As a student in Sweden, you will soon realise that almost every Swede speaks English very well - and is more than happy to show it. But while you could easily stay in the country for a full two-year degree programme without ever even learning to ask for the time in Swedish, we urge you to give it a try. Swedish is a beautiful language that is relatively easy to learn. Here is your essential vocabulary for the first few weeks:
Hej! / Hej då!
It cannot get any simpler than this: hej means “hello”, hej då means “good-bye”. While strictly speaking an informal greeting, it works in virtually any circumstance.
Swedes are among the world’s hardest coffee addicts. Research firm Euromonitor estimates that the average person in Sweden consumes almost four cups of coffee per day, surpassed only by Finland and the Netherlands. The concept of fika neatly describes this addiction: To fika is to have a short coffee break, often with cookies or pastries, and you can (and should) have several per day. While most commonly used as a verb, fika can also be a noun. For instance, “Should we have a coffee break?” could be said as both: “Ska vi fika?” (verb) or “Ska vi ta en fika?” (noun).
Another thing you will soon learn when you study in Sweden is that Swedes are an easygoing, down-to-earth people. There is perhaps no other word that better embodies this than lagom. It lacks a proper translation in most languages, but essentially stands for “the right amount”. And it can be used in almost any context - temperatures, amounts, lengths, and so on. “How much did you write for your essay assignment?” - “Lagom.”
Fan is a name for the Devil, and “Va' fan?!” is used the same way as “What the hell?” in English. You will hear this a lot in Sweden. Really - a lot.
Don’t let this false friend confuse you. When you see your Swedish fellow students looking forward to semester, they are not excited about long nights studying at the library. Quite the contrary: semester means vacation. The Swedish equivalent for the English word semester (or term) is termin.
The verb plugga is a slang word, meaning “to study”. If your friends want to drag you out for a few beers, but you have an important exam coming up, you best tell them: “Jag måste plugga!” - “I have to study!”
Where people elsewhere launch into lengthy apologies when stepping on someone’s shoes in the subway, bumping into them, or spilling a drink on them, Swedes content themselves with this little word: Oj!
Öl means “beer”. To make things easier, the plural is the same, no matter if you order one beer (“en öl”) or five (“fem öl”). On your first night out, your fellow international students from Germany might find this mildly amusing because Öl is also the German word for “oil”.
Tack means both “thank you” and, if put at the end of a request, “please”:
“En öl, tack.” - “A beer, please.”
“Varsågod.” - “Here you go.”
“Tack!” - “Thank you!”
This is easily most students’ favourite word, and among the first terms you will naturally pick up once you’ve made friends at university in Sweden: “Skål!” Simply means “Cheers!”