Sweden is a popular and prosperous Nordic country, known for it’s social equality and high standard of living. But just how popular and prevalent is English there. Can a tourist expect to get by in Sweden just using English?
A very high proportion of the Swedish population, around 86%, can speak English, since it is universally taught in schools from a very early age, so almost all adults in Sweden can speak English proficiently. Older people over the age of 60 may sometimes struggle, but anyone younger than that will be able to speak English in Sweden.
Therefore you will have no problems conversing with people in English in Stockholm or anywhere else in Sweden. You will not need to speak Swedish for any trip there.
A Eurobarometer survey placed the number of people who could speak English there as 86% of the population – a very high figure. This figure is from 2012 as well so if anything that figure has probably pushed up even higher to around or past 90% as another generation of children have come through the schooling system being taught English from very early on.
Sweden frequently features at the top or very near the top of any rankings on English proficiency around the world, along with the other Scandinavian countries. Almost everyone under the age of 60 speaks English, and speaks it well.
Therefore, tourists need not be worried about whether they can speak Swedish when holidaying there. For every ten people you stop on the street, 8 or 9 of them will speak English fluently. You will be fine in restaurants, bars, and anywhere else, all throughout Sweden as well and not just in the capital.
This is a huge benefit compared to so many other countries in Asia and Latin America especially, where English fluency can be patchy at best.
In fact many longer term visitors to Sweden report that Swedes are so accommodating and adept at English they will switch to it the moment they see someone struggling a little with Swedish, with the result that it can dampen the motivation or need for anyone to learn Swedish! English is so common in Sweden that one needn’t learn Swedish to get by for short term stays.
Why Are The Swedes So Good at English?
This picture of high fluency rates in English is very common across all of Scandinavia and boils down to two basic influences – the depth and quality of the teaching of English in schools and the influences of English speaking media in the form of TV and films in the Nordic countries, including Sweden.
In other words, Swedes are exposed to so much English from such an early age that it is very difficult for them not to become somewhat fluent in it. They are taught English from age 8 or 9 at least and sometimes as young as 7, so by the time they have left even high school they have had almost a decade of learning it.
English is also taught as a core subject in Swedish schools and not just an optional fringe subject, with lessons on several days a week at least. The result is that the training in English is far more rigorous than in other countries, which may only teach a few hours a week at best, and so the fluency rates are so much better than other parts of the world.
As with other Scandinavian countries, TV shows and film also tend not to be dubbed into Swedish, instead shown in their original English language form with Swedish subtitles. This allows the younger people especially to pick up more “live” spoken English, which, on top of the already rigorous training they receive in schools, means they are very adept at speaking and understanding English by the time they are adults.
As a result, pretty much anyone under the age of 60 in Sweden will be able to converse in English, and most of them very fluently as well. Swedes seem happy to integrate English into their life, since they acknowledge the importance of it for business especially.
It is even being used a primary language in some lines of work, though nowhere near all occupations yet. If someone is going to Sweden longer term to work, then it would still make sense to learn Swedish in many lines of work, since it will help you out and also integrate into Swedish society better.
Having some Swedish will also help you meet new Swedish friends, and perhaps be useful in some of the smaller grocery stores and restaurants. English speakers who move there longer term do tend to report it makes your experience there more enjoyable and opens up more opportunities if you learn Swedish, despite the high level of English fluency.
Some Basic Swedish Phrases
Here are some of the basic Swedish phrases a tourist might want to use when visiting. Although not strictly necessary, using some of the basic local language words always endears visitors to the locals a little more, since they appreciate you making the effort.
|Goodbye||Hej då /adjö||Hey doh/Ayeuh
|Thankyou (very much)||Tack (så mycket)||Tack (su mick-eh)
|Don't mention it||Ingen orsak||Inyen oo-shock
|How are you?||Hur är det?||Hur err de?
|Good morning||God morgon||Good mor-ron
|Good day||God dag||Goo daag|
|Good evening||God kväll||Goo kvell
|Good night||God natt||Goo natt|
|What's your name?||Vad heter du?||Va heyrter du?|
|I'm called...||Jag heter...||Jaag Heyr-ter...|
|Do you speak English?||Talar du svenska?||Tarlar du svenska?
|Yes, a little bit||Ja, lite grann||Ya, litte grann
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- Essential stats on Sweden:
- Population: 10.4 million
- Time zone: EST +6 hours; GMT +1 hours.
- Currency: Swedish krona (SEK) ($1 = 10.36 SEK; £1= 12.25 SEK at time of writing)
- International calling code: +46 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.
- Banking – If you don’t want to get stung with high ATM fees, check out our article on the Wise Borderless Card, which allows you to open up balances in many different currencies (including Swedish krona) and spend for free on your card.