Self-Access Centre - Swedish

Welcome to the Self-Access Centre materials database. Here you can find out about the Swedish materials available in the SAC.

If you are interested in studying Swedish at UCL, please click here.

The SAC is here to provide you with opportunities to study Swedish outside class time. You may feel extra study is necessary in order to achieve the exam score you want, or you may just enjoy studying Swedish. Either way, the SAC could be useful for you.

If you have a very clear idea of what you need to study in Swedish, use the Resources menu above to look for the study topics which are of importance to you. If you need advice and guidance on what to study, you should talk to your class tutor, who will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations on what to study.

We have a wide range of resources to help you study Swedish on your own. In the Self-Access Centre you can find course books, dictionaries, but also, reading and grammar books. You can watch online TV or listen to radio stations. You can also watch Swedish films and TV recordings.

A bit about the language

Swedish ( svenska ) is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden and parts of Finland, especially along the coast and on the Åland islands. It is to a considerable extent mutually intelligible with Norwegian and to a lesser extent with Danish. Along with the other North Germanic languages, Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples living in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. Standard Swedish, used by most Swedish people, is the national language that evolved from the Central Swedish dialects in the 19th century and was well established by the beginning of the 20th century. While distinct regional varieties descended from the older rural dialects still exist, the spoken and written language is uniform and standardized. Some dialects differ considerably from the standard language in grammar and vocabulary and are not always mutually intelligible with Standard Swedish. These dialects are confined to rural areas and are spoken primarily by small numbers of people with low social mobility. Though not facing imminent extinction, such dialects have been in decline during the past century, despite the fact that they are well researched and their use is often encouraged by local authorities.

Geographic distribution

  • Distribution of Swedish

Swedish is the national language of Sweden and the first language for the overwhelming majority of roughly 8 million Swedish-born inhabitants and acquired by 1 million immigrants. As of 2007 around 5.5% of the population of Finland was Swedish speaking, though the percentage has declined steadily over the last 400 years. The Finland Swedish minority is concentrated in the coastal areas and archipelagos of southern and western Finland. In some of these areas, Swedish is the predominant language. In 19 municipalities, 16 of which are located in Åland, Swedish is the only official language. In several, it is the majority language and it is an official minority language in even more. There is considerable migration between the Nordic countries, but owing to the similarity between the cultures and languages (with the exception of Finnish), expatriates generally assimilate quickly and do not stand out as a group. According to the 2000 United States Census, some 67,000 people over the age of five were reported as Swedish speakers, though without any information on actual language proficiency. Similarly, there are 16,915 reported Swedish speakers in Canada from the 2001 census. Outside Sweden and Finland, there are about 40,000 active learners enrolled in Swedish language courses.

Official status

Swedish is officially the main language of Sweden. It has long been used in local and state government and most of the educational system, but remained only a de facto primary language, with no official status in law. A bill was proposed in 2005 that would have made Swedish an official language, but failed to pass by the narrowest possible margin (145–147). A proposal for a broader language law, designating Swedish as the main language of the country and bolstering the status of the minority languages, was submitted by an expert committee to the Swedish Ministry of Culture in March 2008. It was subsequently enacted by the Riksdag and entered into effect in 2009.

  • Bilingual Swedish-Finnish sign

Swedish is the only official language of Åland (an autonomous province under the sovereignty of Finland) where the vast majority of the 26,000 inhabitants speak Swedish as a first language. In Finland, Swedish is the second national language alongside Finnish on the state level, and an official language in some coastal municipalities. Three municipalities (Korsnäs, Närpes, Larsmo) in mainland Finland have Swedish as their sole official language. Swedish is also one of the official languages of the European Union and one of the working languages of the Nordic Council. Under the Nordic Language Convention, citizens of the Nordic countries speaking Swedish have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable to any interpretation or translation costs.

Regulatory bodies

The Swedish Language Council (Språkrådet) is the official regulator of Swedish, but does not attempt to enforce control of the language, as for instance the Académie française does for French. However, many organizations and agencies require the use of the council's publication Svenska skrivregler in official contexts, with it otherwise being regarded as a de facto orthographic standard. Among the many organizations that make up the Swedish Language Council, the Swedish Academy (established 1786) is arguably the most influential. Its primary instruments are the dictionaries Svenska Akademiens Ordlista (currently in its 13th edition) and Svenska Akademiens Ordbok, in addition to various books on grammar, spelling and manuals of style. Even though the dictionaries are sometimes used as official decrees of the language, their main purpose is to describe current usage.


