“When I got back to work, I only spoke Swedish”

​In August 2018, a group of people from all over the world arrived on the island of Visingsö in Lake Vättern to take a course in the Swedish language.
Two weeks later, they left the island with some Swedish skills, a new contact network and a collection of insights into Swedish culture.
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The screen of Alla Toktarova's computer shows a web search for flights to India.
“I'm going to Hyderabad for a wedding this Christmas. It is one of my friends from the Swedish language course that is to be married, and I was invited”, she says.
Alla Toktarova is a PhD student at the Department of Space, Earth and Environment. She was born and raised in Kazakhstan, and after studying there and in Russia she ended up in Finland.
“But I wanted to develop further, and when I searched the internet I felt that Chalmers was the best place for me, she says. I searched for open positions in my research area, future use of energy carriers in industrial processes, and I found a PhD position here.”
She came to Sweden in February 2018 to start her new job, and in March she began taking a course in Swedish. But since the lessons only were once a week, she felt that it was too little for her. At that time she found out that there was a newly started intensive course in Swedish within the Chalmers GTS programme.
The course, which is a collaboration with Folkuniversitetet, serves as a fast track for beginners to learn Swedish. svenskakurs 1 750x340px.jpg

The main target group is the PhD students at Chalmers who have the ambition to stay in Sweden, who will teach in Swedish and who want to quickly become a part of Swedish society.

Two weeks start-up at Visingsö

An early thought was that the course would start with the participants going away on a boarding school. The advantages of such a set-up are several: It is easier for the course participants to focus on the education, they get a quick start into the language in a different way than they would get with scattered lessons, and this in turn motivates them to continue their learning.
Ing-Marie Blomström is an education coordinator at Folkuniversitetet. She contacted the school Braheskolan at Visingsö in Lake Vättern to see if there were a possibility to collaborate and to place a boarding school there.
“They have their low season in August, which fit us and the doctoral students well. In August, you are often back from vacation, but the semester has not yet started.”
The course were set to start with two weeks of intensive language practice at Braheskolan at Visingsö, and then continue with two course sessions a week in Gothenburg during the autumn. An interest application went out to the departments of Chalmers, and the interest was so big that the applicants were divided into two groups: 19 persons went to Visingsö, and a second group of 16 persons with some prior Swedish knowledge were to study Swedish parallel with the beginner group during the autumn.
Alla Toktarova became one of the 19 people who went to Visingsö, and the course started at August 6. The participants were housed in three red houses next to the school, and immediately thrown into the Swedish language, led by their Swedish teacher Christina Erikson from Folkuniversitetet.
“The Braheskolan is a very Swedish school, she says. All the signs are in Swedish, so they really got in close contact with the language.”

“Sommaren är kort” and “Öppna din dörr”

The course structure consisted of couple and group exercises in different ways to communicate in Swedish. In addition to oral and grammatical exercises, the group listened a lot to Swedish music - songs like "Öppna din dörr" and "Sommaren är kort" were listened to a lot during the two weeks.
“We tried to vary the course content it because it was long days and a lot to do”, says Christina Erikson. “Everyone tried to speak Swedish all the time, and when the course ends in December, the participants will take a Swedex degree in Swedish level A2 - this means that they will be able to talk about themselves and their everyday lives, and they’re starting to get independent in the Swedish language.”
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The school and the environment at Visingsö also gave other pathways to the Swedish culture. The participants gained insight in the school's range of courses, they attended a lesson in folk dance, they did bicycle trips on the island, and they played beach volleyball with the Visingsö fire department.
Alla Toktarova emphasizes the isolated environment at the school and at Visingsö as a key factor in why she thinks the course turned out so well.
“My strongest memory from the school is the environment and the landscape at the island of Visingsö. It becomes an isolated system where you study and start to speak Swedish faster. The first week I felt ‘my God, I don’t know any Swedish’, I had no knowledge at all, but after that week I started talking. And after the course, when I got back to work, I only spoke Swedish – or at least I think it was Swedish! I really recommend all graduate students to take the opportunity to take this education if they get the opportunity to do so.”

Immersive environment

Among those who participated at the boarding school, there were also a small number of researching Chalmers employees who are not doctoral students. One of them is Scott MacKinnon who is a professor at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences. He has lived permanently in Sweden for two years, and his plan is to continue to do so, and continue his research at Chalmers.
“By understanding the language, I hope to contribute more to administration of the University. That requires a functioning understanding of the language. I doubt I will be able to deliver lectures or presentations in Swedish. But that is ok.”
Scott MacKinnon is also positive about starting the course with two intensive weeks, and also emphasizes the group of course participants as a strong contributing factor.
“While of diverse cultural backgrounds, we had similar education and vocational backgrounds. I think this created a better cohort.”
Just like Alla Toktarova, Scott MacKinnon emphasizes the environment at the school and on Visingsö ("it was immersive") as highlights, and he thinks the teachers did a very good job during the short intensive period that the group was gathered on the island.
If the course is set to come back this autumn, Scott McKinnon has suggestions for things that he thinks could improve it even more.
“I very much like this initiative to continue, and I think that a baseline should be set. The course was supposed to be for beginners, but there were those in the class that had already taken a Swedish course.  I think that this made it difficult for the instructors to set a baseline for content delivery.”

Published: Wed 20 Feb 2019.