Sweden is a popular Nordic travel destination, student exchange location, and a place in which many US citizens have ancestral ties. It is known for its high standard of living, beautiful architecture, and welcoming people. If you’re an English speaker planning a vacation, a student exchange, or business trip you may wonder how much spoken English is there in Sweden?
Many are surprised to find out that spoken English is incredibly common in Sweden. Nearly 90% of the population is fluent in English, meaning you’ll have very little trouble communicating with the locals. Though learning Swedish will be appreciated by locals, it is not necessary.
In this article, we’ll cover the reasons behind the high level of spoken English in Sweden, along with some helpful linguistic tools and Swedish phrases to make your vacation, study abroad, or business trip to Sweden run as smoothly as possible.
- 1 How Commonly is English Spoken in Sweden?
- 2 Is English Spoken on Swedish Television?
- 3 Is English Spoken in The Swedish Workplace?
- 4 Are Swedish Street Signs in English?
- 5 Do I Need to Learn Swedish?
- 6 Speaking English in Sweden Without Offending The Locals
- 7 Things to Remember About English In Sweden
- 8 The Very Common Spoken English In Sweden Takeaway…
How Commonly is English Spoken in Sweden?
Based on a study of over 2.2 million English speakers around the world, Sweden ranks number 4 on the English proficiency index. This means that other than in an official English speaking country, you will have a much easier time in Sweden with only English than most other countries.
The high amounts of English speakers are not limited to the bigger cities and capital of Stockholm either; you’ll find English speakers in the smaller, more remote areas of Sweden as well. This is due to three main reasons:
- Sweden’s primary and secondary education system. English as a second language is taught from a very young age, and the depth and quality of this education rank as some of the world’s best.
- English has become the academic language of choice for the sciences and mathematics. Sweden’s higher education system consistently ranks in the top 20 nations of the world for higher education. There are many quality universities located in densely and sparsely populated areas.
- The influence of Western media on Scandinavian and Nordic countries. Much of Sweden, especially the younger generation, is heavily influenced by Western music, television, and film- exposing Swedes to a ton of spoken and written English.
When we consider the total population compared to the 90% of English speakers in Sweden, we find that Sweden has nearly 8.2 million English speakers.
The Swedes are generally warm and welcoming people, and are usually quite willing to help out English speaking tourists- making Sweden a top destination for English speakers.
If you would like to know more about how hard it is for the people of Sweden to learn English, check out my article here on if English is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
Larger Swedish Cities Guaranteed To Have English Speakers
The top five cities in Sweden have the highest chance of finding English spoken by the most amount of people. In reality, you will find English in these cities fairly easily and will only be a question away from getting where and what you need.
- Stockholm – 1.6 million (approx. 2.4 million in the general area)
- From Stockholm University to the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm is home to over 18 universities and institutes of higher learning. This makes it a hotbed of English language speakers.
- Being Sweden’s largest and capital city, Stockholm is an international hub for business, government, and trade. This plus its vibrant tourism makes it’s population’s English fluency some of the best in the country.
- Göteborg – 599,000 (approx. 1 million in the general area)
- Gothenburg is home to two universities which nearly always increases the chance to find English speakers. The University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology bring many young English speakers to a population that already has a high percentage on its own. This could be a good study abroad option.
- As a tourist destination in its own right, with city center and cultural attractions, the level of English in the city will be relatively high for sightseers, students, and business travelers alike.
- Malmö – 317,000 (approx. 700,000 live in the vicinity)
- With Malmö University located in the city along with the United Nations World Maritime University (WMU) English speaking will be prevalent in the city as well as on campuses.
- The average age of Malmö citizens is at a mere 36 years old. Seeing as younger populations tend to gravitate towards the English language in many countries, this makes the city not only one of Sweden’s youngest cities, but its most English speaking as well.
