SFEJ: a Swedish learning update

I have had a couple of emails about the intensive Swedish class I took – SJEJ, so I thought I would post up a quick update.

I took the class for almost three months, ending when I flew back to Australia for my wedding in May. The course was for 4 hours a day – 8am to 12 Monday to Friday, with an additional 1 hour reading class each week, and 4 hours extra study time once a week which we could use to write our essay for the week, do our reading and so on (although almost everyone went home for this).

We were expected each week to read a section of a book given to us in the reading class (around 20 – 30 pages), in addition to writing an essay on a topic related to the theme of the week (the judicial system, Swedish holidays, etc). We also went on two excursions while I was in the course – one to the parliament, and the other to the court house where we watched a couple of court cases – and we had to write essays based on what we observed. The excursions were actually really interesting, and we had a great tour guide at the parliament.

In order to pass the course (level D of SFI) we had to have read one Swedish novel, or a number of easy to read novels, and write a review of them, we also had to give a presentation in front of the class on a topic of our choice (5 to 10 minutes plus questions), and finally we had to take an exam: written, spoken and listening.

I have mixed feelings about the class, which contributed to my not going back after my holiday.

Going to class for 4 hours each day will undoubtably improve your Swedish, and my confidence with spoken Swedish definitely improved during this time as everyone spoke Swedish during class and in the breaks. This was helped by the fact that I was the only native English speaker in the class, bar one, and so we had to communicate in Swedish – luckily we were in a high enough level that this was possible – it would be more difficult to do this in the beginner class. That said, with 35 people in my class and only one teacher, the opportunity to actually speak with the teacher was limited, and we relied on people who had been in the class longer to correct us during discussions. This is ok, but not so great for actually learning correct pronunciation and so on.

The class also moved very slowly. For example, one morning each week we had to listen to an episode of an easy speaking Swedish radio program – this last around 10 minutes an episode, and then we had to fill in the answers to around 20 questions based on the program. This took a maximum of around 30 – 40 minutes for me, listening to the program at least twice, and then playing more challenging sections back a few times. However – we were given a good 2 hours to complete this task. This was indicative of the whole of the course – an hour to fill in a sheet, 3 hours to create a 15 minute group power point presentation, 40 minutes to discuss 3 questions. On the bright side, it did give me more opportunity to speak in Swedish to other class mates who had finished early.

We used a combination of textbooks, print out grammar exercises, TV and Radio programs and photocopies of Swedish books – similar to what we used at Folkuniversitetet, although moving much more slowly through the material.

Would I recommend SFEJ to those wanting to work in Sweden in Swedish? Yes and no.

Considering the class is free, is for at least 20 hours a week, and you have the opportunity to focus on your area of professional experience, the class is fairly good. As there was an attendance requirement (or you could not return), people did mostly turn up each day, which was good and meant there was not anyone really far behind the others.

Once you get past the basic stages of the language, most of your progress is up to you. There were people in my class who progressed much more quickly than everyone else because they only spoke Swedish to their friends, only read in Swedish and only watched Swedish TV – most of their progress could be attributed to their extra study, rather than what they learnt in class.

One day a week we had another teacher. He was nicknamed the grammar god by my class mates, and he really did have a gift for teaching. During this class I gained a deeper understanding of Swedish grammar than I have even in paid Swedish classes, however you are not able to pick and choose your teachers at SFEJ, and we only had him for 4 out of the 21 hours of class a week. At the end of the day, language classes are only as good as your teacher, and that is really not something you can control at SFEJ.

You can always enrol and try it out – it might be that you are in a class with a brilliant teacher and you learn a lot. However, if you want to improve your Swedish to a level that allows you to work in the language, this course alone will not get you there (I don’t think any course will, for that matter). You need to supplement it with a lot of reading in your spare time, speaking Swedish with natives, and writing. The most useful part of SFEJ for me were the essays. Writing each week and having my grammar and word choices corrected was invaluable, and I think many of the teachers would be open to checking another essay from you each week as well if you wanted to do some extra work.

So if you have the time to attend each week, it might be worth trying it out for a month – If you are very self disciplined, and study for a few extra hours a day on top of SFEJ though, you should be reaching your language goals fairly quickly, and the class might be useful for you, if only for the chance to chat in Swedish with your class mates and having your writing corrected. But if you are looking for the opportunity to be in a class with fewer people and a teacher you actually have the opportunity to speak with for more than 5 minutes a day, then you might want to consider paying for a class or tutoring and skipping SFEJ.