The Language Barrier

The Language Barrier

July 26, 2020 Off By Ludvig Hoel

When deciding to become an expat many fear the language barrier. Will you be able to communicate with the locals? Today we will be talking about the language barrier in Scandinavia and help you decide between our different nations. Hopefully you will have a much better understanding of our languages after reading this. 

The Swedes Know English Pretty Well

Sweden is famous for having a population that is almost fluent in English. Here, English is taught in school from an early age. By the time we graduate, everyone has at least a basic understanding of the language. When you move here as an expat you will soon realise that you can speak with all the young people. When you try and speak with older people, you might have a problem. Some older people (70+) barely have a grasp of the language because it was not taught when they went to school.

We always recommend that you try and learn at least a bit of the local language, but Swedish is not very easy. If you come from Germany, you will grasp it because they are very similar. All you other people, however, might have a problem. Especially with the letters “Å”, “Ä” and “Ö”. Nothing a quick course can not fix though. 

The Norwegians

Norway, and the rest of Scandinavia, is really similar to Sweden in that almost everyone speaks really good English. Therefore, communication will not be much of an issue. If you want to learn Norwegian, it is very similar to Swedish. So similar in fact that swedes and Norwegians can speak with each other in their own language and be understood just fine. 

Danish can be a Challenge

Now we start running into some problems. English is still fine, you will be able to speak with most people, but learning Danish that is an entirely different story. Of course, it can be done, many people from the rest of Scandinavia speaks Danish, but it is not as easy as Swedish and Norwegian. A Danish person can mostly understand what a swede is saying but a swede cannot understand the Danish person. 

Iceland – Its Getting Complicated

Now it is starting to get really interesting. Hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago, everyone in Scandinavia spoke the same language. It is called old Nordic. (Finland is not part of this though). This language then separated into the ones we have today. The thing is Iceland is an Island. That means that their language was less affected by outside sources then say Norwegian. Therefore, they still speak a language very similar to the one spoken all those years ago. This can make Icelandic a real pain to learn since you are probably not used to some of the sounds the Icelandic people make effortlessly. However, learning Icelandic is nothing compared to learning finish. 

Finland – Just Forget About it!

While most of Scandinavia speaks languages that are fairly similar to each other, Finland is nothing like the rest. Knowing any Scandinavian language will not help you here (except for Swedish in some cities). It is not even part of the same language group as the other Scandinavian languages! If you want to learn Finnish, we recommend a course and even then, it will not be easy.

Luckily, learning Finish is not necessary for being an expat in Finland. Most Finish people speak excellent English and a lot of them even speak Swedish since this is taught in their schools. Therefore, communicating will not be a problem in Finland. 

We hope that you now have a better understanding of the language barrier when being an expat in Scandinavia. Since almost everyone speaks wonderful English it is really no problem moving here even if you do not want to learn a new language. 

Ludvig Hoel
Ludvig Hoel is the owner and driving force behind Scandinavia.life. A native Norwegian with ties to Denmark, Sweden and Finland, he is the perfect guy to guide you through the delights of Scandinavia.
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