- Uppsala – 160,000 (approx. 200,000 live in the vicinity)
- Uppsala University is one of the oldest universities in the Scandinavian countries as a whole. It was founded by the Catholic Church in 1477 and is the location of the invention of the Celsius temperature scale. The presence of this historic campus means that English will be easier to find.
- Uppsala is known as the ‘Cambridge of Sweden’ and as a quintessential university town. As with all towns of this type, the young student population will be much more apt to speak English than older populations elsewhere.
- Västerås – 128,000 (approx. 155,000 surrounding area included)
- Though Mälardalen University College boasts a student population of around 16,000 students, Västerås has been traditionally known as an industrial town. That being said, the university presence and the growing tourist economy puts English high on the list for many residents.
- Due to the proximity of Lake Mälaren, Västerås local government has put forth a concerted effort to boost the tourism trade in the city. More tourism means, more English speaking shop, restaurant, and other employees.
Smaller Swedish Municipalities Where English Is Likely
- Falun and Borlänge – 100,000 combined population
- Dalarna University makes its home in this region bringing the English language to the most ‘Swedish’ of all the areas of the country.
- The Falun Coppermine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws droves of tourists each year. What does tourism bring? You guessed it, more English language.
- Halmstad – 100,000 total in the vicinity
- Halmstad University is a major cause for the population reaching the level it has in this small coastal city.
- This city, once part of the Kingdom of Denmark, is a popular tourist destination for its timber framed architecture and its location between Göteborg and Malmö.
Is English Spoken on Swedish Television?
Programming that is originally aired in English is hardly ever dubbed into Swedish when aired on Swedish television. Usually, the program is aired in English with Swedish subtitles. This happens in many countries where there is a high level of English proficiency.
Germany also has a similar practice in its movie theaters. The English version of the movie will run with German subtitles in one theater and in German in the one next to it.
Media from English speaking countries (especially American media) has a heavy influence on the entertainment industry in Sweden. This means that many of the following are widely broadcast in English in Sweden:
- Television channels
- News outlets
This, along with the depth of English taught in Swedish schools, has further familiarized the Swedish population with spoken English, making most citizens under 60 fluent by the time they reach adulthood.
There are problems with a populace that is this fluent in multiple languages and so influenced by the culture of another country. The original culture of Sweden can become lost or intermingled to some degree with the U.S. one to the point of losing some parts of what it means to be Swedish.
This leads some in older generations not only to shun the English language because of the difficulties it produces when learning it, but also because of a lament for something lost.
It is a common practice for some language learners to use videos to learn language. See my article here to learn how some learn Spanish with TV shows.
Is English Spoken in The Swedish Workplace?
In some industries, English is the primary language used in the workplace. This is beneficial to English-speaking ex-pats working or looking for work in Sweden. While this isn’t mainstream, it’s not impossible to find a line of work that will require little to no spoken Swedish on the job.
This is not to say that those who live and work in Sweden should not learn the native Swedish language. There are two main reasons any expat should learn the language of the culture in which they find themselves.
- It is tied to the culture of the people and in order to truly know a people, you must understand their language.
- It becomes more and more myopic and insulting the longer one lives in another country and culture without learning the native language. It may not be openly expressed, but natives appreciate effort to learn their language.
That being said, Sweden has an internationally diverse workforce, and many English speaking corporations and businesses have locations there. This, along with the high number of English speakers in general in Sweden, makes it an attractive country for English speaking ex-pats to settle in.
Are Swedish Street Signs in English?
Road signs in Sweden are almost entirely written in Swedish, apart from stop-signs, which also feature the English word “STOP”. This is not uncommon since the many languages developed a version of the word from its Latin root stuppare.
If you’re planning on driving or renting a car during your stay in Sweden, it’s important to study these translations before heading out onto the road. As with driving in any foreign country, the rules, signs, and courtesies will be somewhat varied to very different.
Even if you’re not planning on driving during your stay in Sweden, learning a few common Swedish words used in signage and street markers will help you find your way around.
