Posts Tagged ‘swedish’

believe it or not: self-satisying lingustic updates

April 24, 2010

Believe it. Today, I think I can say with confidence, was my best day yet in the Swedish Language. Sure, it still wasn’t perfect. I still had trouble saying miljöskydd and ömsesidigt and sjö and etc. But that is beside the point. Here are the cold hard facts:

1. Today I represented the EU in a mock-meeting about the sustainable development of a proposed Neutron Spallation source  (ESS) to be built in Lund. In Swedish. I was nervös out of my mind, but I made it.

2. During said meeting, I won an argument about why the development of green-energy facilities supplying power to ESS should be built on an interconnected European electricity network, rather than far away in developing countries outside of the EU. In Swedish. Of course, I didn’t actually understand completely that I what happened until an observer explained to me afterward that I had gotten the final word. But he explained to me in Swedish, so it still counts.

3. This has nothing to do with Swedish, but this morning I went all maintenance-manager on my sink and took it apart to clean it and put it back together. I spoke neither English nor Swedish to the sink, so overall it was a wash. Pun absolutely intended.

4. I had a pleasant chat with one of my classmates, who is not in my work group and wasn’t someone I knew before today, about things not having to do with the course…such as earthquakes and bike crashes and all those things I normally talk about besides Spallation sources. In Swedish.

5. In the evening I hung out with a bunch of really, really awesome people, two of whom I knew from the bike club, one being Johanna, and one being someone I met through Johanna. The rest I had never met before. We conversed on topics as widespread and academic as Harry Potter, LOTR, bikes, music, the USA as a ‘melting pot’, the Spanish language, Sweden, logarithms, dialects, and basically all those things I normally talk about besides Spallation sources or earthquakes or bike crashes. They talked about several other things amongst themselves that I either a) couldn’t hear b) didn’t understand or c) was to tired to even try. But no matter. My linguistic handcap (meaning the number of times they clarified in English) for the night could probably been counted on one hand. And then, then we played karaoke. It was beautiful.

6. I am on the road to mastering Swedish noises. America: if I come back and keep saying “mmmmmmm” (translation: go ahead, keep talking) and “aaaaa-aaaaaa” (yes) and “—-short, audible intake of air—-” (also means yes), don’t be alarmed. That just Sweden talking. aaaaaa-aaaaa. Precis. Absolut.

7. This is as silly one, but I think I am not afraid of English anymore. For the first few weeks, I was really embarrassed about speaking English. I felt as if maybe everyone would think I was dumb for not speaking Swedish, and spent many hours pretending I understood when I didn’t, a little trick that I still use every so often, like every day. Maybe this insistence on having Swedish spoken to me (and all the awkwardness I endured) is what has led me to this new level of understanding in the first place. But now since it feels more and more like I am getting the Swedish under control (this is still a very tentative statement), English seems less stupid. Maybe because people don’t really switch on me anymore, so it feels less like a scarlet letter. English is a good language, and I like it.* I shouldn’t hate on it. After all, the English language is my greatest source of power in this world (case in point: this blog, see also daily cal). I am lucky to have it as my mother tongue, even if maybe it means I’ll have to work 30 times as hard to say miljöskydd correctly. But someday I’ll get there too.


Totally random: The korridor across from  me is having a party. I have just heard, in this order: 1. Don’t stop Believing 2. Vi Gräver Guld i USA  3. Like a Prayer. 4. Don’t Stop Believing (again). Oh my God, Sweden. Really?


* Any Swedish people who might be reading this, despite these new thoughts about English, NO, you are still not allowed to speak English with me. Om ni växlar språk ska jag bara försätta på svenska. Tack : )

KemiA00: the socio-linguistic experiment

January 19, 2010

Kväve. Syre. Col. Fosfor. Selen. Väte. Brom. Volfram. And my favorite: Kviksilver.

As I like awake in bed at night, the litany of names in the Periodiska Sytemet marches through my brain. Crom. Vanadin. Järn. Zirkronium… and all of a sudden I realize I am in for the challenge of a lifetime.

I signed up for Chemistry in Swedish. Suddenly, my ability to communicate and understand the world around me was reduced to that of a one-year-old child, an adult gorilla, or a very, very smart Labrador retriever.

It has been exactly one week since I moved into Parentesen. However, to quote a blog by a former UC-Lund exchange student that has been helpful to me in figuring this whole thing out, “it feels like a month.” One week, one week, one week-and what can I say? I am doing alright, I am doing a lot, and I am realizing that Swedish isn’t as easy as it was back in Carl’s Svenska 1A. But I am stubborn, and despite all odds, all non-existent language barriers, and possibly all reason, I will learn this language. I don’t know why I am obsessed with this goal; everyone here speaks perfect, beautiful English. There happens to be an unfortunate rule that the UC Study Center only allows students to take Swedish courses through the Folkuniversitet (city college) rather than the University. And that costs $800. Which means that without a job here in Sweden, this is not really an option for me. Looks like I’m going to have to do this with my own blood and sweat and tears and awkward encounters. But mark my words, I tell you. Jag SKA lära mig svenska. Mark my words. Lyssna på vad jag säger.

