Swedish is a North Germanic language, closely related to Norwegian and Danish (and through them, related to Icelandic). Spoken by over 9 million people, Swedish is the national language of Sweden and the official language of the Åland Islands. It is also an official language of Finland (along with Finnish), though only the mother tongue for about 6 percent of Finns.
Swedish is notorious for its extra vowel sounds, giving Swedish nine (!) different vowels. Most are pronounced differently than English, and some don't even have a true English equivalent; some may be close, but sound like a combination of two vowel sounds. This can be very confusing, but you probably won't hear enough Swedish to know the difference, as they can be very slight. If you don't get it exactly, you may still be understood. All vowels can be pronounced short or long which means that Swedish has 17 different vowel sounds (short e and short ä is almost the same in some places of the country - especially in the Stockholm dialect). This rule does not apply for most of the dialects in the Norrland region.
Please note: in Swedish 'y' is a vowel and not a consonant.
like 'a' in "father."
short: like 'e' in "bed" or "pen." long: like 'ey' in "hey," but longer. Can sometimes sound slightly like "Ay-uh;" because the Swedish pronounciation is longer. E's are usually pronounced at the end of a word, such as in "kaffe" (pronounced kaff-eh, meaning coffee), unlike English where e's at the end of a word are usually silent.
short: like 'i' in "India" long: like 'i' in "machine." Fairly straightforward.
like 'u' in "put," but not exactly. It's somewhere between that and the 'o' in "broken" in actuality.
like 'ou' in "you."
like 'y' in "Nitroglycerin." This is one of the harder ones to learn. Easiest way is to round your lips (important) and say "bee." It may sound closer to an English short 'i' sound to some people.
like 'au' in "Paul" generally speaking.
like "e" in "bet" (identical to the ä in German). Pronounced with more bass if preceding r.
somewhat like a mix between the "io" in "Motion", and the "oo" in "Book". Pronounced with more bass if preceding r.
Consonants are closer to English, but some combinations can be downright tricky, i.e. 'sj' in "sjutton." Some pronunciations depend on the vowel following it, and so the vowels are divided into "soft" and "hard" vowels. A, o, u, and å are the hard vowels, and e, i, y, ä, and ö are the soft vowels.
like 'b' in "bed"
like 'c' in "cat", but a 'ch' combination is pronounced like English 'sh.' Sometimes 's' like the first c in circus.
like 'd' in "dog"
like 'f' in "for"
like 'g' in "go", when preceding a hard vowel, like 'y' in "yellow" when preceding a soft vowel. A 'gn' pronunciation is pronounced like an English 'g', except for when it follows a vowel, in which case it is pronounced 'ngn.'
like 'h' in "help"
like 'y' in "yell," and if there is a d, g, or h before a 'j' then that letter is silent.
like 'k' in "king" before a hard vowel, like 'sh' before a soft one. 'Kj' is pronounced 'sh' as well
like 'l' in "love," but 'lj' is pronounced like a 'y'
like 'm' in "mother"
like 'n' in "nice"
like 'p' in "pig"
like 'q' in "quest" (with "u", almost always)
like 'r' in "row", and like 'r' in "feather." Swedes tend to roll their r's in certain words. 'Rs' is pronounced 'sh'. (Not comparable to an English 'r'. Sounds more like a Spanish one.)
like 'ss' in "hiss," but 'skj' and 'stj' are pronounced 'sh.' 'Sj' is hard for non-native speakers - try rounding your lips and saying "hwoo" to get the gist of it. 'Sk' is also pronounced this way before soft vowels.
like 't' in "top," but 'tj' is pronounced 'sh'
like 'v' in "victory"
like 'v' in "victor," but w's in Swedish are uncommon.
like 'cks' in "kicks", like 'ehcks' at beginning of a word.
If going to Sweden, especially if going to any other place than Stockholm, probably the most important thing you should know in Swedish is the name of the place you are going to. Most people speak very good, fluent English, but are oblivious about the English pronunciation of the town/city you may want to visit - and this may cause significant issues at train stations, airports or bus stations since many places have pronunciations that are very different from what an English speaker would expect when looking at the written name.
Göteborg (YOO-te-bore-eh) with the 'te' as in Television or ten. Some may understand the English pronunciation, but don't take that for granted.
(YOU-meh-oh, or YOU-meh in the northern accent that is spoken close to Umeå). Note that neither pronunciations here are really close approximations of the actual way a Swede will pronounce, but the å sound really has no correspondent in most standard English accents. Do not pronounce it Oo-mej-aah, as nobody will understand you, and you will be asked to show on the map)
(Lyu-leh-oh). Lyu sounds close to how some dialects of English would read the lu in luminous, or to the way others would read the lew in lewd. If you find this hard, try to pronounce Skellefteå (Huell-eff-teh-oh or Shell-eff-teh-oh). Note that the u and the second h in the first pronunciation are nearly unsounded.
(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 (as you would do in ho-ho-ho). Don't pronounce it as Vaks-joe, since no one will have any clue what that is.
(is pronounced almost like English 'shopping'). There are many köpings in Sweden (Norrköping, Nyköping, Köping, Söderköping), and in all, the köping part is pronounced identically. Nyköping (the small Ryanair airport for Stockholm, also known as Skavsta) is pronounced Ne-Shopping, with the Ne as in Nemo.
