Swenglish – By Layla Koch

Swedes are, undoubtedly, very good at English. In fact, Sweden is the fourth best country worldwide in terms of non-native English skills following Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark according to Education First. However, to err is human, even among Nordic countries. The funny mistakes Swedish native speakers make in English have coined the term ‘Swenglish’ (or ‘svengelska’ in Swedish). But what is Swenglish? And how can you spot a Swenglish speaking person?

Swenglish is, as the name suggests, a mixture of Swedish and English. More concretely, it is English (a) spoken with a Swedish accent and (b) influenced by Swedish grammar and idioms. So, let’s have a look at it!

And, just as a disclaimer: By writing about Swenglish, I am of course neither trying to diminish Swedes’ English abilities nor boasting about my own. I am part German and can assure you: Denglish is much less charming and much more ridiculous.

Pronunciation
If you’ve ever tried to speak Swedish, you may notice there are some sounds that are so difficult, they make you want to cry: words such as sju (= seven) or sked (= spoon) or stjärna (= star). For a non-Swede, these words are very difficult to pronounce. However, there is still some justice left in this world, which means that vice-versa there are also some words in English which Swedes find difficult to pronounce. We are talking about words with a J or a CH.

The English J sound, as found in jail, joke or Jew, is not part of the Swedish language. Instead, Swedes pronounce it as Y: A Swedish Julia will prefer to be called Yulia. This is often transferred to English turning jail into Yale (what an upgrade!), joke into yolk as in an egg yolk, and Jew into you.

Another difficult sound is CH as found in choose, cheap, or chit chat. Since this is also a very uncommon sound for Swedes, they tend to pronounce it more softly as a sh. That turns choose into shoes, cheap into sheep, and – my absolute favorite – chit chat into sh*t shat.

But then again, if you ask a non-Swedish native speaker to pronounce sjuksköterska or just Kristianstad, they will probably rethink their life choices.

Grammar / Idioms
As Germanic languages, Swedish and English are in many areas similar. However, there is some small differences, which make for funny mistakes.

One grammar issue I often notice are words that have several meanings in Swedish but not in English. Examples for this are ‘rolig’ which means both ‘fun’ and ‘funny,’ ‘lära’ which means both ‘learn’ and ‘teach,’ or ‘låna’ which means both ‘lend’ and ‘borrow.’ This can be a bit confusing to foreigners when you have a funny roller coaster, lend my book, or learn me how to spot a Swenglish speaking person.

Idioms, on the other hand, are always tricky when speaking a foreign language. There is so many weird sayings in every language, which everyone thinks are normal, because they grew up with them, but which are so random. Nonetheless, this leads Swedes (and many other nationalities) to use their idioms literally translated in English. Some of my favorite Swedish sayings translated to English are “Everyone knows the monkey, but the monkey knows no one” (= being known ≠ being popular), “You’re burning fires for cows” (= you’re doing something completely useless) or “I will be the one carrying the dog’s head” (= I will take the blame). As an English speaker, you will have no idea what the Swenglish speaker is talking about.

And on a side note for German, Dutch, and Danish speakers: At least among these languages, many idioms are pretty similar, but that is just the dot on the i! Does anybody know that idiom in any other language?

Conclusion
Learning a foreign language is difficult and confusing, which very often leads to funny situations and embarrassments. However, that should never stop you from trying again and learning. Just last week I confused ‘stjärt’ with ‘hjärta,’ which made for a fun conversation, but now I know that it is my heart that breaks not my butt. And I will move on with a smile.

This concludes my short dive into Swenglish. I find it fascinating how well Swedes speak English and yet, how common these characteristics are. But I am sure there is many more. What is some of your most heard or favorite Swenglish? What are some common mistakes native speakers of your language make when speaking English?

/Layla

12 Comments

  1. Eileen Kuhl

    This was so informative. I only know about Sweden through relatives ( my granddaughter went to school there last year and we probably still have relatives on my Dad’s side there). Thanks for the post and enjoy your time there.

    • Layla Koch

      Hi Eileen,

      Thank you so much for your comment and your wishes! You should definitely come visit Sweden. It is very easy to navigate for English speakers.

      All the best,
      Layla

  2. Mattias

    I guess it’s only a spelling error(still a funny one)

    Its crows, not cows 🙂 which, with a fire stove makes perfect sense in both languages 😉 ‘du eldar för kråkorna’

    • Layla Koch

      Hi Matthias,
      You’re absolutely right, it’s crows not cows. Haha, thanks for paying attention! I’ll have to find out the origin of that idiom.
      All the best,
      Layla

  3. Nino Dastre

    I am a Brazilian Portuguese native speaker who speaks English and have been studying Swedish for some time now. That makes your article twice as interesting.

    • Layla Koch

      Hi Nino,
      Thank you for your comment! I am also trying to learn Swedish, and it’s so challenging. Wishing you good luck on your quest!
      All the best,
      Layla

  4. Flygare

    Nice article! As a Swedish native speaker I could especially relate to the “J” and “CH”-part which is something I’ve tried to improve over the last years.

    I just want to point out one small error during the idioms: you wrote ” ‘You’re burning fires for cows’ (= you’re doing something completely useless)”. It should be “crows” and not “cows” 🙂 but otherwise perfectly fine!

    • Layla Koch

      Hi,
      Yes, thank you so much! You’re right! Funny typo though. 🙂
      All the best,
      Layla

  5. Enkeleda Vranoci

    Learning is always such an interesting process, yet difficult and challenging though. Love swenglish and sweden so much

    • Layla

      Hej Enkeleda,
      You are right, it is very challenging! Much more than I expected it to be. But if it was easy, everybody would do it, right? 😉
      All the best and good luck,
      Layla

  6. Georgia

    In Romanian we also have “to put the dot on the I” which means to emphasize something. 🙂
    One other thing I noticed is that they say “hello” when they mean “goodbye”, because they sometimes say “hej” when leaving as well.
    Also, saying “Have a good one” (as in “have a good day”) because they have that saying in Swedish (but I forgot how it’s formulated 😁).
    Oh, and besides the J comes the G pronounced kinda the same (I’m Georgia, so I heard it happening many times).

    • Layla

      Hej Georgia 🙂
      That is so interesting that you have the same idiom although you are not a Germanic language! So cool! We’ll have to discuss weird Swedish sayings next time we see each other!
      All the best,
      Layla

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