The traditional definition of a Swedish dialect has been a local variant that has not been heavily influenced by the standard language and that can trace a separate development all the way back to Old Norse. Many of the genuine rural dialects have very distinct phonetic and grammatical features. These dialects can be near-incomprehensible to a majority of Swedes, and most of their speakers are also fluent in Standard Swedish. The different dialects are often so localized that they are limited to individual parishes and are referred to by Swedish linguists as sockenmål (lit. "parish speech"). They are generally separated into six major groups. This type of classification, however, is based on a somewhat romanticized nationalist view of ethnicity and language. The idea that only rural variants of Swedish should be considered "genuine" is not generally accepted by modern scholars. No dialects, no matter how remote or obscure, remained unchanged or undisturbed by a minimum of influences from surrounding dialects or the standard language, especially not from the late 1800s onwards with the advent of mass media and advanced forms of transport. The differences are today more accurately described by a scale that runs from "standard language" to "rural dialect" where the speech even of the same person may vary from one extreme to the other depending on the situation. All Swedish dialects with the exception of the highly diverging forms of speech in Dalarna, Norrbotten and, to some extent, Gotland can be considered to be part of a common, mutually intelligible dialect continuum. This continuum may also include Norwegian and some Danish dialects.


In the 9th century, Old Norse began to diverge into Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Sweden and Denmark). In the 12th century, the dialects of Denmark and Sweden began to diverge, becoming Old Danish and Old Swedish in the 13th century. All were heavily influenced by Middle Low German during the Middle Ages.

Old Norse

In the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, had undergone some changes and evolved into Old Norse. This language began to undergo new changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, which resulted in the appearance of two similar dialects, Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden). The subdialect of Old East Norse spoken in Sweden is called Runic Swedish and the one in Denmark Runic Danish. The dialects are called runic because the main body of text appears in the runic alphabet. Because the number of runes was limited, some were used for a range of phonemes, such as the rune for the vowel u which was also used for the vowels o, ø and y, and the rune for i which was also used for e.

From 1100 onwards, the dialect of Denmark began to diverge from that of Sweden. The innovations spread unevenly from Denmark which created a series of minor dialectal boundaries.

Old Swedish

Old Swedish is the term used for the medieval Swedish language, starting in 1225. Among the most important documents of the period written in Latin script is the oldest of the provincial law codes, the Västgöta code, of which fragments dated to 1250 have been found. The main influences during this time came with the firm establishment of the Roman Catholic Church and various monastic orders, introducing many Greek and Latin loanwords. With the rise of Hanseatic power in the late 13th and early 14th century, the influence of Middle Low German became ever more present. The Hanseatic league provided Swedish commerce and administration with a large number of German- and Dutch-speaking immigrants. Many became quite influential members of Swedish medieval society, and brought terms from their mother tongue into the vocabulary. Besides a great number of loanwords for such areas as warfare, trade and administration, almost all of the naval terms were also borrowed from Dutch. Early medieval Swedish was markedly different from the modern language in that it had a more complex case structure. A transitional change of the Latin script in the Nordic countries was to spell the letter combination "ae" as æ – and sometimes as a' – though it varied between persons and regions. The combination "ao" was similarly rendered ao, and "oe" became oe. These three were later to evolve into the separate letters ä, å and ö.

Modern Swedish

  • The Gustav Vasa Bible, 1541

Modern Swedish (nysvenska) begins with the advent of the printing press and the European Reformation. After assuming power, the new monarch Gustav Vasa ordered a Swedish translation of the Bible. The New Testament was published in 1526, followed by a full Bible translation in 1541, usually referred to as the Gustav Vasa Bible, a translation deemed so successful and influential that, with revisions incorporated in successive editions, it remained the most common Bible translation until 1917. The Vasa Bible is often considered to be a reasonable compromise between old and new; while not adhering to the colloquial spoken language of its day it was not overly conservative in its use of archaic forms. It was a major step towards a more consistent Swedish orthography. It established the use of the vowels "å", "ä", and "ö", and the spelling "ck" in place of "kk", distinguishing it clearly from the Danish Bible, perhaps intentionally, given the ongoing rivalry between the countries.  Though it might seem as if the Bible translation set a very powerful precedent for orthographic standards, spelling actually became more inconsistent during the remainder of the century. It was not until the 17th century that spelling began to be discussed, around the time when the first grammars were written. The spelling debate raged on until the early 19th century, and it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that the orthography reached generally acknowledged standards.

