Friday, September 16, 2011
Language notes part 5: a little more detail
For the last two years (on and off), I've been taking SFI classes, which met in the evening so that we immigrants with full-time jobs could attend, and to be honest, these classes were sometimes a little trying. It seemed sometimes as though most students in any given SFI class fell into one of two types: 1. People who would rather have been elsewhere, and 2. Germans.
Let's take the latter bunch first. Germans (or I should say German speakers, to be inclusive) were annoying because their grammar is so much more complicated than Swedish grammar, and yet many of the words are nearly the same. I can only imagine that, to German speakers, Swedish is like baby talk, and in my experience German speakers blazed through Swedish language classes at least twice as fast as anyone else. Damn them.
In the other group were some who I sometimes felt rather sorry for. Many of the SFI students had jobs that were physically much more demanding than my cushy desk job at the university; also, many of them were required by law to go to the class. Between the fact that they were tired, and didn't want to be there in the first place, it's understandable that they sometimes had little interest in discussing grammatical trivia and finer shades of meaning among synonyms. I can't really blame them for sometimes being restless.
There was an argument in my SFI class once when the teacher (unwisely, but she was new to the job) asked whether we would like to go home half an hour early instead of going through some homework. The other American student in the class was so angered that she started yelling at the teacher in English: we already had too many rest breaks each night; she had come all the way into town for this class; by god she was going to get the full 2.5 hours of the instruction she was entitled to; yes, she wanted to go through all of the homework. I secretly agreed with her in all respects. An Eritrean refugee, with whom I had previously had friendly small talk, and who had been at his janitorial job from 4 o'clock that morning and would do it again the next day, wanted to go home early. I backed her. He never talked to me again.
Anyway, back to the new class. Everyone in the new class has been admitted to some program in the University, so it's a more consistently scholarly group, and is comprised of people who have their bachelor's degrees already; there's a musician, and a mathematician, and a clothes designer, and a student in sustainable development, and so forth. All of the initial dozen students have also lived in Sweden for some time now. Many are partnered, some have children, some live in other towns and make quite a commute to get to the class.
On the third class meeting, our quickly-established group dynamic had a little bit of a hiccup when we were suddenly joined by five more Chinese students and an Irish one. (Which sounds like the start to a joke: "Five Chinese and an Irishman walk into a Swedish class...") The dust from the old group dynamic quickly settled itself into a new one that works just as well, although there is certainly a noticeable difference between a class of twelve people and one of eighteen. The Irish fellow is more like the original dozen, slightly older and degreed already. The new Chinese students, however, are all young and fresh off the airplane. They are part of an exchange language program, and they have been in Sweden for less than two months.
Therefore they haven't been here long enough to know about some cultural things that we original twelve take for granted (fika, for example, and some of the stranger customs of Swedish university life), and it will be fun to watch them discover all the things about Sweden that delight/annoy the rest of us. All five of them have been studying Swedish intensively for several months back home, and their vocabularies are intimidatingly large, and their grammar is on occasion startlingly good. One of them has very good pronunciation, one has okay pronunciation, and the other three are very difficult to understand when they speak. They are young and friendly and outgoing, because Sweden has yet to beat that out of them. They have no intention of staying here; they will be here for a year and then go back to China.
"Why did you choose Sweden and Swedish, of all the countries?" a teacher asked them on the first day that they joined in.
"Sometimes it is good to do something strange," they said.
I can hardly argue with that.