Välkomna till Billströmska! – Three weeks on Tjörn

This guest post comes from Mirjam Eiswirth, a 3rd year PhD student in Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. Mirjam’s PhD analyses how speakers accommodate to each other in interaction by speaking more or less like their interlocutor: Which differences are there between interlocutors? How much does an individual speaker vary? And (how) do speakers use this kind of accommodation to structure their interactions on a turn-by-turn level? Also, how does the interactional level link back to how much one speaker varies overall, and what their average behaviour is in a given interaction?

As a linguist, I love languages, and my most recent love is Swedish. Linguistics aside, Sweden has a lot to offer: beautiful countryside, seaside, amazing food, and last but not least the Swedish tradition of “fika”, a coffee break with tea/coffee and “kanelbullar” where Swedes talk about anything but work. IKEA, Volvo, art and design might be some of the other things you associate with Sweden.


View of the sunset from Säby island

Having taken some Swedish classes in non-Swedish speaking countries it was high time to immerse myself in the culture and language, and so I signed up for an intensive summer course on Tjörn, an island off the West coast of Sweden. The course is organised by the Swedish equivalent of the British Council or the German Goethe Institut, Riksföreningen Sverigekontakt, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a Swedish course in Sweden.

Those three weeks were not just about learning the language, but also about getting to know Swedish culture – daily fika in the morning and evening included. About 30 participants from Finland to Australia got to live on the grounds of Billströmska folkshögskolan for three weeks. We usually had three 90-minute course units per day, plus exciting social and cultural activities in the evenings and on weekends.

So much to do, so little time

In the first week, we took a bus tour around the island and celebrated Midsommer (albeit one month late) with traditional food and dancing. In the second week we spent one evening with local families who showed us their part of Tjörn and celebrated a “Räkfest” with small prawns, music, and dancing. In the third week, our host families from week two came to visit the school and enjoy the evening entertainment we had put together for them – including tongue twisters in six of the fifteen different languages represented in our group. Nights without big events were movie nights, so that we got to watch 11 recent Swedish movies. We also visited Marstrand, a tourist hotspot close to the island, spent a day in Göteborg, and took other short trips around Tjörn.

In between this busy social and cultural programme, we had homework and language-related events: Bo Ralph, member of the Svenska Akademie and Sverigekontakt president gave a talk on the Swedish language, language standardisation, and the dangers of prescriptivism, and author Majgull Axelsson came to visit and discuss her book “Jag heter inte Miriam”.



Hike around Marstrand, one of the most popular holiday islands close to Göteborg

“Varför läser du Svenska?”

Both teachers and students lived on campus during the language course, and there were two other courses running simultaneously: one offered by the Svenska Institutet and comprised of Scandinavian Studies students from all over Europe, and another one for Swedish teachers from all over the world. The breaks and social programme allowed us to mingle and hear about their stories – “Varför läser du Svenska?”, “Why are you learning Swedish?” – was probably the most frequent question and excellent practice for conversations with “real Swedes”, who often are somewhat puzzled by the fact that someone from abroad would want to learn their language.

Many of the participants had friends or family in Sweden, were thinking about applying for jobs there, or needed Swedish for their job in other countries. Some were simply interested in the culture and language, often having been drawn in by the Nordic mythology (or the more recent Swedish thrillers).

Whatever their motivation, everybody was very keen to practice and learn, and so the main language of communication not only from the school to the participants but also among the participants themselves was Swedish. The courses were focused on acquiring communicative competence and expanding our vocabulary, and we worked a lot with Swedish news, songs, and literature, depending on the level of the course (beginner – intermediate – advanced).

The busy programme, the immersion into a new language and culture, and all the participants with their interesting stories made this language course an exhausting but unforgettable experience and have left me wanting to come back to learn more – kanske nästa år!


Ha det så bra!


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