Contemporary Swedish

The period that includes Swedish as it is spoken today is termed nusvenska (lit. "Now-Swedish") in linguistic terminology and started in the last decades of the 19th century. The period saw a democratization of the language with a less formal written language that came closer to spoken language. The growth of a public schooling system also lead to the evolution of so-called boksvenska (literally "book Swedish"), especially among the working classes, where spelling to some extent influenced pronunciation, particularly in official contexts. With the industrialization and urbanization of Sweden well under way by the last decades of the 19th century, a new breed of authors made their mark on Swedish literature. Many scholars, politicians and other public figures had a great influence on the new national language that was emerging. It was during the 20th century that a common, standardized national language became available to all Swedes. The orthography was finally stabilized, and was almost completely uniform, with the exception of some minor deviations, by the time of the spelling reform of 1906. A very significant change in Swedish occurred in the late 1960s, with the so-called du-reformen, "the you-reform". Previously, the proper way to address people of the same or higher social status had been by title and surname. The use of herr ("Mr" or "Sir"), fru ("Mrs" or "Ma'am") or fröken ("Miss") was only considered acceptable in initial conversation with strangers of unknown occupation, academic title or military rank. The fact that the listener should preferably be referred to in the third person tended to further complicate spoken communication between members of society. In the early 20th century, an unsuccessful attempt was made to replace the insistence on titles with ni (the standard 2nd person plural pronoun), analogous to the French Vous. Ni (plural 2nd person pronoun) wound up being used as a slightly less familiar form of du (singular 2nd person pronoun) used to address people of lower social status. With the liberalization and radicalization of Swedish society in the 1950s and 1960s, these previously significant distinctions of class became less important and du became the standard, even in formal and official contexts. Though the reform was not an act of any centralized political decrees, but rather a sweeping change in social attitudes, it was completed in just a few years from the late 1960s to early 1970s.

Famous Swedes

Anders Celsius (1701 – 1744) was a Swedish astronomer. He was professor of astronomy at Uppsala University, but travelled visiting notable observatories in Germany, Italy and France. He founded the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory in 1741, and in 1742 he proposed the Celsius temperature scale which takes his name.

  • Pippi Longstocking book-cover

Pippi Longstocking (Swedish Pippi Långstrump) is a fictional character in a series of children's books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, and adapted into multiple films and television series. Pippi was named by Lindgren's then nine-year-old daughter, Karin, who requested a get-well story from her mother one day when she was home sick from school. Nine-year-old Pippi is unconventional, assertive, and has superhuman strength, being able to lift her horse one-handed without difficulty. She frequently mocks and dupes adults she encounters, an attitude likely to appeal to young readers; however, Pippi usually reserves her worst behaviour for the most pompous and condescending of adults. The books have been translated into more than 50 languages.

Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) was a Swedish author. She was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and most widely known for her children's book Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils). In 1909 Selma Lagerlöf won the Nobel Prize "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings". In 1914 she also became a member of the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize. At the start of World War II, she sent her Nobel Prize medal and gold medal from the Swedish Academy to the government of Finland to help raise money to fight the Soviet Union. The Finnish government was so touched that it raised the necessary money by other means and returned her medal to her.

  • The Nobel Prize

Alfred Nobel (1833 –1896) was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and the inventor of dynamite. He owned Bofors, a major armaments manufacturer, which he had redirected from its previous role as an iron and steel mill. Nobel held 355 different patents, dynamite being the most famous. In his last will, he used his enormous fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes. The synthetic element nobelium was named after him. On 27 November 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality. After taxes and bequests to individuals, Nobel's will gave 31,225,000 Swedish kronor (equivalent to £ 168 million) to fund the prizes. Today, the Nobel Prize is awarded annually for outstanding contributions in Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace, and Physiology or Medicine.

ABBA was a Swedish pop music group formed in Stockholm in 1972, consisting of Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida), Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Agnetha Fältskog (Anna). Fältskog and Ulvaeus were a married couple, as were Lyngstad and Andersson during their career, although both couples later divorced. They became one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of popular music, and they topped the charts worldwide from 1972 to 1982.

  • Ingmar Bergman

Ernst Ingmar Bergman (1918 – 2007) was a Swedish director, writer and producer for film, stage and television. His influential body of work often dealt with themes such as bleakness and despair, as well as comedy and hope, in his cinematic exploration of the human condition. Described by Woody Allen as "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera", he is recognized as one of the most accomplished and influential dramatic artists of all time. He directed over sixty films and documentaries for cinema release and for television, most of which he also wrote, and directed over one hundred and seventy plays. Most of his films were set in the landscape of Sweden, his major themes being death, illness, betrayal and insanity. Bergman was active for more than six decades, but his career was seriously threatened in 1976 when he suspended a number of pending productions, closed his studios, and went into self-imposed exile in Germany for eight years following a botched criminal investigation for alleged income tax evasion.

Source: adapted from www.wikipedia.org