Förstar du Svenska? Nej, inte alls

One of the many services benevolently provided by the Swedish government is Svenska för Invandrare, or Swedish for Immigrants. It’s a free beginners’ Swedish course for newcomers in the country. I was obviously quite happy to find out about this program, but several Swedes and expats warned me not to get my hopes up. Apparently SFI classes have a history of poor organization and a snails’-pace  curriculum. This is partially because until recently, there was only one track for entry-level students. So Indian doctors and American technologists were forced to trod along at the pace as the illiterate Uzbeki goat herders in their class. I had heard rumors of SFI implementing different tracks, but still kept my expectations low.

So last week I had my first class. I got there after it had already started (there was a miscommunication about the start time; kind of a bad sign), not knowing what to expect. I tentatively poke my head into what I believe is the correct room.

“Jag heter Kristoffer, vad heter du?”

“Uh…”

After what felt like way too long, I figured out he was asking my name. I reply–correctly, I think–with abysmal pronunciation. I am directed to a seat near the front and Kristoffer goes back to speaking Swedish to a room full of people who don’t understand him.

For the most part, the class of 12ish (no goat herders as far as I can tell) plays along with Krisoffer’s immersion learning philosophy. Except for one girl, who arrived even later than I did. After a few minutes of glancing around with a look of terror, she discreetly asked her neighbor whether this is the first class. Once her worst fear, that she is in the right room, was confirmed, she mustered the courage to raise her hand and ask, “do you speak any English?”

Only at this point did our kind teacher break character and explain the Rules of Engagement. We are welcome to ask questions in English, but he will attempt to reply only in Swedish. After this short exposition he got right back to his three-hour-long round of charades.

It’s too soon to really tell, but I’ve got a good feeling about the class. Although I am having a harder time than I expected adjusting to a classroom environment after being removed from academia for a few years. The pace seems okay and the class isn’t too big, so everyone gets some one-on-one attention. I expect I should be pretty much fluent in a week.