Due to the English level of most citizens of many towns and areas in Sweden, it won’t be hard to find help with the signs when needed. This can become very cumbersome though, and learning the symbols, icons, and words used on the signs will not take very long.
Do I Need to Learn Swedish?
Our recommendation to anyone asking should they learn a language in the vast majority of situations will always be, ‘yes’. Though this may not fit all situations, even a little effort goes a long way when interacting with people from different cultures.
Although not necessary for a short stay in Sweden, knowing a few basic Swedish words and phrases can:
- Help you get around in rare circumstances where there are no English speakers nearby
- Make friends with the locals
- Appear polite and respectful to Swedes you’ll interact with
For a longer stay in Sweden like a study abroad term or two, or if you’re planning on moving there indefinitely, it’s important to brush up on as much Swedish as you can.
You can get by reasonably well on only English, but many international citizens of Sweden advocate learning conversational Swedish because it:
- Enriches your experience in Sweden
- Helps you understand the culture on a deeper, more authentic level
- Comes in handy in the workplace
- Necessary for understanding official and legal documents and forms
The tendency for Swedes to have a high level of English can actually be a problem for those wanting to learn the Swedish language. If you are there for a short term trip or have limited business contacts to converse with, their English proficiency will be a plus.
Yet, if you are looking to study in the country or learn the language for other reasons, there is a tendency for conversations to repeatedly return to English. This happens in other countries as well, but it definitely happens when speaking to many Swedish natives.
Basic Swedish Words and Phrases
For those only on a short stay for business or pleasure, it may be enough with their levels of English to make a polite attempt at a few words and phrases of Swedish. Sometimes even a few words can help show a sincere gesture to connect with people you encounter.
Here are some basic Swedish words and phrases to help you get around this Scandinavian country without a hitch or just impress the locals with your polyglot skills.
|Thank you very much||Tack så mycket||“tack-su-mick-eh”|
|How are you?||Hur är det?||“hurr-er-deh”|
|Good morning||God morgon||“good mor-ron”|
|Do you speak English?||Talar du svenska?||“Tar-lar-du-sven-ska”|
Armed with a few of these more common words and phrases and your English skills, you will have no problem whatever your purpose for visiting Sweden. Keep in mind, a few words in Swedish could go a long way towards developing connections.
But what if you are wanting to dive deeper into the Swedish language? I have a solution that could truly help you learn the Swedish language even if you have never learned a second language before. English can get you by, but there are tons of benefits to learning a second language.
For A More In Depth Command Of Swedish
There are really two things to get right before learning Swedish can become a joy instead of a drain. One is how to learn and two is the right guide in learning. You can do it with one or the other, but with both your time to mastery will be exponentially shorter.
The Right Language Strategy Guide
For those looking to take control of their learning path from English only to bilingual status with Swedish, there is one name in language learning hacks, tips, and tricks. Benny ‘The Irish Polyglot” Lewis helped my husband learn his first foreign language and is helping him on the road to his second.
Benny’s guide for all those truly wanting to speak Swedish and not simply learn some basic translations from English is essential. He teaches you how to effectively learn a language like Swedish or any language without all the arbitrary road blocks set in front of you like you find in traditional language learning methods.
Tutors Through italki
For a less common second language for English speakers like Swedish, and to really learn the language to meet your specific goals, I recommend an in person tutor. There is one site that offers inexpensive and quality online tutors for nearly any language you want to learn.
That site is italki.com. I can’t tell you how much an in person conversation partner, tutor, or guided discussion leader can boost your language learning. This is true for the language learning or the language acquisition method.
These tutors will help set up a plan to help you reach your goal. You also know they will be able to help since they are usually native Swedish speakers that also learned English. They will know the triumphs and pitfalls ahead of you.
