Reader’s view: Why is it so hard for Sweden to accept English in public life?
A reader of The Local shares her story of trying to enter the Swedish job market after completing her doctoral studies.
Published: 8 July 2020 18:00 CEST
File photo of two women, not related to the article, having a conversation. Photo: mentatdgt/Pexels
Which regions in Germany need foreign engineers?
Germany’s worker shortage is hitting the engineering sector hard, and there are huge differences in worker shortages between the regions. The Association of German Engineers (VDI) is calling for Germany to be more welcoming to foreign engineers in order to fill the gaps.
Published: 12 May 2023 15:52 CEST
Url copied to clipboard!
I can relate to this very much. Came here as a researcher and communicated only in English up until my contract ended. When I registered at arbetsförmedlingen I also had to do everything in Swedish. Being a German native helped a lot in quickly picking up the language but it usually takes years and hence is super difficult for foreign academics who suddenly have to learn it after they didn’t have to or simply couldn’t from the beginning.
Comme on,with all due respect: planning to study/stay in a foreign country (here Sweden) and not reserving time to attend SFI or any classes for Swedish before coming to a country. There are plenty of online programmes.
It is all a give and a take, but it starts with a give… and not with take.
Didn’t you have social contacts or any contact with Swedish poeple during your stay?
It is a matter of respect and politeness towards the hostcountry to show some effort and not trying to find excuses.
I am German and I had contact with quite a number of officials and had good experiences. And certainly, my Swedish is far from being perfect.
During my career as HR officer for international companies, we had a number of expatriates from all countries, but all had to attend before or during employment language courses.
Sorry, this has nothing to do with Xenophobia, but more with disrespect towards a hostcountry.
I totally agree with “ It is a matter of respect and politeness towards the hostcountry to show some effort” to learn the language. I would like to ask the anonymous author of the article if his/her home country would provide the level of resources he or she is demanding from Sweden to foreigners?
Usually, I do not leave comments but the comments from Tanja and Carolina have made me irritated. In general, I think that people should learn the country’s language if they see it as their home country in the long run and want to understand the culture and the system, in the end it is easier to survive. I speak fluent Swedish and I have been leaving in Sweden for very long time. But people are different, and not all foreigners intend to stay in Sweden forever. It is pretty big time investment to learn a foreign language (especially a language that you cannot speak somewhere else) if you do not intend to use it in the future. It has nothing to do with respect and politeness towards Sweden. And the author does not demand any resources from Sweden (that Carolina mentioned). She got her PhD salary and paid the income tax to the state, she also paid A-kassa fees. She has the right to be registered in Arbetsförmedlingen and to get A-kassa exactly as other people in Sweden. She does not require any special treatment to her as a foreigner. But against her will she gets this special treatment because the officer in Arbetsförmedlingen that obviously speaks English wants to mess with her. There is no law in Sweden (at least for today) that says that a foreigner has an obligation to learn Swedish. I am not discussing now whether the absence of such law is right or wrong. The fact is that it does not exist. That means that when the officer working in the authority says “It’s your responsibility to learn Swedish!” he makes the professional misconduct (so called tjänstefel in Swedish). He has the right to involve an authorized translator but he absolutely does not have any right to express his personal opinions about her language responsibilities as she does not have this responsibility from the legal point of view. There is no reason to explain to any authority why you could not learn Swedish. My advice to the author is to escalate this case to the officer’s manager first and then to make so-called JO-anmälan (and my advice for the future – record all these conversations, it is a useful thing, otherwise it is hard to prove it). Next time this guy will think twice before he starts to exercise his power (which he does not have). As they say in Swedish: rätt ska vara rätt :)))
You maybe right in some aspects, but “a permanent resident” is the key word in this story and not a “visitor or guest”
Tanja, then it should be stated in the law that a permanent resident must speak Swedish before an authority requires it from someone. There is a hot debate about it the parliament and steps towards it. But as long as the law is not implemented, the authorities (and not only authorities) do not have any right to say that it is the responsibility to learn Swedish.
I agree in tgis instance.
My main point was the geberal attitude towards a hostcountry (due to my experiences from Germany)
Thank you for this interesting debate.
Regardless of how rude this particular officer has been to this particular person, requiring that English becomes an official second language goes much further than “he can obviously speak English”. Speaking English fluently for everyday conversation is very different from speaking English fluently with the administrative vocabulary required when dealing with administrative purposes. I speak English fluently and English is now my everyday language, but I have a hard time dealing with many administrative specific vocabularies in English-speaking countries without the help of a dictionary. Requiring that English becomes a second language means that these people working in administration (and all others working in governmental institutions) will need to be trained for it. From the word of the author, the first officer obviously did not speak English. He would probably lose his job. And are you 100% sure you could deal with this type of vocabulary yourself? Have a look at tax returns and administrative documents from English-speaking countries first, just to be sure. Good for you if you are. But many others (me including) might not be.
In addition, it’s not as if there was no solution other than learning Swedish. Obviously it is possible to get a translator which, if I understood well, would not even have to be paid by the author. Yes, it’s an inconvenience for the author, but let’s be honest: a minor one.
Once again, this does not excuse the rudeness of the officer. However, I have visited and had interaction with several European non-nordic countries. And Sweden is by far the easiest to navigate in without speaking the language. And once again, let’s acknowledge the fact that requiring a whole new official language from the country goes far far beyond “he is speaking English to me, almost everyone can speak English”.
Thanks Alexandra for your understanding, which I really appreciate. I’m the author of the article. As I’ve mentioned in my article, it is not always easy for non-Swedish researchers to devote their time and energy to learn the Swedish language (e.g. my employment contract is time-limited whereas the demand to meet all the academic deadlines are very tough; we don’t have any work prolongation if spending time to learn the language, etc). This linguistic issue has also been raised by SULF https://universitetslararen.se/2020/06/11/the-language-barrier-excludes-foreign-doctoral-candidates/. Before I signed the employment contract, there was no requirement that I had to master the Swedish language within my PhD period, and the academic committees who recruited me ensured that they would provide an English environment. They do understand that learning Swedish takes time and that I’m here for a PhD research. Honestly, if I came here not for doing my PhD, I would have no choice except spending a couple of years learning Swedish on my own cost.
Yes, I’ve got a permanent residence permit due to a five-year employment at a Swedish university. I came here to work, paid taxes, contributed my knowledge and research to the Swedish academia. If you like to talk in an economic logic of giving and taking, this is already a win-win game. I have given my labor, my time, my knowledge, my skills to contribute to Sweden, to enrich the Swedish research community. Isn’t that giving enough? I have no debt to pay back to Sweden because this country has already benefited from high-skilled workers like me. So, why using the discourse of the “host” country and the “guest” here while at the same you contradict yourself by stating the fact that I’m a permanent resident? As I realize that you come from Germany, so let me tell you: My permanent residence permit is not a lifetime permit to stay here because it can be taken back from me if I move away from Sweden for more than 2 years. Also, having a permanent residence permits doesn’t mean that I’m giving a commitment to spend all my life in Sweden. Yes, I’m currently looking for a postdoc in Sweden, but I’m also ready to leave the country for good if I find another academic post elsewhere.
Please consider the difference between acceptance of a German vs. acceptance of an American.
I had a German coworker who was treated far more kindly than I and received all the education we both needed – and she received it in English. I was excluded from the same education.
I no longer work there – my choice.
I sincerely hope my experience is rare.