I have moments of complete irrationality when it comes to learning Swedish. It sweeps over me like a tsunami and I feel like I am loosing my mind, that is assuming it has not all ready happened. It really is baffling to me at least during those irrational moments. It becomes almost impossible to explain. I have tried to label it but any attempts have only resulted in failure.
At these moments I find myself loathing Swedish. Yes loathing. It is a strong word. It comes in waves. Sometimes it might last for a few minutes, maybe a day, and it has even lasted longer than two weeks. During these periods, especially the longer ones, I start to feel the very essence of insanity. You might just see a simple frown on my face, but my world is shaking and I am screaming with fear and anger.
New Swedish words find their way into my mind all the time. Often I find ways to understand them usually in the context of English. But, that does not always work. Knowing what a word means does not guarantee I am using it correctly. Words are containers for emotions. Sometimes Swedish words contain emotions that I have no context to understand. And then it happens without warning a world will push into my brain and I will fall into that now familiar landscape of insanity.
Once I fall into that place of insanity Swedish starts to become rhythmic gibberish to me again. My struggle to understand intensifies and takes more concentration. My brain starts to resist Swedish, grasping towards English. In these moments of torrential torment I find I have to work even harder at learning Swedish. I feel like banging my head on a brick wall might be more productive.
And then something happens. It is as if the Sun just broke through clouds after a torrential hurricane. The rhythmic gibberish disappears. Swedish returns and begins to make even more sense than it did before. The loathing is replaced by a deep love for the Swedish language.
I do not understand those moments of insanity. I also often find the moments of sanity just as baffling. I really have no comprehension of what is going on in my brain. I do know that I am learning Swedish so something must be happening. If there was a boot-camp for brains this would be it. So here I am pressing forward progressing towards Swedish fluency.
This week I completed Swedish course B. I received an overall B for the four areas that were tested. There was an oral test where I sat down with two teachers and had a conversation with them in Swedish. There was a section where I had to read and answer questions. There was a section where I had to listen to dialogue and answer questions. The last section was to write about where I live. I still struggle with things that are more than basic conversations but I see this as a major milestone on my way to becoming fluent in Swedish.
When I learned Spanish in high school and college it was not nearly as frustrating and emotional as it has been learning Swedish. When I was learning Spanish I did not have to rely upon my understanding of Spanish to integrate into where I lived. I also did not have to understand Spanish to understand simple things like conversations going on around me. One minute I feel good that I can see progress and then the next day I might feel completely overwhelmed at how little I still can understand. I am happy to have completed course B and I am looking forward to starting course C in January.
On Thursday night I decided that it was time to stop speaking English. I made a new rule for myself that I am only to speak Swedish to people that live here in Sweden. I have to admit that I was a little bit afraid of only speaking in Swedish. I now know enough Swedish words that I can make myself understood a majority of the time. I did not realize how often I would revert back English when I could not express what I wanted to say until I stopped speaking English.
For the last two weeks I have been communicated with a new classmate only in Swedish. He does not speak English and I do not speak Kurdish. We both only speak a little Swedish. If I can communicate with him than I can make myself understand with people who speak Swedish well. On Friday I had a discussion about Swedish grammar with five other people in my class using only Swedish and a whiteboard. It was not an easy discussion but in the end we all basically understood one another.
At home it has it moments of frustration. I am unable to always clearly communicate but we are all managing. Mona and Vanim are both helping me when I make mistakes which are many. I often have to ask them to repeat themselves or to define a word. They are both being great teachers. I have notices that since I stopped speaking English that it is getting easier to hear what others are saying when they are speaking in Swedish. Right now it is hard to speak only in Swedish but it will get easier. I also feel that I will now be learning a lot faster having to rely only upon Swedish to communicate.
Today was a big milestone for me. I went to the post office to mail a package and conducted the entire transaction in Swedish. I did not use any English. I usually ask “Förstår du engleska?” (Do you understand English?) or “Talar du engelska?” (Do you speak English?) than continue the interaction in English. The truth is that I have been afraid to try to communicate in Swedish with someone that I do not know in Swedish. I realize that this is an unfounded fear since since all the Swedes I have met have been nice and more than willing to help when asked.
I have now been in my SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) class for almost four weeks. Even though I have a long way to go I have learned a lot. This is a very different experience than when I was learning Spanish in school. I did not have to learn Spanish to be successful in my life. Learning Swedish is the key to being successful here in Sweden.
This experience has given me a whole different perspective on immigrants and the political debates going on in the United States. It has been a common sentiment with many people that I know and including myself that if people are going to live in the United States then at least they can learn English. What I realize now is that it is not such an easy thing to do.
I sometimes have these moments of irrational fear. A couple of days ago there was this moment when I thought I am going to start thinking different and I will loose myself. It quickly passed. Some days I feel like my brain might explode. There are times when I feel I am almost to a point of understanding and then I wake up and feel like I might never understand.
I will continue to learn. I will start interacting with Swedes in Swedish more often. Sooner or later I will be fluent in Swedish. I am hoping for the sooner.
When the mail arrived on Monday the long awaited letter finally showed up. My start date for the Swedish For Immigrants class is Monday, 23 September. I turned my application in on 29 July and my letter arrived 9 September. In my experience so far a lot of official government processes require you to fill out paperwork and then wait for a paper response delivered by mail. This is just pure speculation on my part but if you require all government responses to be set through the mail it insures that the post office has a continual source of revenue. The Swedish post office is a jointly owned company between the Swedish and the Danish government called PostNord. Sweden owns sixty percent while Denmark owned forty percent. Both governments have an equal vote in the running of the company.
The other day a friend was over and requested I say something in Swedish. “Jag talar svenska un lite grann” I said. There it was the Spanish un seeping into my Swedish when what I should have said Jag talar svenska lite grann (I speak Swedish a little). When I was in high school, college, and university I took Spanish classes. Now that I am trying to teach myself Swedish all those Spanish words that I forgot are swirling in the sea of this new language I am trying to acquire The place in my brain where Spanish is stored is the same place that my brain is putting Swedish. At first it was very difficult to put barriers between the two. Sometimes I felt like my brain was going to explode as both languages were continually colliding together.
While responding to Van’s sister on Facebook once I wrote Jag talar svensak lite gran which means I speak Swedish a little spruce. I have said roof when I meant thanks, and wall when I meant road. I am forever struggling to pronounce the Å Ä Ö. I have asked what tree (ett träd) is so many times that it is almost becoming a joke. And yet I have no problem remembering jag älskar dig (I love you).
I bought Complete Swedish a teach yourself guide but was having difficulty connecting to the format of the material. I discovered online an older version of the United States Foreign Institutes Swedish language course which worked better with my learning style. (The web site that was hosting it has disappeared so recently I had to download it from BitTorrent). I have discovered www.svt.se which is Sweden’s television network. I try to watch Sydnytt every day, the new station for Skåne County where I will be living. Sometimes I can even get the basic gist of the subject matter being discussed.
Even though my brain feels like a war zone at times between Swedish and Spanish I am exercising my brain muscle. It feels as if my brain might actually become stronger. Perhaps this time I may acquire proficiency in another language besides English. Now if only I could learn to speak cat but at last Alexandra Seller,s book How to Speak Cat an essential primer of cat language only resulted in me making silly noises, laughing hysterically and getting strange looks from my cats.