Going to Sweden? Then you’ll need to learn how to order a meal, ask for directions and say ‘hello’ (hej) and ‘thank you’ (tack) with ease. This language guide arms you with basic Swedish phrases, a pronunciation guide and audio recordings from a native speaker.
Even though the majority of Swedes speak excellent English, you’re efforts to speak the language won’t go unnoticed and will make for a more rewarding travel experience. This language guide covers not useful Swedish phrases but also touches on basic grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and dialects will aim to give you a well-rounded introduction to the language.
To help me create this new addition to my collection of free travel phrase guides, I asked my friend and native Swedish speaker., Therese from Eco Lifestyle with Therese to provide accurate Swedish translations and pronunciation tips. She’s even provided audio clips for each phrase to make things even easier for you!
Let’s take a closer look at the Swedish language. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Table of Contents
- Where is Swedish spoken?
- Swedish Alphabet
- Swedish Pronunciation
- Swedish Grammar
- Swedish Vocabulary
- Swedish Dialects and Standard Swedish
- How to Correctly Pronounce Swedish Place Names
- Useful Swedish Phrases for Travellers
- Useful Swedish Phrases for Travellers [Infographic]
Where is Swedish spoken?
Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, which was the common language spoken by the Germanic peoples living in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. Swedish has the most speakers of the North Germanic languages.
Swedish, or Svenska, is spoken by over 10 million people. It is the national language of Sweden and the only official language of the Åland Islands, an autonomous region of Finland located in the Baltic Sea made up of around 6,700 islands.
Swedish even holds official language status in Finland (alongside Finnish), where for only 6 percent of Finns it is their mother tongue.
Swedish was the sole administrative language in Finland until 1902. Until 1917, it was still the dominant language of culture and education until Finnish independence. Since then, the amount of Swedish speakers in Finland has steadily decreased. The majority of this Swedish-speaking population live in the coastal areas of Ostrobothnia, Southwest Finland and Nyland.
Before World War II, Swedish was also spoken in parts of Estonia and Latvia.
The Swedish alphabet is made up of 29 letters with 26 of these letters coming from the modern 26-letter basic Latin alphabet (‘A’ through ‘Z’) plus three others ‘Å‘, ‘Ä‘, and ‘Ö‘. Swedish has 20 consonants and 9 vowels which are a, e, i, o, u, y, å, ä, ö.
The last three letters, Å, Ä, and Ö, are considered separate from A and O so while in English you might use the term “A – Z”, in Swedish it would be “A – Ö”.
Here are the letters of the Swedish alphabet and their pronunciation.
|a (ah)||k (kor)||u (uuw)|
|b (be-yah)||l (elle)||v (ve-yah)|
|c (se-yah)||m (em)||w (dob-bel-ve-yah)|
|d (deh-yah)||n (en)||x (ex)|
|e (ee-yah)||o (oo)||y (ee)|
|f (eff)||p (pe-yah)||z (se-tah)|
|g (ge-yah)||q (koo)||å (oh-wah)|
|h (hor)||r (ar rolling)||ä (aair)|
|i (ee-yah)||s (es)||ö (urr)|
|j (yee)||t (tee-yah)|
After the Swedish revolt of Gustav I Vasa (King of Sweden) in 1525 against the Danes and their linguistic stronghold over the nation, dramatic changes to the Swedish pronunciation took place in a vigorous attempt to eliminate the Danish influence on the Swedish language.
The beginning of Modern Swedish is usually now dated from 1526, when a Swedish translation of the New Testament was first printed.
Swedish has an impressive nine different vowels! Many of these are pronounced differently from English, and some don’t even have a true equivalent in English. Sure, some may resemble those in English, but they tend to sound more like a combination of two vowel sounds.
While this can be very frustrating, even if you don’t get it exactly right, you will still be understood.
All Swedish vowels have a short or long version which actually means Swedish has 17 different vowel sounds. Also worth mentioning is the Swedish ‘y’ is a vowel, and not, in fact, a consonant.
When I started learning Norwegian I first encountered enclitic definite articles which is a common characteristic in Scandinavian languages including Swedish. Enclitic definite articles are when you place the definite article after the noun instead of before it. For example, ‘the cat’ is ‘katten’ in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish where the -en suffix means ‘the’.
Standard Swedish has no case endings in nouns except for the possessive ‘s (just as we have in English) and has only two genders neuter, common. The common gender is the result of feminine and masculine genders having merged. However, in most Swedish dialects, all three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) are still differentiated.
Just like Norwegian, Swedish has a tone or pitch accent which gives the language a song-like rhythm to it. This sing-song rhythm is even more pronounced in Norwegian.
Swedish vocabulary has numerous loanwords which entered the language from Low German, and High German. Some example of Germanic words in Swedish include mus (“mouse”), kung (“king”), and gås (“goose”).
In the 18th century, a significant number of French words were adopted into Swedish which were then transcribed to the Swedish spelling system. These carry a recognizably French pronunciation or French accent where the emphasis hits the last syllable. For example, nivå (fr. niveau, “level”), fåtölj (fr. fauteuil, “armchair”) and affär (“shop; affair”).
