People in Sweden speak excellent English

The single hardest thing about learning Swedish is that everyone speaks English perfectly in Sweden. At first, I was a bit unsure about going to a country where the spoken language is not very popular. According to Wikipedia, there are only 9.8 million native speakers (2018), roughly 0.12% of the world’s population. Shocking right? Nevertheless, I chose Sweden. And to my surprise, everyone speaks English in here.

English might not be the official language in Sweden, but almost everyone in Sweden excels at speaking it. In 2017 Sweden ranked 2nd out of 80 countries in the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), which measures the language proficiency of non-native speaking countries. Since 2012, Sweden has managed to be in the top 3 every single year. But, how come Sweden managed to receive the “very-high” proficiency every single year for the past seven years? Well, this is my hypothesis.

Source: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Internet penetration.

The majority of the websites on the internet are in English, that is just a fact, no need to quote anyone or give any numbers. It only makes sense that if people have higher access to the internet they’ll often be exposed to more content in English. At the same time, good English skills give user additional opportunities to access more English-language resources.  In general, there is an obvious correlation between the level of English and the internet penetration. The easier the access, the better the proficiency.

Source: EF / https://www.ef.se/epi/

Culture diversity.

From my experience at school and the workplace, Sweden is a multicultural country. People come to Sweden to study or to work or just to hang out and they stay for longer than they expected to. The extensive amount of academic programs offered in English together with the good chunk of multinational companies makes English the common language among all the different nationalities. In simple words, you will find yourself speaking English more in Sweden than Swedish (this sounds so weird, but its true). Just to give you a quick example, in my master’s there are people of seven different nationalities (probably even more). At the brewery where I occasionally work, there are people from South Africa, Australia, New Zeland, Syria, France and of course Sweden.

Consumption of English media.

In Sweden, the audio-visual content is not dubbed. Movies, TV shows, series, and whatever media content you can think is showcased in its original language. We all know that the most popular TV series and shows are in English. It would be super weird to watch Family Guy or Game of Thrones in Swedish. I don’t even think there is a Swedish version of most English-spoken shows.

English is unquestionably the language of today’s media. Even though good content can be produced in any language, it can only reach a much wider audience when shared in English. In addition to the increasing number of English speakers worldwide, the most popular platforms for sharing content,  from Twitter feeds to YouTube channels, overwhelmingly use English.

Source: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

Working environment.

Like I said before, Sweden’s working environment is very international (at least in most of the fields, maybe not every single company). Here in Gothenburg, the automotive industry is huge. Volvo, among many others, has their headquarters here. Which means, there are a lot of suppliers. But, what the heck all of this has to do with English proficiency? Simple. Multinational companies imply that all their documentation has to be in English. Thus, people have to speak it and speak it exceptionally.

International collaboration is on the rise. Swedish companies are collaborating more and more with their foreign counterparts. Which means, that English proficiency is a key factor in order to succeed. At the same time, Swedish startups create their product or service already with the idea of expanding it internationally. Because of this, people are more exposed to English.

The same thing happens in the academic research field. English is to scientific papers as Latin was a thousand years ago. Scientific papers are traditionally published in international journals. More than half of the total scientific papers published in very high English proficiency countries like Sweden listed at least one international collaborator. Universities see a potential for collaboration, not only the researchers benefit from the diversified backgrounds of their international peers. But, also the universities boost their English proficiency ranking.

 

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Andrés

Mexican student doing a MSc in Automotive Engineering at Chalmers. I live in Gothenburg, Sweden. Email your questions, comments or requests to andres.studyinsweden@gmail.com
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