"They say curiosity killed the cat. I just hope it went out in style." -Yellow
Question #26659 posted on 07/17/2006 3:01 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

One disadvantage of graduation is that the opportunity is no longer available to immerse oneself in the many delightfully intriguing languages of the world in a classroom-type environment. However, this One happens to still possess a deep desire to acquire fluency in the many tongues of her longtime interest, and, thus, submits the following inquiry to this Board so full of language aquisition experts: have you any tips, advice, etc., to one wishing to learn a language on one's own? One does hope that this isn't so much an impossible task.

-- the (hopefully) soon to be Swedish-speaking Eleka Nahmen

A: Dear Eleka Nahmen,

The classroom environment has a number of benefits that are hard to duplicate elsewhere. These include strong positive reinforcements, in the form of getting a good grade, improving your GPA, getting closer to graduation and the basic social pressure that comes along with saying you'd show up and do something. The negative reinforcements are probably even stronger, in that most people don't want to fail a class or waste their tuition money.

Of course, other language-learning methods have their advantages, including a more personalized pace, a more natural learning environment, a program tailored to your own interests, and possibly being less expensive.

The first thing I'd suggest you focus on is why you actually want to learn Swedish. Do you want to be able to get around on a trip to Sweden? Read Astrid Lindgren in the original? Write emails to your Swedish cousins? Say "Happy Birthday" in Swedish to your Swedish grandmother? You probably don't need to buy a huge Swedish grammar book if you just want to learn tourist phrases. Likewise, if you're going to be doing serious, scholarly work in Swedish, you'll want to find materials that go a little more in-depth.

Second, find a friend to study with. This could be another American who's learning Swedish, a Swede who wants to learn English, or anyone with a similar interest in the language. Very few people are motivated enough to seriously and consistently study a language on their own; having a Swedish buddy serves the same purpose as having a jogging buddy. (Except that you don't get in shape. But I bet that most of those joggers don't know Swedish!)

Third, find something interesting to read. Ogoniok has done wonders for my motivation to learn Russian, because it's interesting, accessible and untranslated, which means that if I want to know what the article says, I have to figure it out for myself.

Fourth, keep your spending consistent with the effort you've put into learning Swedish. You can certainly start out by paying $200 for the Rosetta Stone Swedish software package, but that's money down the drain if you never get around to learning the language. The internet is a treasure trove of free information; you can learn plenty of Swedish on your own without spending a dime. Once you've exhausted those resources, buy a pocket dictionary and a phrasebook or a small grammar book.

I wouldn't recommend trying to learn a foreign language on your own if you haven't ever studied one before, but I happen to know that you have, and I think you'll find Swedish to be easier than Russian.

You may find the following resources helpful:

Interglot (multilingual dictionary)
Getting Started in Swedish
Swedish - a Brief Presentation
8 Sidor (a newspaper in simple Swedish)
Your Dictionary - Swedish Dictionaries (list of Swedish dictionaries)
Your Dictionary - Swedish Grammars (list of Swedish grammar sites)
Swedish Language Page (from Wikipedia)

Good luck!

- Katya