In a traditional sense, there are six main groups of Swedish dialects which can be grouped as follows, Norrland dialects, Finland Swedish, Svealand dialects, Gotland dialects, Götaland dialects, and South Swedish dialects.
This Swedish travel phrase guide uses Standard Swedish which began to emerge in the 17th century. It formed predominantly on the Svea dialects spoken in Stockholm and around Lake Mälar but has some features from the Göta dialects.
Standard Swedish is spoken by pretty much all Swedes and most Swedish-speaking Finns. In Sweden, it’s called rikssvenska or standardsvenska (“Standard Swedish”) and högsvenska (“High Swedish”) for the Finnish variant in Finland.
Even though most Swedes speak very good English, they don’t necessarily recognise the English pronunciation for common places names. This can be particularly confusing when you’re at train stations, airports or bus stations and need to go somewhere.
Here are a few common places you’re likely to visit as a traveller and how to pronounce them as a local would.
Gothenburg or Göteborg is pronounced yer-te-BORY.
Umeå is pronounced YOU-meh-oh, or YOU-meh in the northern accent that is spoken close to Umeå.
Luleå is pronounced Lew-leh-oh.
Växjö is pronounced Vac h’oh, as if the two would be different words. The oh sound is close to the French eau, so don’t stress the o in ‘ho’ though.
Köping is pronounced almost like English world ‘shopping’. There are many köpings in Sweden (Norrköping, Nyköping, Köping, Söderköping, Enköping) and all use the same pronunciation. Nyköping (a Ryanair airport for Stockholm, also known as Skavsta) is pronounced Ne-Shopping, with the Ne as in Nemo.
Öland is pronounced er-land while Åland is pronounced O’-land. Be careful with these two since so an English ear their pronunciation can sound almost identical. Try to write them down, or refer to something that would distinguish them so that you don’t accidentally end up in the wrong place.
Götaland is pronounced Yertalaand while Gotland is pronounced Got laand or even Got land. Similar precautions should be taken when referencing either of these places.
Åre is pronounced Oh-reh, not Ah-reh.
For cities such as Stockholm, Kiruna, Malmö they are pronounced much like the English version. If you travel to Copenhagen, remember that the Swedish spelling is Köpenhamn, and is pronounced Shop-en-hamn.
If you’re going to Helsinki this is called Helsingfors pronounced Helsing-forsh. If you want to take the ferry to Turku in Finland, the Swedes call the city Åbo pronounced Oh-boh.
Want the infographic to take with you? Scroll to the bottom of the page and save it.
P.S. If you’re reading this on your phone and can’t see the pronunciation column, turn it to landscape mode. For some reason, tables aren’t mobile friendly. Sorry!
Want the infographic to take with you? Scroll to the bottom of the page.
|Good morning||God morgen ||good mor-gohn|
|Good afternoon||God kväll ||good kvel|
|Good night||God natt ||good naht|
|Goodbye||Hej då ||hey door|
|How are you?||Hur mår du? ||who mor doo|
|I’m well, and you?||Jag mår bra, hur mår du? ||yah mar braw, who mor doo|
|Good, thanks||Bra, tack ||bra tak|
|Thank you||Tack så mycket ||tak so mik-ket|
|You’re welcome||Varsegod ||va-sha-good|
|Excuse me (getting attention)|
Excuse me (when you didn’t hear or understand the person)
|Ursäkta mig |
|oo-shet-tah may / for-lort may|
|I’m sorry||Jag är ledsen ||yah er les-son|
|I don’t understand||Jag förstår inte ||yah for-shtor in-teh|
|Do you speak English?||Pratar du engelska ||pra-tah doo en-gels-ka|
|How much is…?||Hur mycket kostar…? ||who mee-ket kos-tar|
|Where is…?||Vart ligger…? ||vart lee-ger|
|May I please have…?||Skulle jag kunna få…? ||skool-leh yah koo-nah for|
|Red wine / white wine)||Rött vin / Vitt vin ||root vin / veet vin|
|I don’t eat…||Jag äter inte ||ye ah-teh in-teh|
|I’m a vegetarian||Jag är vegetarian ||ye er ve-geh-ta-ree-on|
|The bill, please||Notan tack ||noo-ten taak|
|Straight ahead||Rakt fram ||rakt fraam|
|Turn left||Sväng vänster ||sveng ven-ster|
|Turn right||Sväng höger ||sveng hur-gerh|
|Bus stop||Buss station ||boos stah-horn|
|Train station||Tåg station ||toh stah-horn|
|I need a doctor||Jag behöver en läkare ||yah be-her-ver en la-ka-reh|
|I don’t feel well||Jag mår inte så bra ||yah mar in-teh sa bra|
|Call the police!||Ring polisen! ||ring poh-lee-sen|
|Fire!||Det brinner! ||deh breen-neh|
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Over to you!
Which of these Swedish phrases did you find the most useful? Are you planning a trip to Sweden or have already been? Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
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