Huvudsats och Bisats – The Trials and Tribulations of Swedish Grammar

I have been thinking lots about a facebook status I was planning to write when term finishes on the 19th December.  Of course I’m going to spoil it now but it seems too tempting.  Buying an apartment, moving twice, attending Junior Eurovision as Press, teaching some damn fine lessons, living the busking dream, passing my Swedish for Immigrants course – and despite those hurdles and the early starts and late finishes – I’ve survived.  Roll on two and a half weeks break.

I will probably still use the same status so keep a look out for it.

But I have to actually pass my Swedish test to do so….it’s next Tuesday.

It is always a pleasant and polite surprise to people how good my Swedish is for someone who has lived in Sweden for such a short amount of time.  I wonder at what point that will change (some colleagues of mine have suggested 3 years as the cutoff point).  Even in Amsterdam to the fellow fans and family it was great to chat away in Swedish and to understand and be understood, even if it isn’t the best conversation.

I haven’t studied Swedish for a long time now.  Moving around has been part of the rationale for this – I’ve not been settled enough to go and study anywhere.  Yes, I know you can do stuff online.  But the best and worst bits about it are classroom experience.  Juxtaposed against awful quality teaching is a friendly, vibrant and interesting multi-cultural atmosphere that is always so fun.

However, I’ve registered, and they signed me up for finishing the course straight away if I pass the test.  As my teacher noted, I am certainly fluent enough to go for it.  I’ve always been a cocky little bugger in class.  I don’t work and write down things enough – I use the classroom as a performance stage and I most definitely try and run before I can work with my Swedish.  When I write letters, I try and include as much rhetoric as I know, some of which just doesn’t work or translate.  In discussions, I will argue points just so I can show my confidence in the language.  I’ve always felt even when it wasn’t, it was too easy, and I’ve played up to it.  It’s been fun though.  Especially the parts when you are practicing that important but so far elusive skill as flirting in Swedish (they had boyfriends).

As my teacher put it, my speaking, listening and reading are all perfectly ok, this makes sense.  I read the free paper on the way to work each day and I get through it more and more each time, and I use and need to use more each day Swedish working at school.  It’s funny now that even I will speak with some staff in Swedish.

My problem is my writing, and particularly my grammar.  This has always been a problem in English (I, lazily, attribute this as a casing point of me being a quintessential physicist – but then my real physicist friends would say I’m not one of them anyway).  I don’t understand the difference between effect and affect, as a casing example.  But I’m sure you can find many more littered through this one-draft-and-publish blog archive.  I had a friend I lived with at uni, a natural linguist (if a lazy muppet sometimes), who would always pull me up on my grammar.  Sometimes, I would accept it, but to be quite honest I didn’t most of the time.  We would end up agreeing to disagree.  I was adamant that I wanted to say things my way, even if told that was wrong.  Some of it just didn’t click.  Even now in Swedish class when I am corrected, I want to shout out and ask why because it doesn’t follow what I think I am trying to say – like the meaning is being changed as well.  I understand that we have a or an in English, and when to use which, even if logically it seems a waste of time other than for phonetic ease.  Swedish has en or ett, which don’t follow formal patterns, and you either know it or you don’t.  You have to try and work out what sounds right – but I’m not getting this right at all.

All of this might sound very worrying for somebody who watches lots of international TV via the amazingness of Eurovision, did Spanish, German and Italian GCSE’s, and was co-Editor of the college newspaper.  That co- part is quite important and relevant, because Becky was brill at checking after me and reigning me in if my ideas got too over-ambitious.

German in particularly had ridiculous grammar, and the word order held me back and left me always really unsure.  Spanish was so logical in comparison, with so much written in the endings of each word.  One letter to change the meaning from he or she to I or I would and so forth.  It fitted my way of thinking great.  Of course, it was not this simple, but I studied German for 5 years and managed to scrape an A (they took my predicted grade after I broke my elbow the day before – which was definitely a good thing), Spanish for 3 years and got an A*, and Italian for 4 months and got an dodgy A.

Word order is a huge problem in my Swedish.  I might still be at the stage of trying to translate my English to directly and too literally.  Huvudsats and Bisats are a key part of this.  I get it.  Ish.  But I have no idea of working out which is which and if my adverb is after or before my verb using it – I can’t think about how I say what I want to say based upon it – I can’t work out which rules to use before I do it.  Learning by ear, trying to pick and guess around it – that isn’t working either.

I’m going to squeeze in some time between final grades, marking, school council work, sledging (yay, loads of snow), seeing the Lucia in my new town, lots of Swimming, seeing Eric Saade, cleaning and trying to sort my apartment which is still relatively bare and perhaps some tutoring too a chance to nail this.   Otherwise I’ll be writing a very different facebook status in two weeks time.


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