(O'-land), two rather large islands off the Eastern coast of Sweden. For an English speaker, their pronunciation can sound very, very similar. A confusion between the two can easily be a disaster, so if in doubt over the exact pronunciation, either write them down, or refer to something that would distinguish them (their biggest cities, Åland to be the 'Finnish island' or the 'Ferry island', Öland the 'Swedish island' or the 'Island with the bridge'), so that you don't accidentally end up in the wrong place.
(Got laand or even 'Got land', as it would sound in English). Again two very different places in Sweden, this time looking very different in spelling, but pronounced in a very different fashion.
- Oh-reh, not Ah-reh.
Many other places are pronounced in rather simpler, less tongue twisting fashions. Stockholm, Kiruna, Malmö sound in Swedish very much like they do English.
If taking the train or plane to Copenhagen, remember the Swedish spelling is Köpenhamn, and is pronounced Shop-en-hamn. As most trainstations do not have public announcements or information boards in English, this may be useful. Similarly, in Sweden, Helsinki is always referred to as Helsingfors (Helsing-forsh), and all roadsigns and announcements within Sweden use this term. If going to Norway, Oslo is pronounced in a fashion rather close to the one in English. And if you want to take the ferry to Turku in Finland, remember the Swedes call the city Åbo (a close pronounciation being Oh-boh).
Please note that the Swedish language has no exact match for the English word "please". This means that English-speaking visitors can be offended since Swedes in general tend to leave out the word in question when they speak English. This does not, however, mean that Swedes are rude, but the significance of the word "please" is usually put differently, either through a different sentence or by the tone of the voice. An example: An English-speaking person walks into a pub and says "May I have a pint of beer, please". A Swede in the same situation would use the phrase 'Kan jag få en öl, tack", i.e. "I would like to have a beer, thanks".
Hej. (HAY). Also hejsan (haysan). In informal contexts, you can also use tjena (Schenah - soft e), or tja (Scheh')
How are you?
Hur mår du? (Hoor mor doo?)
Fine, thank you.
Tack, jag mår bra. (Tack, yag moor brah)
What is your name?
Vad heter du? (Vaad HAY-tehr doo?)
My name is ______ .
Jag heter ______ . (Yag HAY-tehr _____ .)
Nice to meet you.
Trevligt att träffa dig (TRAYV-leet at TREH-fa day)
Var så god (VAHR saw good)
How old are you.
Hur gammal är du? (Heur gah mal air deu)
Excuse me. (getting attention)
Excuse me. (begging pardon)
Förlåt (Fur lowt)
Jag är ledsen (Yaag air lessen)
Hej då (Hay doe)
I can't speak 'Swedish' [well].
Jag kan inte tala 'svenska' [så bra] (Yaag can eenteh taahla 'svenskah' [sooh brah])
Does anyone here speak English?
Talar någon engelska här? (Tah lar noa gohn ehng ehl ska hair)
Is there someone here who speaks English?
Finns det någon här som talar engelska (Feens day noegon hair som talar engelskah)
AM and PM are not used in Swedish, but rather the 24-hour clock.
If you want to say 1 AM you should say "klockan ett", which means "the clock one". And "It is 1 AM" is "Klockan är ett" which literally means "The clock is one".
Consequently, if you want to express 1 PM you should say "Klockan tretton" which means "Clock thirteen". "It is 1 PM" is "Klockan är tretton", meaning "The clock is thirteen". However, most Swedes take the easy way out and say "Klockan är ett" assuming that the person they talk to understands if they're referring to AM or PM.
What time is it?
Vad är klockan? (Vahd ahr clockan)
one o'clock AM
Klockan 1 (Clockan ett)
two o'clock AM
Klockan 2 (Clockan tfoo)
eftermiddag (after meedagh)
one o'clock PM
Klockan 13 (Clockan traahtoon)
two o'clock PM
Klockan 14 (Clockan fioortoon)
Midnatt (Meed nat)
quarter to _____
Kvart i _____(qvahrt ee)
"Half past" is not used in Swedish. Instead, the half hours expressed are halves of the coming hour, so 1:30 becomes "half two".
Ett bord för en/två, tack. (At boord fur ahn/tfoo , tac)
Can I look at the menu, please?
Får jag se på menyn, tack? (Foor yag seh poo meh-neen taak)
Can I look in the kitchen?
Kan jag titta i köket? (Can yag tee-ta ee chu-keht)
Is there a house specialty?
Finns det en husets special? (feens dat ehn hoosats spahsee-ahl)
Is there a local specialty?
Finns det en lokal specialitet? (feens dat ehn loocal spahsee-ahlitee)
I'm a vegetarian.
Jag är vegetarian. (Yag ahr vehgehtahreean)
I'm a vegan.
Jag är vegan. (Yag ahr vehgaan)
I don't eat pork.
Jag äter inte fläskkött. (Yag ehtahr eentah flahsc-shut)
I don't eat beef.
Jag äter inte nötkött. (Yag ehtahr eentah nyot-shyot )
I only eat kosher food.
Jag äter bara koshermat. (Yag ehter bahra koshermaht)
Except for the big cities, this will draw a blank stare from the waiter. Most Swedes are aware that pork is not kosher, but apart from that, almost all non-Jewish Swedes would not have any idea about kosher rules. Jews constitute roughly 0.15% of the Swedish population, and outside the big cites the great majority of Swedes have never met a Jew.
Can you make it "lite", please? (less oil/butter/lard)
Jag vill ha det lätt tack. (mindre olja/smör/flott) (Yag veel hah deht laht tac. (meendreh olya/smur/floth)