Some letters are pronounced differently in Swedish comparing to English, as you might have noticed in the previous lesson. In this article we will focus on some of the sounds and letters that seperates Swedish from the English language.
The sj-sound (ɧ).
We'll start with perhaps the most difficult Swedish sound of them all, the sj-sound, from here we promise it will only get easier.
The sj-sound is made in the far back of your mouth. When you make the sound you do a similar action as when you gargle water at the back of your throat (minus the water, of course). Don't feel bad if you don't get it right, it is a difficult sound to do. And to explain in text... One explanation is that it is a voiceless fricative phoneme, if that tells you anything? If not, ask a Swede or a translate device to say the word "sju", which is Swedish for "seven".
To make matters even worse, there is more than one way to spell the sound. Considering all Swedish dialects there are around 60(!) different spellings, for example "skj", "sch", "g", "sc", "stj", and "ti".
If you find this completely impossible to learn, don’t give up on Swedish altogether! Just use the sh-sound, like in “she”, instead of the sj-sound. We’ll understand you. Probably…
The Swedish “J”
The “J” in Swedish marks the sound that is marked with a “Y” in English. That means that the tiny T- or D-sound that is added before the “J” in English, is not included in Swedish. The J-sound is can also be spelled with for example a “G”, “Lj” or “Dj”.
And, in some instances, a “J” can be pronounced with a sj-sound.
The R-sound is also a sound that differs a bit from the English counterpart. In Swedish the “R” is a bit more rolling, though not a long rolling sound, similar to the Irish "R". In the Gothenburg dialect the “R” is often accentuated. However, in some other parts of southern Sweden, like the regions Småland or Skåne, the R-sound is omitted or pronounced differently. But we won't discuss that here...
“Oh, ai, ea”
The extra letters – "Å", "Ä" and "Ö".
After "Z" in the Swedish alphabet we add three more vowels, "Å", "Ä" and "Ö". Let’s figure out how to pronounce these extra letters!
Å – the letter is pronounced like “Oh”, “oe” or the “au” in ”Paul”. The letter “Å” in itself is also the word for a water stream or a small river.
Ä – is pronounced like “ai” in "pair", especially if you say the word while having a big smile on your face. If you need another sound reference, it also sounds similar to “Eeeh…”. If you talk with a Swede you can use the expression “Äh!” to say “Never mind!”.
Ö – sounds like the “ea” in "heard". Your mouth should be round while saying it, though more open than while saying “O”. “Ö” is a common filler sound in Swedish, like “Umm…” but without the “M”s. And, the letter is also the Swedish word for island, which can be good to know if you want to visit Gothenburg’s archipelago.
Tips for learning more…
The best way to learn the sounds and melody of a language is to hear it. But if you don’t have access to chatty Swedes, you can watch Swedish television series or listen to Swedish podcasts.
Note: these articles are supposed to be entertaining and give you a sense of the Swedish culture through our language. If you are serious about learning Swedish you should turn to educational institutions which provide classes in Swedish.