The Swedish language: what a challenge! To be honest, I don’t see why one would bother with learning Swedish without thinking of Sweden: first, there is a historical and cultural reason to this, as Swedish is only spoken in Sweden and parts of Finland and nowhere else officially, unlike the languages that have been used in colonial times. Secondly, even in Europe, Swedish is not seen as a primary “must learn” language (unless you want to move to… you guessed it: Sweden), which actually makes it more and more fascinating.
The Swedish language is one of the Indo-European languages, the big family from which our modern-day languages in Europe come from, but as of today it only shares familiarity with languages such as Norse, Danish and Icelandic: out of these three Icelandic is the most remote, less similar language to Sweden, because the geographical isolation of Iceland also had an impact on its language, of course.
Languages are the result of history and it is no wonder to find out that Swedish is a mandatory subject in Finnish schools. Why? Because Swedish is an official language in Finland, as much as Finnish is, which is not always something the Finnish are glad about. Finland was, in fact, part of Sweden until the end of the Finnish War in 1809. Very recent times, indeed. In a campaign brought forward against the mandatory teaching of Swedish in schools, a Finnish poster portrayed a man throwing the letter “Å” in the bin. The letter itself is one of the many symbols of the Swedish language, since it is very common and is never used in Finnish, except for terms of Swedish origin. What makes “Å” interesting is that this letter has to be considered as a specific letter, not “an ‘A’ with an accent”: its proper pronunciation is not too different from our common “O”.
As for learning Swedish, opinions vary. Some call it “melodic and easy to learn” while other would mark it as “ugly and unworthy of being studied“, which means it is a very subjective matter, in the end. If you’re going to Sweden and want to learn the language there, then the easiest solution is to sign-up at a “Svenska för invandrare (SFI)” course: you must prove that you’re an immigrant (not there for a short trip, by the way), otherwise you could find other solutions. One of the first things one would notice of the Swedish language is its similarity with the German language, but that is the trick: comparing languages and discovering they are alike in some aspects, is an element of further confusion, as one takes for granted things that should not be.
Let’s be honest: Sweden does not have any influence on the rest of Europe. It is a country, like its Nordic neighbours, that minds its own business and this creates a sort of cultural barrier that we, as people of Europe, should work to overcome. Swedish is not just the language of IKEA, but has a century-long tradition of history and culture, novelists and nobel prizes (Alfred Nobel was from Stockholm and it is there that the first awards were given), thinkers and scientists. And it would just be unfair to rely on translation all of the time. Why? Because the translator works on such limited part of a vast heritage that we will never get the full picture if we do not look for answers ourselves. Swedish is the key to understand Sweden, but it is so much more than that!