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SCHOOLS

The Swedish vocabulary parents need to know for back-to-school season

Parents around the country will be preparing for their children's return to school – or perhaps their very first term – over the next few weeks. Here are the crucial pieces of Swedish vocabulary that will help international families navigate the school year.

The Swedish vocabulary parents need to know for back-to-school season
Do you know your läxor from your läroplan? Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

Types of schools

Most schools in Sweden are kommunala skolor (municipal schools) run by the local municipality, but there are also fristående skolor, usually called friskolor (independent or charter schools), which are run by private companies but are free to attend, because they receive funding from the Swedish National Agency for Education if they receive its official approval.

Fee-charging schools are rare in Sweden, and those which exist are often internatskolor (boarding schools), usually called internat for short, where some or all pupils stay overnight at the school.

The school years are also divided up in a way that might be different from what you’re used to. From the age of one, children can attend the non-mandatory förskola (preschool), also called dagis (daycare). This is heavily subsidised but not totally free.

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From the autumn of the year a child is six, they attend förskoleklass (preschool class), which is a compulsory one-year transition between förskola and grundskola (primary school). Years 1-3 of the grundskola are called lågstadiet (lower studies, years 1–3), followed by mellanstadiet (middle studies, years 4–6), and högstadiet (higher studies, years 7–9). The entire grundskola is both compulsory and completely free to attend.

After that, the three-year gymnasieskola (high school) begins in the year a child turns 16. This is optional, but most Swedish teens do attend.

In Sweden, parents can choose which schools to apply for, and there are various tools available online to help make the decision. The application for the hösttermin (autumn semester) usually takes place in late January and parents should receive a decision in April.

You might want to look at criteria such as lärartäthet/elever per lärare (teacher density/students per teacher), the proportion of lärare med legitimation eller behörighet (teachers with the Swedish teacher qualification; due to a shortage of teachers in the country, many schools struggle to fill all their positions with fully qualified staff), or the average slutbetyg (final grade) in various subjects. 


Photo: Alexander Olivera/TT

Terms and timing

First thing’s first: semester means “holiday” and not “term” in Swedish. In the school context, you’re more likely to hear the term lov than semester (since lov usually refers to organised periods of leave, while semester suggests a trip or chosen vacation).

As well as the long sommarlov (summer holiday) which usually lasts up to ten weeks, there’s the jullov (Christmas break) over the winter period, sportlov (sport holiday/half-term break) in February, påsklov (Easter break) later in spring, and the höstlov (autumn break), sometimes also called läslov (reading break) in an effort to encourage literacy, which takes place around October.

As in much of Europe, but in contrast to countries like the US, the skolår (school year) starts in the autumn, usually mid-late August or sometimes early September, and is split into two terminer (terms): the hösttermin (autumn term) and vårtermin (spring term). Each of these begin with the skolstart (literally “school start” or “back to school”), and the word for the final day of term is avslutning (literally “closure”, meaning “end of term”).

Then there are occasional studiedagar (“study days”) when teachers go on training and students have the day free from school, supposedly to study independently.

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Lessons

At the start of term, especially by the time of högstadiet, your child might receive a skolschema (timetable) showing their lesson plan.

In the grundskola, some subjects are obligatory in the läroplan (curriculum): matematik (maths), svenska or svenska som andraspråk (Swedish or Swedish as a second language), engelska (English), biologi (biology), fysik (physics), kemi (chemistry), teknik (technology), geografi (geography), historia (history), religionskunskap (religious education), idrott och hälsa (sport and health), musik (music), hem- och konsumentkunskap or hemkunskap for short (home and consumer education), samhällskunskap (social education), slöjd (crafts) and bild (literally “images” but translated as “visual arts”, incorporating traditional artistic methods but also digital media).


Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/imagebank.sweden.se

If you speak a language other than Swedish at home, there’s the possibility to enrol your child in modersmålsundervisning or hemspråk classes (“mother tongue education” or “home language”). This is only possible if there’s a teacher for the language in your municipality or nearby, and the teaching typically takes place out of usual school hours.

At the end of the day, there’s the option to enrol your child in fritids (literally “free time”, translating more accurately as “after-school club”). There’s usually a fee for this programme which often includes options for children to take part in music, sport, or other activity clubs, or to do their own independent activities. Most children will also have hemläxa or läxa (homework) to do too.

Children undertake nationella prov (national tests) three times in the grundskola: in grades 3, 6 and 9. However, children are only given betyg (grades) from grade 6 onwards, later than in many other countries.

