Swedish as a foreign language
Swedish as a foreign language is studied by about 40,000 people worldwide at the university level. This is taught at over two hundred universities and colleges in 38 countries. Swedish is the Scandinavian language which is most studied abroad.
Svenska Institutet (The Swedish Institute) plays a key role in organising the learning of Swedish abroad. In addition to collaborating with universities where Swedish is taught, the Institute organises summer courses for students and conferences for teachers, as well as publishing a textbook called Svenska utifrån. The SI has announced that a web-based Swedish beginners course will be made available free of charge on its website in Autumn 2013.
Swedish belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic sub-family of the Indo-European languages. As such, it is mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish. Because most of the loanwords present in Swedish come from English and German (originally Middle Low German, closely related to Dutch), as well as similarities in grammar, native speakers of Germanic languages usually have an advantage over speakers of other, less related languages.
Difficulties for students
One of the main difficulties encountered by students of Swedish is its phonology. Swedish words have either an acute or a grave accent, usually described as tonal word accents by Scandinavian linguists. These accents may vary between dialects and can be difficult for non-native speakers to distinguish. However, the number of words that are only distinguished by their word accents are few and usually easy to tell apart by context.
Several phonemes of Swedish often present difficulties for students. Among the most difficult are the fricatives /s/, /ɕ/ and /ɧ/, which are all phonetically close to one another. Swedish has also a large inventory of vowels, which might be difficult to distinguish between. There might also be mixups for the orthography, considering the diacritics in the letters Å, Ä and Ö. The difference of /l/ and /r/ can also present difficulties for speakers of languages that don't distinguish the two, such as Vietnamese.
In Swedish, there is a grammatical gender distinction between common en and neuter ett. Like other languages with noun classes, Swedish has few consistent rules to determine the gender for each word. Therefore, the genders have to be learned on a word-by-word basis, although the words of common gender far outnumber the neuter words in practice.
For nouns, Swedish has five different ways to form regular plurals, also determined on a word-by-word basis, in addition to irregular plurals.
There are a large number of irregular verbs and plurals similarly to the English, such as (fot; fötter "foot; feet") and (flyga; flög; flugit "fly; flew; flown"), cf. Germanic umlaut and Germanic strong verb.
Swedish utilizes V2 word order in subclauses, a phenomenon rarely encountered cross-linguistically.
Certain common words retain their historical written form, e.g. mig /mεj/ and och /ɔk/ or /ɔ/.
In addition to the minorities in Sweden, Swedish is a compulsory subject in school for Finnish-speakers in Finland, where Swedish is a co-official language with Finnish; there's a five percent minority of Finns whose native language is Swedish. In official documents and in education, Swedish is considered "the second domestic language" (fi. toinen kotimainen kieli, sv. det andra inhemska språket) for Finnish-speakers, while the same holds true for Finnish for Swedish-speakers. Finland was a part of Sweden from 13th century to 1809, and the use of Swedish in government prevailed for much of 19th century. Language reforms did not replace Swedish, but gave Finnish (which is a completely unrelated Uralic language) an "equal status" as an official language of the state. This situation remains to this day, despite the near-complete switchover to Finnish in practical usage in governmental affairs. There is compulsory teaching and language testing on all levels of education, and a basic working knowledge in Swedish is required for state government officials.
- Swedex consists of three different levels corresponding to the A2, B1 and B2 levels in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It can be taken in examination centers in twenty-five different countries. Swedex tests the skills of the student in five different areas: vocabulary, grammar, listening, writing and reading.
- TISUS is another certificate, often used as a proof of competence in Swedish to gain access to Swedish universities. The fee amounts to 1,600 SEK (188,83 € or 243,59 USD as of September 12, 2012) if the examination is taken in Sweden or 2,000 SEK (236,04 € or 304,49 USD) if it is taken abroad. It tests the reading, oral and written skills of the student.
- In Finland, there is an official examination in the universities, called "public servant's Swedish", as a part of the policy of bilinguality of the state of Finland. The abitur examination includes a Swedish exam, which, while itself optional, is based on compulsory courses in high school.
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