Although knowledge of English is sufficient for studying in Sweden, missing the opportunity to learn Swedish means a significant loss. After all, we do not merely want to survive while in Sweden, right? Knowing the Swedish language will maximize our experience living in Sweden and open the door towards many opportunities. Indeed, we can socialize using English, even with the Swedes. However, for us who want to get to know the locals, speaking in Swedish can help us befriend people outside the university environment. For those who plan to stay in Sweden and look for jobs after studying, Swedish increases the possibility of being hired by employers, especially when our best skills are not in the IT sector.
Picture 1. Engelska Parken Campus
Luckily for us who are studying in Uppsala, there are some options to learn Swedish. We can take the Basic Swedish course by Uppsala University or Svenska för invandrare/Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) from Uppsala municipality. Unfortunately, there are no Swedish courses offered in SLU until now, which means that SLU students can only take the course from SFI.
As an Uppsala University student, I have attended the course from the university and SFI. Here, I would like to share my positive and negative sides of both courses. Hopefully, it can help you decide which one to join if you want to learn Swedish like me.
Uppsala University Basic Swedish Course
Uppsala University offers free Basic Swedish courses on four levels for their international master and exchange students. Basic Swedish 1 starts with a beginner level of the language, which equals A1 niveau based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The most advanced course available is Basic Swedish 4, which will equip you with B2 niveau on CEFR. Taking Basic Swedish 1 to 4 will take exactly four semesters or two years, just like our study’s length. Every course ends with an exam like other university courses. Basic Swedish exam consists of reading, grammar, writing, listening, and speaking sections. In normal situations, the lessons take place in the Engelska Parken campus and usually in the evening after 5 PM. However, because of COVID-19, they are moved online through Zoom. The same thing happened to the exam, which will generally be held in the exam hall located far from the university.
In addition, Uppsala University also organizes a Swedish intensive summer course called Intensive Basic Swedish. It takes place every year in August, which means you need to come early to Sweden to participate. Just like its name, you will learn Swedish intensively in this course. The lessons begin at 8:15 AM every day and end at noon. When you finish the intensive course, you will receive a certificate of completion. More information about the intensive course can be found here: https://www.nordiska.uu.se/admissions/courses/swedish/basic/intensive/
In August 2019, I registered myself in Uppsala University Intensive Swedish Course. During the autumn semester in 2020, I took Basic Swedish 3 based on the placement test. I did not get a place for Basic Swedish 2 in the autumn semester of 2019. What I like about the courses from the university is that the topics and materials are not far from student life. Even when it is about daily life in Sweden, the teachers will often relate it to student life and experiences. It enables me to easily relate so that I can understand quickly and memorize them. The exam materials for the reading, listening, and writing sections are usually about student life. For example, the reading part is often about a student’s experience or a problem in Uppsala that has something to do with students. The writing section asks us to share our experience of studying in Uppsala.
Picture 2. In Intensive Basic Swedish Summer Course, the textbook and training book are created by the teachers. Although the course is free, the books are not.
Since the teachers are also lecturers from the university’s Department of Scandinavian Languages with a background in Swedish as a Foreign Language, they have more than enough experience in teaching language to students. I think the class is fun and interactive, especially when it happens offline. Also, because all participants are students, we have more or less equal Swedish skills, especially in the lower level since everyone is a beginner. It gives me more confidence to use my Swedish in-class discussion. We are not reluctant to help and encourage each other to speak in conversation practice. We will give those who tend to be silent and shy the opportunity to talk.
However, not everything is perfect about the university’s Swedish course. For instance, the information about the registration process is often not clear and not readily available. Although the course is briefly mentioned in the student guide, there is neither information about how and where to register, nor any links to the responsible department and contact person. In fact, I got the information on the course from the course coordinator in my study programme. Moreover, the university website maybe a little too complicated to navigate for a newly arrived student. Thus, it will not be easy to reach the course’s main page, where all information is stated. It is such an unfortunate situation, mainly because the place in the course is very limited, particularly on the more advanced levels. Being enrolled in Basic Swedish 1 does not guarantee a place in the next level, even if you pass the exam. A new registration is needed every semester, and you must do it on time, or else there will be no place left. Another downside of this course is that you only receive a grade at the end of each level. There is no official language certificate that you can use for job applications or other purposes. On a higher level, such as Basic Swedish 3, you also need to buy the books by yourself, which will cost you around 800 SEK.
