Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians speak English very well. Their English Proficiency Index is pretty much the best in the world. If there is any competition in this field, it is among these three countries.
Besides, it isn’t just boring statistics. Foreigners see this for themselves the very moment they step out of the airport. Anyone who’s been to Norway, Sweden or Denmark will tell you the same thing. And even if Danes aren’t that good at their own language, they are fluent in English (no offense, venner).
But why are Scandinavians fluent in English?
One reason must be that English and Scandinavian languages belong to the same language group. The Scandinavian group is North Germanic, and English is West Germanic. That makes it easier for Scandinavians to understand this language and use it on their own. Swedish and English have over 1,000 words in common, and the sentence structure is similar in all of these languages.
Surely it must be an important factor? It’s a factor all right, but it means little. If it did, French, Spanish, and Italian people could speak all three languages, since they all belong to the same language group as well. So, while this helps Scandinavians learn English faster, it doesn’t determine the outcome. We have to name other reasons.
DEMOGRAPHIC AND ECONOMIC BACKGROUND
One of those could be demographic. For one, there aren’t many Swedish or Danish-speaking people in the world. Scandinavian communities in foreign countries are small. Scandinavian countries themselves aren’t that huge. English, on the other hand, is lingua franca of the western world. Knowing this language comes in handy, especially because northerners are really fond of traveling. And it’s much easier to travel when you understand English instead of just, for example, Norwegian.
Another reason could be economics. Economies of Scandinavian countries are among the largest in the world. This is partly due to English proficiency within the local population, as lots of successful international companies are based in these countries. These companies operate mainly in English, so the demand for this language in Scandinavia is very high.
Once again, however, none of these are true reasons. They only explain why Scandinavians might want to learn English, but it doesn’t explain why such an extraordinary percent of Swedes (~86-89% according to various sources) speak it so well.
The true reasons behind the Scandinavian-English phenomena are very much the same as those behind fluency in foreign languages of Bliu Bliu users!
SO WHAT IS THE SECRET OF SCANDINAVIANS?
It’s exposure! It doesn’t matter whether you are in Norway, Denmark or Sweden, you can find many American movies in cinema and American TV shows on local networks. Unlike other parts of Europe, this media is never translated. While the subtitles are provided in the local language, the soundtrack is original. And that’s not all. There’s also other media (such as music) available in English from which local people can learn. So, people in Scandinavian countries learn much just by watching TV or going to the cinema!
Another real reason is a high standard of education. Children start learning English from 6 years old in Denmark! And they learn it all the way until graduation. Time isn’t the main factor of education efficiency, though. The main factor is its quality. Most schools all around the world focus on the theory of language. However, up in the north, they focus on theory and practice. Pupils speak English during English lessons. Soon enough, they use English words in other situations, just to express their thoughts more flexibly and freely. Instead of learning grammar, they use the language and have fun with it.
English is everywhere in Scandinavia, including social media, TV shows, movies, music (the most popular hits are usually English as well), video games, menus in restaurants, signs in streets, education, and international workplaces. This is precisely how we teach Bliu Bliu users to experience language because we know it works. Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes are a shining example of that. They are immersed in English often in their daily lives. They are exposed to the language. They are forced to use it, not just know it.
So, is it still surprising that most are fluent in English? Not to us. We know it’s the only possible outcome.