And of course it’s not all work and no play: students usually get at least one rast (break) in addition to the lunchrast (lunchbreak) during the skoldag (school day). 

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LEARNING SWEDISH

Eight Swedish words I now use in English

One of the consequences of learning a foreign language is that some words end up slipping into your everyday English. Becky Waterton explains why she uses these Swedish words more often than their English equivalents.

Eight Swedish words I now use in English

People often say that the moment you know you speak a language fluently is when you begin dreaming in it.

What they don’t tell you is that the next marker of your fluency comes when you start substituting words in your native language with words from the foreign language. Here are a few Swedish words I’ve started using more and more when I speak English.

Mys

Equivalent to the English word “cosy” or the Danish “hygge”, I find myself using the Swedish word mys (noun) or mysigt (adjective) often in English, even making up my own compound Swedish-English words using mys.

One example is mysväder, literally “cosy weather”, which can roughly translate as the kind of weather where it’s socially acceptable to lie on your sofa with a hot chocolate under a blanket and watch TV (so perfect autumn weather, essentially). The perfect clothing for mys-weather is mys-clothes, like tracksuit bottoms or pyjamas, a soft wooly jumper and a pair of warm socks.

I’ve found myself on more than one occasion saying “oh the weather today is really mys-weather, isn’t it?”, indicating to whoever I’m talking to that I plan on going into hibernation as soon as I get home. If a friend asked me to join them for a day trip somewhere or a fika at a nice cafe, I might say “oh, that sounds mysigt!”, roughly in the same way an English speaker could say “yes, that sounds nice!”. Mys just feels less generic than “nice”, when used in this way.

Swish

Maybe a bit of a cheat in this list of supposedly Swedish words, I regularly use the verb swisha in English if I pick up the bill in a restaurant for a friend. “Oh, it’s okay, you can just swish me,” I say, telling the friend to use payment service Swish to pay me back.

In the same vein, I might tell my husband “I’ve sent you a swishförfrågan (Swish request) for the dagisavgift (preschool fee) this month”, as a not-so-subtle hint for him to log in to the app and send over his half of the payment.

Typ

Typ is a bit of a filler word in Swedish, used in the same way as “like” in English. Not in the sense of liking something, but in the sense of filling a gap in speech or indicating you’re not sure of something. So instead of saying “it costs, like, 30 kronor,” you might say “det kostar typ 30 kronor”.

I use typ so unconsciously in Swedish that it’s started creeping into my English when I fill a gap in speech while I think, in sentences like “I think that was… typ… four days ago?”, or if I’m not sure of the exact amount of something, like if someone asks me how I baked a cake, I might say “and then I added 200g of flour… typ.” 

Macka

This maybe says more about my lifestyle than anything else, but I use the Swedish word macka (bread with topping) every single day, usually when I ask my daughter what she wants for breakfast.

Swedes love to eat bread with toppings for breakfast, referred to as a macka, occasionally a rostmacka if toasted. Unlike toast, which is usually only eaten with butter, a macka can be hot or cold, and topped with anything from ham to salami, hummus or cheese. The words “do you want macka or porridge?” and “what do you want on your macka?” are uttered every morning, without fail, in our household.

Snippa

Another Swedish word linked to child-rearing, the word snippa is an informal, not-rude Swedish word for female genitalia. The male variant would be snopp, similar to the English word “willy”.

I haven’t been able to find an informal English version of snippa which is child-friendly and easy for my daughter to pronounce, so I usually use the Swedish word if I’m telling my toddler daughter to wait after a visit to the toilet and wipe her snippa.

Sugen

Sugen is a great Swedish word similar to “hungry”, but more in the sense of “snacky” – you’re not really hungry, but you fancy eating something small and most likely unhealthy, like a biscuit or some crisps.

It’s the kind of word you would say if your partner caught you gazing into the kitchen cupboards a few hours after lunch looking despondent. “Are you hungry?”, they might ask, only for you to respond “nah, not really, I’m just a bit sugen.”

Mellis

It’s similar to the word mellis, another Swedish word which has crept into my English. Mellis is short for mellanmål, literally “between-meal”, but more often used as a small snack to tide you over to the next meal, like an apple or a macka.

VAB

Finally, an essential word for all parents in Sweden, VAB. VAB stands for vård av barn, and is the term for taking time off work to look after a sick child. Usually used in talking to your boss, you might say “my child has a fever so I’m going to have to vab today”, or negotiate with your partner “if I vab this time, can you vab next time?”

It’s just so much easier than saying “I’m going to have to take paid time off work to look after my sick child”.

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