooks is the Swedish long "i" sound. Most sources just tell you to pronounce it like English "ee", but you're also supposed to push it towards the back of the mouth, so that you sound like Kermit the Frog. I tend to pronounce it like English "ee" and forget to do the Kermit thing. Just like with my problems with "sj", it's not that I don't know how to do it; I just forget.

Comments (16)
  1. Andreas Haeber says:

    "Lesson 1: Homographs, words spelled the same but with different meaning, sometimes with different pronunciation."

    Norwegian and Swedish have a lot similar, but there are some words which make it very hard. Especially for me. E.g. "rolig" in Swedish is the opposite in Norwegian, making it quite confusing. At least the first time :)

  2. Mats Gefvert says:

    Absolutely hilarious. I had no idea my language was that difficult. :)

  3. Jepp says:

    This definately reminds me of when I visited relatives in Sweden two summers ago. While there I asked if I could learn some Swedish. The first phrase out of my relative’s mouth was this really long and complicated sounding phrase. Of course I’m completely lost and ask what he just said. Turns out it was, "Excuse me but what is the gross national domestic product of your country?" Nothing like going easy on the newbies.

  4. Ben Hutchings says:

    Andreas Haeber: That’s "fun" in one and "dull" in the other, right?

  5. Peter Berre Eriksen says:

    and in Danish "rolig" means calm

  6. ac says:

    rolig is closer to calm than dull in norwegian

  7. Is "mouth cavity" redundant?

  8. Steve: To say "sj" you open your mouth cavity (the space behind your teeth) by lowering your tongue – not to be confused with the mouth (opening between the lips), which stays relatively closed. Or at least that’s how I do it. When I remember. Which isn’t often.

  9. Karl Lindström says:

    The ‘sj’-sound is pronounced pretty like the beginnig of the english word "share", just until the ‘a’ is pronounced.

  10. Uhm, no it’s not…consider the word ‘sjuk’, there’s no ‘sh’ in that.

    The ‘sj’-sound is pronounced by keeping your tounge in the middle of your mouth with your lips half-open and (possibly) a bit "towards" the following vowel and then simply breathing out with some (a little) force so that a "wind"-sound is produced.

  11. Heh, funny. I had a hard enough time pronouncing some of those even thought I’m native myself. ^^

    Andreas: Doesn’t people in Småland pronounce ‘sj’ like that? I think there are some accents that do at least…

  12. Mats Gefvert says:

    Well, you could pronounce all of the sj-, sch-, sk- sounds like the sound in "share", but you’d sound like one of those Stockholm snobs (08’s we call them, 08 being their area code).

    It would definitely be easier for foreigners to pronounce "Skövde" with the soft sj sound instead of the semiguttural sound so prevalent among the local hillbillies. :)

  13. Chris Hedgate says:

    Thanks for those great ‘tapes’ Raymond! Regarding the "Swedish long ‘i’ sound" I think instead of pronouncing it ‘ee’ you could say ‘eei’. Subtle difference, but I think it forces you to change the sound enough.

  14. Roland says:

    On this day 50 years ago, Bill Gates was born – guess where – at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.

  15. Rikard says:

    Though when it comes to pronouncing Swedish, not many can do it properly. We live on Gotland. :)

  16. Anders Ynngård says:

    I don’t think you have to worry about the difference between English "sh" and Swedish "tj", Raymond. I can’t hear a difference, so I presume most Sweedes wouldn’t.

    One useful piece of knowledge is that these sounds are pronounced differently by the Swedish-speaking population of Finland. "Sj" is pronounced like "Tj" is in Sweden, and "Tj" is pronounced like "Tj", but with a "T"-sound in front of it. (To put it somewhat simplified)

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