If you live in Sweden since a while and you own a personnummer, you’ve surely heard about the possibility to go to school and learn Swedish for free. All the people around you mention quite often the word “SFI”, that stays for “Swedish for Immigrants” (Svenska för Invandrare), but a very small percentage of them knows that SFI is just the first step in a full learning path, about which there are not clear information in English on the Internet (neither on Swedish actually…). Or well, there were not…until now.
After many hours spent researching on-line, and asking in the Komvux of my little town, I finally understood how everything exactly works, and I´m glad to share everything with you in English, so that you can effectively plan your studying and boost your Swedish skills, that are quite nice to have if you live in this land. The Swedish learning path for foreigners conceived by Skolverket (Swedish National Agency of Education) is quite smart and well planned, but it needs a lot of effort by your side and a couple of years if you want to reach some results. The path I will describe in this post is the one valid at the moment of writing, year 2014-2015. Imagine it like a videogame, with a serie of achievements to reach in order to unlock the next ones.
The place in which the courses and the exams are done is called Komvux, that stays for “Communal Education for Adults” (Kommunal vuxenutbildning). The first step is SFI, that is made of four national exams in order to be completed. If you are not literate at all, or if you come from another alphabet that is not the Latin one, you start with level A/B, otherwise with level C (like in my case). The national exams you have to complete in order to finish SFI are four: A, B, C and D. Since I’m a graduate and I already speak two (european) languages, I didn’t have to study for A and B, but as far as I saw they are both quite manageable. Let’s talk about C and D instead. Some people I know tend to undervalue them and they just go to the exam(s) randomly with the only objective to pass them. I honestly think that this approach is a failure. In Sweden there are not so many opportunities to speak Swedish if you are a foreigner (and you don’t have a swedish partner), for a number of reasons I won’t get into details here (total lack of social life outside; if you don’t speak the language yet, you probably work in an international environment where everybody speaks English…). I know it’s a paradox, but that’s unfortunately the truth, so Komvux is one of the few places in which you will get the opportunity to speak Swedish and train. Komvux is your ally in this battle, so try to get the best out of it (even more because it’s free) and go to the lessons as much as you can. It has absolutely no sense to pass the exams if then you don’t know how to properly speak, write, read and understand Swedish. Use the school, the teachers and the classmates as much as you can instead, be smart.
SFI courses are available in most of the swedish communes, but when they are not available, your commun will pay a commun nearby to educate you, if you require it. Every permanent resident has the right to get an education. SFI courses are available in three solutions, in order to satisfy any need. There are the evening course (usually 17:30-20:00, one or more times for week) and the distance course (you study from home, you upload your written homeworks to a certain online platform and the teacher will correct them, and you meet the teacher once a week for the speaking part / checkup of your progress), that are addressed to the people who work. And there is the fulltime course for the people who is unemployed. I tested all the three solutions, and I absolutely recommend the distance course, joining also as many lessons as you can in order to train your speaking with the other students. With the distance course you study at your own speed, from your cozy and warm home, in your own free time. I warmly suggest to study every f*cking weekend, plus a couple of hours during the week, if you want to achieve results. Both C and D exams are national exams, and many teachers (not all, but mine hopefully were) are extra-serious about them.
Both C and D exams are made by a written part, a reading part, a listening part and two speaking parts (one in which you talk alone about a topic, and a dialogue with a classmate about another topic). They are absolutely not easy, and your teachers won’t let you do them until they think you are ready for them, so, if you don’t want to stay in Komvux forever, study, study, study. It could also happen that the teachers will start pushing you badly if they think you are not working hard enough, or that you are there just for fun. Teachers will ask you to do a study plan and to state that you are really interested into completing SFI if they see you are not motivated enough. This doesn’t happen because the teachers are bad, but because there is a lot of people in queue for these courses, and they can’t afford to keep you there doing nothing. In addition, if you miss a couple of lessons (in the evening or fulltime courses), the teachers could decide to kick you out from the school, for the same reason as before. Being kicked out is not convenient at all, since you will have to do the queue again, and for example in my area (Skåne, southern Sweden) there is a waiting list of 3-4 months before being able to get a place in SFI, so you are adviced! I saw many students doing the queue a couple of time, just because they understimated this rule, so I would suggest to you to avoid the same behaviour. I can assure you that SFI works excellently, but you have to put -a lot- of effort in it, you have to believe in it, you have to be serious about your study schedule and study plan. SFI won’t teach anything to you if you don’t do written exercises at home, if you don’t study the grammar at home, if you don’t train the listening.
