Pick up a Nordic Noir novel to help make the leap to reading in Swedish. You’ll already know the basic framework and flow of the story as most crime thrillers follow a similar pattern and you can focus on organically learning new words as you go along.
By Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux, LYS editor, publisher and language teacher
When you have reached an advanced level (around B2), it may be time to start reading books in Swedish. This is a huge step, and the first few ones will probably appear really blurry to you. But when this has become a habit, this is an excellent and affordable way to learn new vocabulary, automise correct structure, and become familiar with common expressions. Reading books set in Sweden will also teach you many things about history, culture and society. Remember that Swedish libraries are free to join, and offer great services when it comes to lending books (also for free). Your local library and its opening times can be found on the website of your kommun. And do not be shy, the staff is there to help you.
Where to start?
Although you might not be a fan of reading crime thrillers, this is often a good genre to start your Swedish reading adventure. Why? The structure is often simple, straightforward, and predictable. If there are parts that you do not understand, you will still maintain a general idea of the plot. Many of these stories have also been filmed, and can be found online, sometimes also on svtplay.se.
Recommendations for Deckare – Crime thrillers in Swedish
Jens Lapidus Snabba Cash. A contemporary story set in Stockholm, following the main characters trying to find a fast and easy solution to achieve their goals until their paths cross. A masterpiece in cliff hangers.
Stieg Larsson Män som hatar kvinnor, Flickan som lekte med elden, luftslottet som sprängdes. You already know of these, I guess. A good way to read in a new language is to read the translated version first, so that you have an idea of the plot and the characters, and then embark on the Swedish version. Watching the films can help, but not always, as book and film rarely follow the same pattern.
Henning Mankell The Wallander series: Mördare utan ansikte, Den vita lejoninnan, Steget efter, … Mankell wrote two type of books, and the most known are the crime thrillers about Kurt Wallander, a contemporary anti-hero based in Ystad, Skåne. Well written characters, and intriguing mysteries, some with a political or social touch. Can also be watched as TV-series.
Åsa Nilsonne Ett liv att dö för, … Åsa Nilsonne’s language is clear, correct, and full of phrasal verbs. I often use extracts from her books for language teaching on advanced levels. The stories take place in contemporary Sweden and abroad, and are very realistic in detail. The author is also a psychiatrist, and professor in medical psychology at Karolinska Institutet.
Sjöwall&Wahlöö Mannen på balkongen, Den skrattande polisen, … This series of classics from the 1970’s are still an interesting read. Often, but not always, set in Stockholm, and always with a political undertone, these books give you some historical and cultural insight into the Sweden that many Swedes still remember. Although the plots may seem a little naïve from a contemporary point of view, the stories are well crafted and the characters developed.
Some advice for reading books in a new language
- Focus on the general outline of the plot, and pick up words organically. Unless it is absolutely crucial, avoid using a dictionary, it will slow don your pace so much that you lose motivation. Accept that you will not understand everything right away.
- Choose to read something that you can somehow relate to:
- Can you identify with the protagonist?
- Is the setting familiar to you? It can be really nice to read about a place you have been to.
- Have you read this, or similar books in your own language?
- Is the theme interesting?
- If you like the author, read several books by her or him.
- If a book is ‘difficult’ or not depends on several factors:
- Vocabulary – words tend to come back, and the more you read, the more will you understand.
- Structure – you might be a huge fan of experimental literature, but right now is not the moment!
- Plot – start with something straightforward and tangible, and wait a little with the abstract and philosophical.