The value of reading

When I learned Swedish I went from knowing nothing to almost fluent in nine months. Naturally the fact that I am good at languages helped. As did the fact that already I spoke four Germanic languages. And that my second language (Afrikaans) is approximately 80% similar to Swedish. But the thing that helped me the most was reading. Even though I lived and worked in English and people in town always wanted to speak English to me, I could read on my own and make my Swedish better that way.

My first attempt at reading was the Metro. And then the free Åhléns magazine. I am a fan of beauty products so I used to translate the articles about the Å range of products word by word.

I studied Swedish at Stockholm University and we were required to read a book a week – we were tested every Friday and could not continue unless we had passed every test. I worked my way through the classics (Moa Martinsson, Harry Martinsson, Per-Anders Fogelström, Vilhelm Moberg). This helped immensely with not only language but also learning about Sweden (Before reading these books I had no idea that Sweden had ever been poor) We were then allowed to read modern novels so I chose Liza Marklund and Henning Mankell. I then tried to read English literature which had been translated into Swedish (Bridget Jones for example).

When I was about to write TISUS (Test i svenska för universitets- och högskolestudier) my teacher kept telling me ‘you sound English’. I would ask him ‘exactly what am I doing wrong?’ and he would say ‘you are technically perfect but you SOUND English’. I was so frustrated because I wanted exact rules for what I should do and there weren’t any. So I read. And read. And read, And read.

During my examination I felt I was losing control of my language. I was sure that I had failed. But I passed with distinction. Because somehow through the reading my brain had absorbed the rythmn of the language. I had taken in the prepositions and the illogical word order and and made them my own.

So now I always recommend reading. It won’t help with pronunciation but it will help with everything else – vocabulary, prepositions, sentence structure, adjectives. Naturally it will help to choose books that are not too old fashioned (no Shakespeare for example!) or too full of swearing and slang. But in this respect anything from a short article to a long novel will help. Language is not logical. It is organic. And English sometimes seems to have more exceptions than rules – but reading will help.

Some books which have accompanying movies are good. I would recommend Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, The Bang Bang Club, The Twilight Series and Harry Potter. Dan Brown is also good though his language is academic and technical no matter which language you read it in.

My Swedish is very rusty now because I work and live in English. But once a year on my holiday in South Africa I take Swedish books and read my way through them. Just to keep my eye in – to use a tennis term!

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

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