This was the first question I had in mind when I decided to move to Sweden for master’s program. I was fearful about the oral communications I would have to make/not make. I don’t speak or even remotely understand any of the Germanic languages and was quite worried if I could survive in Sweden.
Having been in Stockholm for nearly four months now, I must say that there was absolutely no reason for me to fret about the language. I have detailed some of my experiences in this blog…
The course is completely in English
I am stressing on it even if most of you know this by now! So as long as you are in class you only need English.
Everyone speaks English
From the time I’ve been here, there has not been a single occasion where I have had communication issues. From the cashier in the grocery store to the bank executive, everyone speaks English and will have no problems in understanding you.
The route maps at the train and bus stops are all easily understandable. So don’t stress about going in the wrong direction or having to take out your translator tool each time you have to board a train.
Although the hoardings are all in Swedish, if you are lost, you can always ask around. And no matter what everyone says about the Swedes being very reserved, I have always gotten a response whenever I have asked for help. They might not hug you but they won’t ignore you and walk past either!
Switch to English
You will be able to find this option at the ATM, most of the self-billing counters across Stockholm. As long as “money” is concerned, you will not end up losing any because of language issues.
Note: A self billing counter is not the place for you to test your language skills. I have tried this before and only ended up holding the line and then crying for help. So switch to the language you know.
All this said, even though you can survive here without knowing any Swedish, I strongly suggest you make an attempt to learn the language once you get here. I also have many reasons for doing so!
There are certain things that are always in Swedish-
All the ingredients and other information on that delicious looking food. Don’t you want to know what you are eating? Being a vegetarian, this was extremely important for me and the first set of Swedish words I learnt were all related to food. Well, Salt is salt, milk is mjölk, bread is bröd, egg is ägg…. See? It’s really not that tough!
The online portals of most of the banks. It is good to know a little bit of the language just to log in and make payments. Also, all the communication you receive from the bank (even the contract).
Things that are usually unimportant but suddenly begin to frustrate you when in need
Announcements in public transport, most of the information boards and even the communication you receive from organizations (including all the info regarding student discounts 🙂 ). Even though you can translate all of these, you might miss some important information just because you were too lazy to translate the recent letter you received.
AND, it is always good to learn an extra language. Karolinska Institutet does everything possible to help you with it.
Free Swedish Classes
All the students are offered free classes which can be taken as an intensive course during the orientation week or as short classes during the semester. You can sign up for these classes before or soon after getting to Stockholm. There are different levels based on your Swedish and you will be grouped with people at the same level. They are all interactive classes and it is the best place to begin.
Language at KI
This is run by the student union and offers free Swedish classes. They are weekly classes that happen in the evenings and it rarely interferes with your academic schedule. You are allowed to pick the most convenient day of the week while registering and you will be assigned to a group. The tutors are Swedish speaking students. Not only will you learn the language, you will also learn a lot about the Swedish culture here.
Well, language is not really a barrier to study at Karolinska Institutet or to survive in Stockholm. Stop worrying too much and just begin the application. If you have any questions, just drop an e-mail 🙂