Swedish Pronunciation: What You Can Do to Improve Your Accent

So, you’ve been studying Swedish for a while. You have no trouble at all with Swedish tenses, you’ve memorized a huge list of Swedish idioms, and even your writing is getting better. Why is it, then, that some Swedish people don’t understand you when you speak?

Most probably, the problem is your pronunciation. Conquering the Swedish accent is quite hard indeed. With its tricky consonant clusters and long compound words, spoken Swedish might get you discouraged if you don’t get enough help.

That is why, today, we are answering some of your most burning questions about the most challenging aspects of Swedish pronunciation, and with a few tricks to help you master them.

 

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The Notorious SJ-Sound

 

This is one of the most infamous sounds in Swedish. It’s a fricative sound, which means that it is produced by constricting the airflow through a narrow channel at the mouth (think of F in English), and it’s voiceless, which means it is produced without vibrations of the vocal cords.

The hardest thing about this sound is that it can be represented by several combinations of letters: sj, sk, skj, stj, sch, and ch, as well as ti and si when followed by -on. Also, it doesn’t really have an equivalent in English (or in any other language!) as it is unique to Swedish!

Below, you will find some of the most difficult words containing this sound are. Click on the links to hear their pronunciation.

sjuksköterska (nurse)

sjösjuka (seasick)

sjuhundrasjuttiosju (777)

Pronunciation tips: First, pronounce an H-sound a couple of times. Do you notice the puff of air involved in its pronunciation? Now, move the sound further back into your mouth, trying to make it deeper. Finally, round your lips as if you were pronouncing the word “put”. Do this while the air is still coming out. The result should be an acceptable pronunciation of Swedish /sj/.

 

Hard And Soft Letters

 

Have you noticed that the first sk cluster in sjuksköterska has a soft pronunciation (like the one for sj), while the final sk is pronounced with a hard sound (like the sc in scan)?

Okay, maybe you haven’t.

Anyway, to explain this difference in pronunciation we have to talk about vowels. In Swedish, there are five soft vowels E, I, Y, Ä, Ö, and four hard vowels: A, O, U, Å. It’s the quality of Swedish vowels that indicates how to pronounce a K, G, or SK that comes immediately before them.

For example, whereas the word katt (cat) is pronounced with a hard consonant, the word köttbullar (meatballs) is said with a soft K, similar to “sh” in English words like “shop” or “ship.”

The same rule applies to the letter G. Gotland, the name of a Swedish island, has a hard pronunciation (like the word “goat”), while Göteborg, the Swedish city, has a soft pronunciation (like the words “yawn” or “yacht”).

At this point, you might be tempted to complain about how difficult Swedish pronunciation is. Let us remind you that we have similar phenomena in English. Consider, for example, how the letter C is pronounced differently in words like “camping” and “central.”

Now, there is something else we should remind you: there is no rule (especially, no language rule!) without a few exceptions. The words kille (guy) and gem (paperclip) are said with hard consonants even though they are followed by soft vowels.

Yes, we know, life is hard. The good news is that these exceptions are really rare (trust us), so it won’t be long till you’ve learned all of them.

 

Å, Ä, Ö – Everything You Need to Know About Their Pronunciation

 

Sometimes, while reading a text in Swedish, you find words that look strangely unfamiliar. Words like snurrfåtölj (swivel chair), for example.

What is the pronunciation of these Å’s, Ä’s and Ö’s that you come across so often while reading in Swedish?

– Å has a similar pronunciation to the letter O in English words like “more.”

– The Swedish Ä, on the other hand, sounds almost exactly like the English word “air.”

– Finally, Ö resembles the pronunciation of the “ur” part in the word “fur.”

 

Long Compound Words

 

Last but not least, Swedish boasts some of the longest, most intricate compound words in any language, which account for why Swedish pronunciation can be so hard sometimes.

These loooong words are formed from several shorter words, as in the case of sjuhundrasjuttiosju (777), made from the words sju hundra, sjuttio, and sju. Although the individual sounds are not difficult to produce once you know the basic Swedish pronunciation rules, words like this can be overwhelming. Sometimes, compounds look completely alien until we identify the individual morphemes that make up the word. For example, in the word tändsticksask (matchbox), we have the words tänd-sticks-ask, which have the following meanings:

1) tändsticka (matchstick). Tändsticka is also a compound word made up of tänd (to light) and sticka (stick, referring to the wooden part of the matchstick in this case).

2) the S in tändsticks is a genitive S, indicating that the ask (box) belongs to (or is related to) the tändsticka (singular form of matchstick).

3 ) Finally, ask is the equivalent of “a small box,” such as a matchbox.

 

Beware of Swedish & English False Friends

 

Swedish pronunciation may not be the trickiest thing about this language after all.

At some point during your Swedish learning process, you’re bound to encounter a word and say to yourself: “Oh, I know this word! This is exactly how we say this in English!

And in some cases, you will be right. “Jeans,” “cool” and “call-center” are some of the words that Swedish has borrowed from English and, as a result, you can safely use them in the same contexts you would use them in your language.

But beware, because (just like it happens outside language) false friends are everywhere.

Take the Swedish word bra, for example, which means good, or the word fart, which means speed. You wouldn’t want to make mistakes with those, would you?

As you can see, with practice and motivation, Swedish pronunciation shouldn’t be too hard to master. However, there’s no need to do it on your own. Take one of our personalized Swedish lessons now! Our native teachers will love to tell you everything you need to know to crack Swedish pronunciation and take your linguistic skills to the next level. And if you’d like to improve your pronunciation in Swedish, you can start practicing with our post on the 4 amazing Swedish artists that you shouldn’t miss.

 

We would like to thank our Swedish teacher Agneta for her valuable contributions to this article.

 

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