At a recent house (or rather, apartment) party, I found myself standing by the door welcoming some new arrivals as they walked in, shedding their winter layers. As one does in small talk, I asked one guy how he knew the host and hostess, to which an answer came out that I didn’t really hear. Instead of asking this guy to repeat himself, I just laughed, loudly and overtly, my go-to reaction when I’m not sure what to do. It usually works out.
But not this time.
The guy looked at me like I’d just asked him if I could take a bite off his ear.
Why is that funny? he asked me. I said I went to university with him.
Uhhhhh ….. b a c k a w a y s l o w l y a n d a v o i d s a i d p e r s o n f o r t h e r e s t o f t h e e v e n i n g
Of course, the problem was my level of Swedish in this – and many other – situations. The hum and blare of a 70-person party doesn’t help either. Still, I was disappointed by my level of Swedish. After 4.5 years, I’d hoped to be a Swedish-language master, nearly native. No such luck. Although I have my moments. And I do get complimented a lot for how well I speak this crazy Nordic language. But I still struggle with simple things. Like what did the guy say on the announcement on the metro? And what is that news broadcaster reporting? Aren’t news broadcasters supposed to speak clearly? I’m sure they are speaking clearly, but it’s still a struggle for me.
I was recently asked by someone how much Swedish I understand, and I answered 90%. That’s on a good day. Other days it might only be 50%. I do have relationships with people that are entirely in Swedish – and it feels strange to speak English with them. But with other people, I can’t seem to even get into the flow.
Either way, as someone who’s terrible with new languages, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, even if it’s taken me awhile to get there. But learning a language never really seems to be over. It’s a life-long process, like so many other things, and that’s a good thing since I’ve got some more learning to do.