Every time I meet someone from Scandinavia, I immediately notice how good their English is. Even here, in the Swedish countryside, rather old people can understand a speak a few English words. Why is that? How come that people from Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark are so excellent at speaking a foreign language? And what can we learn from it? Let’s have a look at Sweden, representatively.
The school system
Everywhere in the country kids start learning English within the first few years of school. In many places that even is grade one. More foreign languages, like German, French or Spanish are offered a little later as well. This continues until people leave school at 16 or 17 or even later, if they go to uni afterwards.
Classes are generally comparably small; students are encouraged to work in heterogenic teams that are inclusive and manage to take student’s individual learning speed into account.
Due to the municipalities managing their budgets themselves, most of the funds that are at their disposal are being invested into education. This in turn leads to high quality equipment and materials in schools, including technical devices and equipment, as well as the means to conduct the necessary training for teachers.
Potentially even more important than learning a language at school is the fact that people in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are exposed to English on a regular basis when watching movies, TV and more. How? Because these are played in their original version, nothing is synchronized. You can turn on the subtitles, but the voices remain in English.
This is, furthermore, a way to connect theory (what people learn at school) with practice (understanding TV shows, documentaries and more – without having to read the subtitles).
But why do they do this? One possible explanation is that the Scandinavian countries have small populations – about 20 million all together. At the same time people from these countries like to travel. Since not many people outside Scandinavia speak Swedish, Danish, Norwegian or Finnish, English is their connection to the rest of the world. Communication would be very hard otherwise.
What can we learn from these countries?
Exposure to a language is key. It helps you to get used to the sounds which in turn makes it easier to imitate those when you speak. You will learn words and phrases in context and experience first-hand how awesome it feels to fluently understand (and later speak) a language
Don’t underestimate the fact that the Scandinavian countries are rather rich countries and a small population potentially makes it easier to quickly implement newer and more innovative methods. Not every country can offer this system to their citizens but most of us have access to movies, videos and more in their native languages. Even if it’s hard in the beginning, slowly start to integrate this into your daily life and you will soon see how your passive and active language skills improve.
Look for German movies on Netflix or YouTube, check out the public German TV stations ARD and ZDF or watch some of my short films and videos on YouTube – anything will help!
Blogbeitrag „Warum sprechen Skandinavier ein so außergewöhnlich gutes Englisch?“ von Polyglot Club
Wikipedia „Bildungssystem in Schweden“ (Stand 9.12.21)
Blogbeitrag „Lernen in anderen Ländern: (digitales) Bildungsparadies? – Schweden“ von sofatutor-Magazin
Blogbeitrag „Warum sprechen Skandinavier so gutes Englisch?“ von The Translation People (09.08.2012)
Foto von Mystic Art Design