SFI is the Swedish course organized by the municipalities as part of the government’s measure to integrate migrants and the newly arrived into Swedish society. Initially, it is targeted at migrants and refugees who have received their residence permit and personal numbers (personnummer). Since 2018, everyone who holds a residence permit or is an EU/EEA citizen is eligible to take the course. The person must reside in the municipality where they register for the course, be at least 20 years old, or have graduated from high school in their home countries. These requirements enable Uppsala international students to take the course. Similar to the Swedish course in the university, we can take this course for free.
Picture 3. An SFI Lesson
To register for the SFI course in Uppsala, you need to visit the SFI office in Kungsgatan 85. During the pandemic, the registration is done via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (018–727 22 10). The SFI reception will give us a form to fill out and inform us about the available SFI courses. SFI courses consist of three study paths and four levels, ranging from course A to course D. The levels are not based on CEFR like the Basic Swedish course but our educational experience. Those with high school diplomas will take study path 3, which means that they will start with course C and finish with course D.
At the registration, we will be given a list of courses providers in Uppsala. It is the school where we need to go to attend the course. At this moment, there are at least three SFI providers in Uppsala. The most popular one among students is Hermods, primarily due to its location in the city centre and the flexible course schedule suitable for students with busy schedules. Hermods offers SFI courses on different days and distance courses. The materials are often distributed freely by the teachers in class or online through their learning platform, Novo.
If you want to increase the possibility of getting a job immediately after study, SFI will be a perfect choice. Workplaces will acknowledge your participation and progress in SFI since it is the government’s official course. The course pace is also quicker than the university course. When I registered for SFI, the reception officer told me that SFI is more intensive and will learn twice faster than if I take the Basic Swedish course. I was also surprised that it is possible to fasten your progress and skip a level when you are doing well in the National Test. The National Test is an assessment exam at the end of each level that not everyone can take. To take the test, you need to do well and get good grades in course assignments. The teacher will then recommend you to take the National Test.
Unlike the Basic Swedish course, you can continue learning once you are registered in SFI until you finish the course D without registering yourself several times. Your Swedish level will reach level B1 based on CEFR at that time, which, according to my SFI teacher, is equivalent to a 12 years old child in Sweden. Do not be disappointed. After this, you can directly continue to the next level course called Svenska som Andraspråk (SVA).
What also makes SFI different from Basic Swedish is that you will learn much more than student-related themes. Since the course is targeted at migrants, after taking SFI, you will know more about how things are organized in Sweden, including housing, healthcare, and job application. You will also sit in a class whose participants come from different backgrounds and ages. Some of your classmates will be refugees; some are migrants who move to join their spouses, some are Ph.D. students, and so on. The diversity of the students will enrich the conversation practices in class. You will also have the opportunity to befriend people outside your university circle.
Picture 4. The building where most SFI classes take place. Source: Source: www.google.se/maps
Nevertheless, the diversity of the participants has its downside. If you are unlucky, you will sit together with people who are either slow-learners or more advanced than you, especially in terms of conversation. The teachers tend to follow the course participants’ progress. If your study peers are slower, you will find the teacher explaining some subjects repeatedly, which will delay your progress and might make you bored. On the other hand, I have also been sitting in a class with spouses of native Swedes who have enough time to practice conversation every day with their partners. Being partnered with these people in a conversation practice or speaking exam has proven to be a disadvantage. Unlike students in Basic Swedish, not all care about giving you a chance to speak and encourage you when you are hesitating after watching them speaking almost perfectly. I have heard similar disappointment among my friends who take SFI courses.
Comparing Basic Swedish and SFI, I would say that Basic Swedish is suitable for those who want to learn the language just for fun or improve their studying and living experience in Sweden. This course is sufficient to help you live your daily life in Swedish. You will have enough vocabularies to help you go shopping, ask for directions, hear and understand announcements, and read simple newspapers. Based on my experience, SFI is more challenging, intensive, and comprehensive. It is a better option than Basic Swedish for you who plan to stay and find a job in Sweden after study. Although you will finish on a lower level than Basic Swedish, you will have the basic Swedish skills completed with sufficient knowledge about Swedish society that is necessary to continue on the government’s language learning track. If you are still not sure, you can always try both during your study and judge it yourself. It is important to note that both courses require you to set enough time and study individually too. Only then will you reap the full benefit of the courses.
Clara Citra Mutiarasari
Editor: Annusyirvan Ahmad Fathoni