Speaking English in Sweden Without Offending The Locals
Cultural mistakes are often made by foreigners and can have unintentional, offensive consequences. The last thing you want to do in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is to offend the locals whose help and generosity you rely on during your stay.
Here are some do’s and don’ts of communicating in English with the Swedish locals:
Don’t Assume All Swedes Speak English
While it’s true that the vast majority of younger Swedes speak English and speak it quite well, it isn’t a guarantee that every Swede you meet will be able to. Always politely use the phrase “Talar du svenska?” (do you speak English?) before spitting out a sentence in English to a local.
This goes especially for anyone of an older generation. It is common to most countries and Sweden is not exception that many in the older generations resist the influx of culture and language no matter its origin. There is merit to their point of view as well as a bit of fear and holding onto the past.
Just be sure not to assume that everyone will want to speak English and the rest will take care of itself. Politeness and consideration for others who call Sweden their native homeland will go a long way.
Be Aware of Your Volume
The Swedes are a notoriously quiet and relaxed people. The easiest way to annoy or offend them is by being overly loud and boisterous. Especially when approaching a stranger for directions, recommendations, or general help, keep in mind the tone and volume of your voice.
Tourists especially coming from the United States, have a spotty reputation when it comes to the tendency to be loud. There are YouTube videos about it, comedy skits, and even books written about it. Just be aware that volume does have a part in culture just like intonation in the voice.
In some cultures, being loud is a sign of arrogance at the least and even aggression at the worst. There really isn’t a call for yelling in most situations and the Swedes are especially sensitive to it. Just be mindful of tone and volume and you will have a smooth experience.
Be Mindful of Personal Space
This is especially important in crowded public spaces like trains and busses, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind when speaking with a local. Swedes value their personal space and become easily offended if you get too close when speaking to them.
This goes for public transportation as well. Taking the seat next to someone is awkward in Sweden when there is another choice. If a bus or tram is crowded that is one thing. But when there is room, leave a ‘safety seat’ or two in between you and the next person.
Things to Remember About English In Sweden
To summarize, if you’re an English speaker preparing for a trip, a summer exchange, a term abroad, or a business trip to Sweden, keep these things in mind:
- Most Swedes have a good command of the English language, but not every Swede you meet will speak English. Make no assumptions in this regard and politely ask (in Swedish) if they speak English before proceeding.
- Television and film are usually aired in English with Swedish subtitles, meaning you won’t be limited to your phone or laptop when you need some downtime in your hotel room. It won’t be necessary to stuff your memory on your devices with movies and shows.
- If you’re driving or renting a car, study the street signs. The only street signs that will be in English are STOP signs. In order to drive safely, you’ll need to learn what the other street signs and markers mean. The good news is that mostly they are all pictographs and icons. The bad news is that they will not be the same as the ones in other countries.
- Learn a few Swedish words and phrases. Not only will you appear courteous and respectful, but you may make some friends along the way.
- Learn more Swedish if you want to really connect. There is something special about learning another culture through its language. Swedish is the same for the Nordic or Swedish culture in particular.
- Study up on the cultural do’s and don’t’s of Sweden. As an English speaker, there are a lot of ways you could unintentionally offend the locals. Avoid this by respecting personal space and minding the volume of your voice.
The Very Common Spoken English In Sweden Takeaway…
Due to a high number of English speakers and welcoming culture, English speaking tourists should have very little trouble communicating during their stay in Sweden. You will find English commonly spoken in major and smaller cities due to their education system and inclusive natures.
Keeping in mind the tips, Swedish phrases, and cultural do’s and don’ts we’ve covered in this article will make your stay in Sweden a pleasant and memorable experience.
The English level of the locals will more than likely be to a higher level than your Swedish, if you know any at all. If you are wanting to speak English this will work for you nicely.
If you are wanting to learn Swedish it may mean that you will have to try a bit harder to keep the conversation in Swedish. Either way, it is usually surprising to most visitors just how much most there can speak and understand English.