GSD's Swedish Program Profiled by Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter
Download the article as a PDF (in Swedish): Svenskundervisning Minnesota.pdf
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The Swedish Language Attracts Thousands in the U.S.
The Swedish Language Attracts Thousands in the U.S.
Photo: Jackie Listemaa, Mariah Swanson, Amara Sankhagowit, and Heidi Miller study Swedish at the University of Minnesota.
Photo: Students Mariah Swanson and Ben Wils with one of the many learning-aids they use during lessons
Swedish is easy and the country's culture looks cool. So too do students studying at the University of Minnesota agree. Though the series "Skärgårdsdoktorn" amuses them, it's hardly like American television.
It's perhaps surprising that American university students would suddenly wish to learn Swedish. But four students sitting in Folwell Hall find absolutely nothing surprising about it.
Ben Wils, 22, has studied Swedish for two years. He has a 92-year old woman of Swedish extraction in his hometown of Iron Mountain to thank for his interest. As a teenager he received from her an old instruction-book on the Swedish language, and she functioned as something of a mentor before he went to college in Minneapolis.
"Ben has a certain knack for language. Though when he began here, he was using an antiquated language with verb forms like gingo," laughs Lena Norrman, a lecturer in Swedish and Scandinavian Studies.
Ben Wils is also the only student among the group who has been abroad to Sweden. Last summer he visited the land that both fascinates him and calls to mind home.
"Sweden is extremely beautiful. Though the people are a bit less social than here in the States. And I was amazed by how many Swedes smoke," which he says in English when his Swedish doesn't suffice.
Ben's sisters have been less than supportive of his desire to learn such an "unnecessary" language. And even though he himself hardly sees his language skills as being applicable for a future career, he still seeks to complete his study next school year.
Heidi Miller, who participates alongside Ben in the Swedish Club at the University, has hopes of being able to use her knowledge of Swedish in the future.
"I view Sweden as a leader in environmental concerns and it would be great to travel there, so that I could work on a farm and learn how farms in Sweden differ from American ones. Afterwards I hope to contribute something here, from my experiences," she explains.
Mariah Swanson, 22, is the only member of the group of Swedish extraction from her father's side - while her mother is Mexican. At home she speaks only English and Spanish. However when she started at the University, she thought it was time to learn about the culture her father hasn't shown much interest in.
"Swedish is my most enjoyable subject and it is very interesting to learn about the New Sweden through television series and books," she says.
Earlier this year the author Jens Lapidus visited the University, and last year the students got to meet Camilla Läckberg, courtesy of an initiative from the Swedish Embassy. Lena Norrman points out that she teaches how Sweden has changed in recent decades and is no longer how many Americans imagine it. Obligatory elements in instruction include modern literature, online Swedish newspapers, and television viewing. Sveriges Television's programs, such as "Skärgårdsdoktorn" and "Leende guldbruna ögon," are appreciated by the students, who cannot help but chuckle when discussing them.
"Swedish series are much more direct than American series. In the US we go around problems or strange characters," says Jackie Listemaa, who just joined the group.
Having completed her education, she works currently as a teaching-assistant in Swedish and Finnish. Her good Swedish can mainly be attributed to the pop group Kent. With the help of their lyrics she expanded her vocabulary.
Lena Norrman explains that it isn't just people of Swedish heritage who wish to learn the language. Many more are interested in Swedish design, music, and film.
"My job is to be an ambassador and demonstrate how we can use Swedish in combination with, for example, political science, geography, geology, or tech-industries. It's important to find combinations, because by itself Swedish is a small language. But we are leaders within many areas, like environmental consciousness and everything industrial," she says and speaks proudly of one of her previous students who received a permanent position with Scania I Södertälje.
Facts - Swedish Studies in the US
In 2011, 28 universities around the US offered Swedish instruction - totaling 3,500 students who study Swedish.
Seattle surpasses them all with 2,000 students; of which many combine Swedish as a major with Communications, Economics, History, or Architecture.
Around 65 students at the University of Minnesota study Swedish each school year. Most study two years. The third year is divided up between Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish. Students read something from each language and are roomed together.
Interest in studying Swedish as a foreign language is increasing. Today it is possible to study at 220 universities in 40 different countries. A growing interest is seen in countries such as France, Italy, and Poland.
Bulgaria: Great interest in Swedish literature
Caption: We have previous students who went on to employment in international relations, within tourism, in consulates and embassies, within mass media, and as translators.
One country, where the enthusiasm for Sweden and its language is great, is Bulgaria. Its capital, Sofia, has housed for 20 years a four year-long course in Scandinavian studies. Each year 15-20 students begin lessons. "Interest in the Swedish language is strong and remains constant," explains the professor, Dr. Vera Gancheva, who's been active at the institution in Sofia for many years.
In addition to the language itself, the Bulgarian students acquire a good knowledge in Swedish culture, history, and literature. One instructor is a Swedish lecturer, along with the frequent guest-lecturers from the other Nordic nations. Swedish - together with Norwegian - are the main languages.
According to Vera Gancheva, the students in the Scandinavian program have no problem finding a job.
"We have previous students who went on to employment in international relations, within tourism, in consulates and embassies, within mass media, and as translators."
Swedish literature has a market, in particular for crime fiction, though interest was greater some years ago.
"Books by Strindberg, Lagerlöf, Bergman, and Tranströmer are available commercially in Bulgaria, but still face stiff competition from those by Mankell, Guillou, Alvtagen, and Lapidus," Vera Gancheva explains, who not long ago released her own book, Evighetens Arkitekt, about Emanual Swedenborg.
Russia: 800 students study Swedish
Our large neighbor to the east is home to a relatively intense interest. Russia ranks third, after the US and Germany, in opportunities to study the language at a university level - 22 universities and colleges offer courses.
Especially strong is the interest found in the northwest, the region nearest to Sweden. Colleges in cities like Pskov and Petrozavodsk, though relatively unknown to us, have Swedish in their course offerings.
Roughly 800 full-time Russian students have devoted their energies to Swedish at the university level. Added among them are the thousands who study at private language schools and the like.
At the large universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, "Regional Specialists" receive their instruction, aiming to train themselves as experts both in the language and in Swedish society and culture.
Mexico: Engineering students study Swedish
Each year a couple hundred students study Swedish at Unam State University in Mexico City. Though not integrated into the broader curriculum, the language is still studied alongside normal instruction.
Five separate difficulty-levels are offered, all the way from the beginner to the advanced.
Among those who study Swedish, is the marked inclusion of a large group of engineering students who view the language as the key to future employment with a Swedish company. Counted among those seeking instruction are also linguists and relatives to Swedes living in Mexico.
Swedish courses are given also by private schools in Mexico, which frequently have concluded an agreement with one, or more, of those Swedish companies that operate there.