05 Aug 2011

The language barrier

9 Comments Move to Sweden

I want to address an issue I’ve discussed a lot with my mum lately and that’s the language barrier. Not so much between Simon and myself but between Simon and the rest of my family (mainly my parents) who are not as confident in speaking English as I am. I haven’t thought about it as a big issue before but after speaking to mum I understand that it’s a bigger issue than I thought it to be.

I see my mum as being fairly good at English and I thought she could keep up in conversations we have in English when we all get together, but she has now expressed that she doesn’t feel confident speaking and that she often stop listening when we start speaking English at the dinner table for example. I don’t mind helping to translate but I didn’t realise that it was needed. I can understand the frustration she’s feeling but the same goes for Simon when my family has conversations in Swedish so I feel stuck in the middle, trying to involve everyone and make them feel comfortable.

My mum compares having conversations with Simon with talking to my brother’s fiancee or my sister’s boyfriend (yes Emma, I call him your boyfriend even though you claim you’re just dating). Of course it’s easier in Swedish and there is a different depth in the conversation she can have in Swedish compared to the ones she feels comfortable having in English and it creates a barrier and a distance.

Does anyone else recognise this as a problem with your non Swedish partner (or being the non Swedish partner even) and the rest of your family?

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9 Responses to “The language barrier”

  1. Reply Talitha says:

    Hey Anna,
    My Viking has Finnish mum who does not speak English. She can understand a lot but is self taught and does not speak. So I got to speak English the first year I was in Sweden one exchange but after that it was Swedish only policy that I did not ask for but appreciated in the end. I spent about 6 months getting either a headache from listening really closely or started to fantasise about other things at the dinner table. But combined with Sfi I soon started to catch up. While my conversations skills are not exactly riveting my comprehension is very high. I believe it is essential to learn Swedish because I dont want my future little swaussies yelling at me or crying about something in swedish and I don't know what is going on.

    Your mum should get better at English because hey she might have bilingugal grandkids who need her to be good at english. Simon needs to learn swedish cause…he lives in Sweden and it is essential to not feeling left out or making other people feel left out. (mind you I have no idea if Simon is learning Swedish?)

    That is my approach any ways and the Viking parentals were just here for a visit for a week in Norway and we spoke Swedish 90% of the time 🙂 It can be frustrating cause I am chatty and they will talk abut something I have a lot of opinions on and i am not good enough to speak about that yet…so then i whip out my Swinglish! 😉

  2. Reply Martha says:

    Hi Anna,

    I cannot speak Swedish and for me this has been a little bit of a frustration when communicating with my Swedish boyfriend's friends and family.

    Luckily for me, my boyfriend's family speak good English and always made the effort to speak in English when I was around. Be it to me, or to others. There were however a couple of issues with this. They too, like your mother, expressed not feeling very confident in the language, and as I was spending so much time with them, I began to feel bad about what an effort they were going to, to make me understand and feel included in conversation. This became more apparent when they would eventually tire of trying hard at English and switch to Swedish instead. That kind of made it difficult for me, because then of course I didn't understand what everyone else was talking about. I began to constantly worry that they might feel frustrated by my presence because then it would mean they couldn't talk in Swedish.

    This was worse on midsummer, when my boyfriend and I went a friend of a friend's party. The only people my boyfriend and I knew out of this large crowd of drunken Swedes, were each other and the guy who had invited us. It was difficult enough for my boyfriend, not really knowing anyone… but even more difficult for me, because i didn't know anyone, and everyone was speaking in Swedish. No one bothered to talk to me, and those who knew I spoke English, were not really confident enough to have a proper conversation. For me it also made trying to get to know someone or even join in on a conversation i didn't understand almost impossible. It didn't help either that I had accidentally bought with me non alcoholic beer! So i couldn't even get drunk! I felt like i was the boring person who sat in the corner most of the time with no one to talk to, and while everyone else was busy having drunken fun, i honestly felt kind of lonely and miserable. 🙁 Later that night I saw what looked like a Swedish girl standing to the side and flirting with my boyfriend. I went up to them, and they continued their conversation in English, and my boyfriend didn't bother to introduce us. It made me feel really awkward and stupid… because for all i know… the content of their conversation could have been really innocent, and I could have just been reading too much into their body language! Oh the frustrations of not being able to speak his language. 🙁

  3. Reply Grant says:

    As I non-Swedish speaking love refugee from New Zealand, I made the decision after almost a year of living in Sweden, to stop speaking Swedish at home. It was tough, and the quality of conversation dropped away rather dramatically, but that's a diminishing problem. I realised that, if I allowed myself to stay with the easy option of English, the language barrier (and it's associated problems) would remain exactly as it was and would only become more of an issue. I can't say it's been 100% successful to date, but I definitely feel a lot more included now than I did. On the upside, after a few sessions, my regular chat partners (such as the mother in law) adjust well to my strange accent and Swenglish språk, so there's less of the embarassing blank stare in response. And it's way more forgiving to screw up in the company of family and friends.