As reference, I passed C and D (completed SFI) in three months studying every day for 40 h/week plus 14h/week of lessons and open classes. No weekends, no breaks, but just 54h/week of pure dedication to my goal. This was not possible without completing the following books: “Mål 1“, “Mål 2“, “Språknickeln C“, “Språknickeln D“, “Form i Fokus A” and “Essential Swedish Grammar“, plus extra material provided by my teachers. The Mål serie is just awesome, the best books about Swedish I studied so far, while Språknickeln serie is just useless and really badly conceived.
At the end of SFI, your Swedish level in the European framework will be equal to A2 – B1, so like a native 6 years old kid, more or less. After completing SFI, you can access to the next block that is called SAS Grundläggande, where SAS stays for “Svenska Som Andraspråk” (Swedish as Second Language). If you want to study that fulltime, it takes three months to complete, and the book used at the moment is “Språkporten BAS“, but I warmly recommend “Nya Mål 3” instead, that is older but quite better. The SAS Grund block is not so much far from SFI D level, but it teaches your more words and there are a lot of texts to read, understand, study. Meritorious SFI students, after completing SFI D exam, could be invited to do the SAS Grund exam straight away (like it happened to me). That saves you three months of your life and let you skip to the next final blocks, SAS 1-2-3. Also if I passed the exam with a good grade, I still feel the need to study a bit more, so at the moment of writing I’m completing “Nya Mål 3” studying by my own.
As the diagram shows, I didn’t start studying for SAS 1 2 3 yet, but I can give you a quick glance about it anyway. The whole SAS 1 2 3 cycle, if studied with the fulltime course, takes 1.5 years to complete, that is a quite huge amount of time. You can also study it with a distance course (for ex., Lund’s Komvux offers this opportunity, while the smaller communes don’t), but it will obviously take more time, maybe 2-2.5 years, so for that reason many people stop their studies after SFI D. I agree that is a long path to take, but I think that is somewhat the faster way to reach the full, business level fluency in Swedish. Plus, if you complete SAS 1 2 3, you can join the university courses taken in Swedish and many professional schools (ex. Lernia) as well, exactly like the natives. SAS 1 2 3 is the key to everything, and I think it’s worth the effort. In the area in which I live really few people join SAS Grund and SAS 1 2 3, so the quality of the education is better and there is no queue. On the contrary, SFI classes in Lund or Malmö for example, are crazy full of students, so the quality of the education could be somehow crappy, and the queues are endless. The book adopted in SAS 1 2 3 is called “Språkporten 1 2 3” and the leap between SFI D and SAS 1 2 3 is quite huge, so I would not suggest to undervalue it.
If you feel confortable enough with the language and/or you studied in a private school (ex. Folkuniversitet), there is the possibility to try the exams without following the course. You just need to book them in your local Komvux school, but you will be asked to pay 500 kr / exam. For who follows the path instead all the exams are free as many times as you need. The fee is there to avoid that people goes there random just to try, overloading the already overloaded Komvux schools.
The last thing I want to say is that Komvux offers you the possibility to loan the textbooks for free, and also a laptop if you don’t have one. If you need a computer to study and you don’t own one, the school are also equipped with computer rooms. Compared to the italian school system, all this care for details is just sci-fi.
For me Komvux has been a really positive experience until now, and I warmly recommend it for a couple of reasons. You will learn a lot about Swedish language and culture if you will push hard, you will get more into the Swedish system and feel more part of it (in Komvux there are many courses for adult natives as well), and you will finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, starting to speak and understand such a difficult but fascinating language. If you will decide to go for it, I hope that the scheme at the beginning of the post could help you into having it clear into your mind and fully appreciating its beauty 🙂