Why is Sweden so good at English?

There’s no doubt that speakers of English in Sweden are much, much more advanced than in many other countries. The question is why?

The answer most people give is TV. It does seem that unlike the FIGS countries (France, Italy, Germany and Spain) and larger Asian countries that there is less localisation of programmes and also, admittedly just from a quick glance, less banal quiz show type programmes. From the brief time I flicked on the TV, all I saw were subtitled English programmes and movies. And of course if you are a kid you are simply going to learn the English rather then read the subtitles.

This is similar to the reasoning behind “extensive reading” in Asian countries, just give the kids lots and lots of input. Although from my experience TV seems much more effective.

Travel and study abroad are also often mentioned. Especially as Swedes tend to mix more easily and tend not to cling together to fellow nationals as many other peoples do.

Plus there are things like the similarity of the alphabet and common words in both languages. But this is also the case for the FIGS countries where the level of English is generally much lower.

I also think there are a couple of other things in play.

One is how even the advanced speakers in Sweden are always learning. We all know that fear of making mistakes is a big problem with many adult learners. But here people would just guess a word then ask if it was right. It usually was of course, but they weren’t afraid to just try and risk getting it wrong. Every time they do make a mistake they do learn a new word. Even the most fluent speakers were doing this all the time.

Plus of course there’s also the fact that just about everything is advanced in Sweden. Design, social thinking, parenting, everything points to it being one of the most advanced societies on Earth so speaking English is maybe just a small part of that!

One of the main things I feel is the self fulfilling prophesy that as so many people do speak English, everyone just sees it as something normal.

Before Roger Bannister ran the 4 minute mile everyone thought it was impossible, immediately afterwards it seemed everyone was doing it. The same applies here, the kids learn English because it’s just something you do. Whereas in many other countries, especially Asia, non-English speaking experts fill the screens with tales of how impossible English is to learn. Here one Grandfather told me “yeah, kids just listen a lot then one day start speaking”.

President Kennedy got America to the moon not because they knew how to do it, but because they didn’t know it couldn’t be done.

Any thoughts? Please share them on the forum…

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. And when I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. So I'm sharing it all with you now...