That’s why I signed up for KEMIA00 ( man säger: ‘shem-ee aahhh nul-nul’). Making the decision was a sort of watershed moment for me. When I got here, none of my classes had been approved by the departments, so I spent a long time walking around LTH (Lunds teckniska högskola-you can guess what it means) in a daze, caught between Fysicum and Kemicentrum and Kårhuset, and a very bemusing statue of Tycho Brahe. Somehow, out of the grace of God or Science or both, I ended up in the office of the professor of KEMIA00. I need this class for my double-major in Geophysics, but I have been loath to take it at Berkeley because it is a lower-level course that is generally over-populated with pre-meds. So I thought: ‘Here is my chance to take Chem 1A. Here is my chance to learn Swedish’. Here goes nothing. “Hej, jag heter A….. (in Swedish I have a hard time pronouncing my own name)…jag är utbytestundent och jag läser fysik vid Berkeley i Californien. Och jag skulle vilja ta KEMIA00.”

Fast forward to this morning (and by morning I mean 12:15 pm). I sat in a class full of Swedish people. I listened to the teacher explain the syllabus, the lab schedule, and the exams in Swedish. I saw an Asian guy in the row in front of my and prayed he was an international student. He wasn’t. I spent 110 Kronor on a Lab reader. I learned about lab safety. I didn’t understand everything. That’s probably not a good thing.

But you know what: I had the time of my life.

I have been thinking a lot about this all day today (there is a lot of thinking to be done in Sweden). Being in a class where the language of instruction is not my native language is something I have never had to encounter in my academic lifetime. As some of you know, I have a strong interest in bi-lingual education. Coming from California, I have been in classes with many people whose native language is not the language of instruction-but never have I stood in their shoes. The past few years I have actually thought a lot about the way language is taught to English learners in American schools—should Spanish and English be taught simultaneously? When should English learners be integrated into classes with native speakers (or should they ever be separated?)? Why is our school system so, so, so inefficient at teaching foreign languages to native English speakers? And, how many truly brilliant kids with non-English backgrounds simply slip through the cracks?

Today, as I sat alone in lecture hall full of 150 people, struggling to understand the language (let alone the material that was actually being conveyed), I finally found myself in the position that so many children in California find themselves in every day. And it dawned on me that, perhaps, a lot of the people who designed our monster of an educational system haven’t been there.

Like I said before, this will probably be one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Yup, right up there with the Berkeley home road race and Quantum Mechanics ($#@!). But for me at least, the things that are the most challenging are also the most rewarding. Throughout this ordeal, I hope to learn a lot. And not just about Väte or kväve or Col or even Kviksilver, but about, well, everything.


More on what I am doing in the tangible world to come later—when I am in a far less abstract mood.

Which is somewhat ironic, because “mood” is an abstraction.

I think I’ll go to sleep now.

Bread: Rye—t on, sista!

July 4, 2009

Last Monday I was at Berkeley Bowl and I came across a bucket in the bulk section labeled ‘organic rye flour’. I couldn’t pass it up. So I bought a bag of it ($2.54 worth to be exact). I came home and went completely rye-crazy.

Rye is a very common bread in Northern Europe, especially in Germany and Scandinavia. In America, most breads characterized as rye contain caraway seeds, and sort of resemble the breads found containing pastrami sandwiches in delis. But in fact there exists a whole rainbow of different ryes: from the heavy Danish Blackbread, to the sweet tinged Swedish, to the German pumpernickel (which I’m pretty sure is german for daemon bowl movement…) Rye is a powerful bread, to say the least. It is thick, hearty, quite potent, and truly loving it is not for the faint of heart.

First I baked the “European” rye recipe from the amazing Cheese Board cookbook titled: Cheeseboard: The Collected Works. It’s a wonderful book of all the recipes invented by the local bakery/pizza co-op of the same name. It’s available for purchase at a Cheesboard near you (read: the one on Shattuck in Berkeley, California, USA). It turned out delicious, but more like the American version of Rye. This was the result:


The next recipe I made was the Swedish version (one of the swedish versions, actually), called limpa. It is lightly sweet and soft, and flavored with molasses. I added a bit of cardamom to the original recipe. In all, yum. Som säger de i sverige: det smackar bra!

(forlåt, jag har ingen bild…maybe I’ll add one later)

Next came the danish version: Danish blackbread, gammelsurbrød. This one is almost entirely rye flour, and it is the thick, delicious hearty rye bread that I mentioned before. If you’ve ever had a smörgås, imagine the taste of the cracker part of the smörgås. Then make the texture thick, soft, and chewy instead of krispy and with a little more powerful flavor and you have gammelsurbrød.


Next up is gammelsurbrød with ONLY rye meal. coarse rye meal. the bread of all real badasses. yea, we’ll see how that works out. I also may try finnish rieska with rye flour. I don’t know when I’ll get tired of rye, but for right now, it doesn’t look like any time in the near future.