Immigrants love Sweden. Over 160,000 foreigners came to this country in 2015 alone. And it doesn’t seem like they’re going to stop anytime soon! This doesn’t scare the locals, though. They have quite a lot of experience on integrating immigrants into the local way of life. Above all, this means teaching them Swedish.
Is it even possible to teach so many people to speak the local language so fast?
Let’s look at the facts.
SWEDISH FOR IMMIGRANTS
Sweden applies a plan that makes it very easy to integrate, assuming the immigrant wants to do it. It’s easy because everyone who moves to Sweden and legally declares it can learn Swedish for free. “Why learn Swedish?”, you might think. Swedes speak excellent English. Wouldn’t English be easier?
Nope, it wouldn’t.
It doesn’t have the same status as Swedish. They don’t want their own language to be overruled by another one.
Therefore, the integration system is called “Swedish for immigrants” (SFI). People of various backgrounds and very diverse Swedish levels learn in one class. Ideally, they graduate with the basic knowledge of the language. They are then able to integrate into society and find a job much more easily. Or continue language studies by other means.
The problem is that 6 out of 10 participants never end this course. The fact that one can rejoin the course after any period of break doesn’t help. The main reason is that people find jobs before finishing the course. Some don’t find the time to attend. Others move to another location altogether. Some quit it willingly. Especially those who already speak some Swedish, so the course is too slow for them. Not all classes provide sufficient quality either.
Besides, some unfortunates have to spend years before they can get into the course! This has to do with delayed securing of the documents that are needed when applying for the course. So there is nothing they can do, even though Swedish people and officials would like to help. They agree that immigrants should start learning Swedish as soon as possible.
THE IMMIGRANTS’ PERSPECTIVE
How do immigrants themselves feel about it? Is language learning an issue in Sweden?
According to Gabriella, one of “Swedish for immigrants” participants, the course is anything but bad.
“At SFI <…> you get a class of students who become your friends. They come from all over the world, ages 20 to 60 plus, and you’ll make friends and business associates alike. It’s a fun course.”
Another participant Mohamed reflects the fact that many people don’t finish the course.
“SFI <…> gives you everything you need, but it’s your responsibility to take it.“
There are other pros about this course. Meg, who came to Sweden from New York, says it all.
“On top of finally learning the language that will open up lots of doors and break down lots of barriers, it is free. And as if that isn’t good enough…that’s not all. Since I am married and have family here and am living here instead of only here to work or go to school, I am qualified to receive a “bonus” for learning Swedish. If I <…> pass the exams within 12 months <…>, I will get a bonus of 12000 SEK ($1,800) – tax-free. I couldn’t believe it.“
Swedish for immigrants is not the only course available. There are courses dedicated to specific professions. For example, programmers course, where they learn both Swedish and programming in one. Adriana González, a computer engineer from Mexico says:
“I enjoyed every single part of the course. Personally, it helped me meet people and communicate, and in my career, it improved my skills, and finally got me a job.“
So those who want to learn Swedish and actually gets into a course doesn’t seem to have any issues. As we’ve seen, however, this is just a minority of immigrants.
WHAT LOCALS THINK
Swedish people are concerned about immigration. According to European Commission, almost half of the population in Sweden think that immigration is among the most important issues today. So their opinion carries weight.
They also think that immigration from outside EU is a positive thing. They say that the work and talents of refugees make their country stronger. On the other hand, the public opinion of asylum seekers has deteriorated since the last year. The majority of people were willing to contribute to the welfare of asylum seekers in 2015. This year, only one-third are sure about it and 26 percent said “maybe”. Despite this shift Swedish locals are still the most friendly Europeans.
What does this mean?
It means that this integration strategy actually works. Are there issues of accessibility to the language courses? Yep. Of availability of students? You name it. Of the quality of the course? Oh, yes.
Despite all that, locals feel positive about immigrants. And vice-versa. Foreigners get jobs almost as easily as locals do. Swedish example makes it undeniable that learning the local language is the key. It unlocks doors to integration, friendship and unity among different people and cultures.