It’s a common fact that Sweden is a non-english speaking country, where the official language is Swedish. Are you visiting for the first time?
Are you confused as to what to do concerning your inability to speak swedish? Will people understand you when you speak English? Here are answers to your unasked questions.
It’s a capital NO! Speaking English in Sweden is not rude at all. It’s like saying speaking English in France is rude. Of course, it isn’t! Although Sweden might be recognized as one of the non-English speaking countries, it isn’t rude to be unable to speak their language.
The Swedes are quite polite and understandable. They recognize that not everyone is from Sweden, therefore they do not expect everybody to be able to understand Swedish.
On the other hand, it is very rude to ask a swede to speak English. Knowing boundaries is necessary. The fact that you don’t understand Swedes doesn’t mean they must talk to you in English. That will have to be their personal choice.
Does Everyone Speak English In Sweden?
It’s actually quite surprising the percentage of people that can speak English in Sweden. I mean, both foreigners and indigene.
Despite it being a non-english speaking country, according to some findings, about 80% of people in Sweden speak English. Most people that are below 60-65 in age can speak English in Sweden well enough.
In fact, if they speak to you in Swedish at first approach and they notice that you don’t understand what they said, they quickly switch to English.
Although, almost everybody will be able to speak English in Sweden, but still remember that about 20% can’t understand English.
They only switch to English when you don’t understand Swede. But on a general note, they prefer to speak in Swedish. Therefore, most people you’ll come across will be able to communicate with you in English, but not all.
What To Do Before Speaking English In Sweden
Don’t Expect Everyone To Understand English
You might not be able to speak Swedish and might have to speak English on first approach, which is why it is better to at least learn some little words in swede. You should be able to speak the basic greetings, and some little words in Swedish language.
You shouldn’t assume on the first approach that the person you’re talking to understands English, nor should you demand to be spoken to in English. That won’t be polite. The person you are talking to should be given the basic freedom to speak any language they are more convenient with.
You should try to learn some simple words in swede. So on the first approach you should be able to greet in Swede, and if the discussion proceeds, you can reply with “I’m not really good at speaking Swedish” in swede.
It will be better for you, and the people will be more receptive towards you, as they can see your efforts in learning their language.
Politely Ask If They Can Reply Or Speak To You In English.
This is why it is important to understand even if it’s only a few words in Swede. Not assuming that the person you’re talking to understands English, means you’ll have to ask one way or the other, if he actually understands English.
You can say, “is it OK if I speak English?’‘ in Swedish. you don’t have to feel awkward when saying this, even if you’re not good at it.
The person you’re talking to will most likely understand that you can’t speak Swede even from your intonation and will conveniently switch to English, to make you comfortable, if he can.
Don’t Be Too Loud Or Zippy
Swedes enjoy a quiet and reverential kind of atmosphere. Being too loud or too lively, especially in a conversation can make them irritated.
Talk in a calm and gentle manner. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily hate being active, but hate being too loud. Don’t speak so loud that the people in the next place/ table can hear what you’re saying.
You’ll enjoy discussions more if you talk in a quiet manner. If you notice anyone turning their back away from you, they’re probably sending a warning signal for you to lower your voice. That’s a warning. If you get so loud that they can’t bear it anymore, they could walk up to you to warn you to lower your voice.
In fact, during discussions, there could be a momentary pause, so you don’t feel awkward because of the silence. Rather take it as a break to digest whatever has just been said. Be comfortable during the silence. It isn’t uncommon for there to be such breaks during conversations.
Generally, either speaking English or Swedish, you have to tone down. (Especially if you’re speaking English)
Why It May Be Rude To Speak English In Sweden?
Although, on a plain and general note, it isn’t rude to speak English in Sweden, but considering some situations, it might actually become rude to speak English. Few of those instances are;
When You Know How To Speak Swedish Fluently And Still Refuse To Speak Among Locals;
It is a common fact that Swedes comfortably switch to English when they notice you’re not so fluent in Swedish, in fact they find it pleasurable sometimes to speak with you in English.
But why should you have to stress them to speak in English when you can also comfortably speak in Swedish?
Realize that they went out of their comfort zone by speaking and conversing in English with you. You should also return the favor by speaking in Swede with them, if you’re good in swede.
It won’t be nice, in a situation where they’ve been conversing in English because of you, only to find out that you comfortably speak Swedish.
When You’re A Swede
It’s very rare to find a group of swedes speaking English among each other. Though they might all understand English in the group, Swede is their first language in Sweden, and the native language also.
As a swede, they expect you to be able to speak your language, proudly, anywhere, especially among locals.
I mean, why would you speak in a foreign language in your own country, among your own country men. (Remember to Swede, English is a foreign language while Swede is their mother tongue).
Except if you are talking to a foreigner, or if you’re in a place where a foreigner that doesn’t understand Swedish is there, and you want him to be part of the conversation. As a swede speaking to another swede, speaking in English is very rude.
When You Hold A “Powerhouse” Position Or Occupation;
Although there’s generally no pressure to speak in English, when you can’t. Some occupations or positions, such as those that require communications regularly, have an expectation from others on you to speak Swedish.
For example, if you’re working as a doctor, patients would impulsively feel that you should understand Swedish.
In such conditions, if you can’t speak Swedish, they could feel disappointed. Other positions such as being the CEO or head of an organization might mandate you to know how to speak Swede.
If You’ve Stayed In Sweden For Years
It’s rather impolite, and locals find it annoying, when foreigners, who have lived in Sweden for a long time, are still unable to speak Swedish.
On one hand you’ll be affected too, as you cannot really be integrated to be part of them. Try to learn the language of wherever you are, no matter the place, if you’ll be staying for long.
When you’re among people that might not know you, it might be ok, but especially when you’re around locals or friends that know how long you’ve been in Sweden and yet you’re not able to hold a conversation in Swedish, they might feel very disappointed.
It is not rude to speak English in Sweden, as they do not even expect everyone they meet to be able to speak Swedish.
They smoothly shift to English whenever they notice that you’re a foreigner and can’t speak Swedish, or that you’re bad at speaking Swedish, just to make you more comfortable and so the conversation can flow well.
If you plan to live in the big/large cities, you can very comfortably live without knowing or understanding Swedish, although it is advisable to learn the language, especially if you plan to stay for a very long time.