    Top blog, BTW.

  4. Reply Martha says:

    Sorry, I mean my boyfriend and this girl continued talking in Swedish!

  5. Reply Frida says:

    Åh, vi har haft det problemet då vi haft familjevänner över från OZ, och vi träffat familj här osv. de känner sig "utanför" när vi pratar engleska, då ex. min morfar inte kan ett ord engleska. men, om man pratar svenka känns det ju dumt när man har australiensare där. vi brukar säga det redan innan, att vi kommer att pendla mellan språken så att alla förstår. då vet alla det innan, och då behöver man inte oroa sig för att någon tar illa upp. men ja, visst är det svårt sånt där! man vill ju vara alla till lags. just nu har vi pappas vänner här från oz, de är ungefär som mina släktningar, då vi är dem nära, men de vet att om vi pratar svenska framför dem så är det om något praktiskt som inte involverar dem. haha, rörigt, sorry. men ja, förstår hur du känner!

    sv. jag klipper mig i arkaden på Envy. Jätteduktiga frisörer som jag alltid blir nöjd hos. jag klipper mig hos Jeanette, men hon ska ha barn nu i september. men min kompis klippte sig hos petra (tror jag hon hette haha) igår, och gillade henne jättemycket! det är lite i dyraste laget, men jag tycker att det är värt varenda krona att kunna gå därifrån och känna att de lyssnat när man sa vad man ville ha och att de vet vad de gör och får det att se snyggt ut!

  6. Reply Sam says:

    Hej Anna,
    I initially worried about this before I left Australia & met Tobbe's parents (who of course are Swedish). They always laugh & say how bad their English is, but really it is fine (it's just the grammar is sometimes wrong or they can't think of the English word for obscure things). But I always say how good they are at English because I believe that. I am forever impressed with the fact that Swedes can speak such good English considering. I mean I can see a big difference between their English & Tobbe's but then I am yet to meet a Swede who has better spoken English than Tobbe, although one of his female friends comes close.

    Now that I am learning Swedish, I speak Swenglish with Tobbe's parents, especially his dad who feels less comfortable speaking English, but he understands that I am still learning. They are just happy because I am so enthusiastic to learn Swedish. Having said all that…when my parents & grandma came from Australia to visit I noticed that the English needed to be a little simpler because they spoke with a thicker 'Aussie accent' than me, especially my grandma. But it was all fine. Tobbe or I can usually read/perceive if his parent's have missed understanding a certain word (usually Aussie slang lol or something really random or specific that isn't usually said) if that happens we just repeat it in Swedish for them.

    Sometimes his mum & I will be chatting about something & then she will call out "TOBBE, vad heter__" & we just laugh about it & then go ahhhh I get it now. A lot of the time, I fully understand the Swedish but then I have to answer in either Swenglish or English. I find that frustrating because my Swedish feels so simple & slow 😛 I am lucky in that Tobbe's mum reminds me of a Swedish version of my own mum in Australia, & that we all have a sense of humour about my 'bad' Swedish & their 'bad' English usage. But in reality I think that their English isn't bad but my Swedish is lol! Don't know if this is at all helpful but it's my "2 cents worth" 🙂

  7. Reply Anna - Swaussie says:

    Wow, thank you all for your input! Reading your stories on how you experience this issue feels reassuring. We're not alone:)

    Simon did go to SFI and did really well with his Swedish before he started working. But now he doesn't have to speak it at work and we only see each other on weekends so it makes it hard to practise.

  8. Reply Liz says:

    Hi Anna!
    It is a real problem, and I so know the feeling of having to try to make everyone happy in the middle. Our problem is that we don't really see my family at all, as we can't even go once a year to Sweden..so we have a problem in that my family hardly know my husband, and put the English to that..They had only met him about a handful of times before we got married due to living in different countries. My mom was here two times now after the little ones were born, and yes they speak a word here and there to each other, but mainly I have to help out and my husband tries in Swedish, but there is no depth to the conversations..My husband doesn't really care about that and doesn't think too much of it, but I can feel sad that they don't really know him and everything and all contact is always through me..I do think that for you and Simon living in Sweden close to your relatives (well at least in the same country) it will most likely get better. He will learn more with practice and your family will learn more too. Meanwhile I can only say try to help out here and there, but let them try, even if the Swedish/English are on on a beginners level and hopefully everyone will have a laugh about it! Laughing is the best way to overcome these things, and that breaks the barrier many times. Good luck to you, I know how hard it is.

  9. Reply Tess says:

    Interesting post! I have thought about this too. Sometimes it feels a bit sad that my parents can not speak with my (australian) boyfriend naturally.. I mean they both speak ok English but it still feels a bit awkward. My dad is quite a jolly & talkative person and its obvious he is not as comfortable speaking English. Its the same thing with my friends. Most of them speak ok English but at the same time, it feels like they are less like themselves when speaking English.. and I have also been to parties where, after a few drinks, everyone goes back to speaking Swedish again..

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