The Flag of Sweden, the Scandinavian country where Swedish is spoken. Image from

The Great Norwegian – Swedish Mismatch Game

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve embarked upon a new journey of late. It’s a strange, yet also strangely familiar one. I’ve skipped across the Norwegian frontier and am learning Swedish.

Learning a language so closely related to one you already speak is a very particular kind of language learning. Uniquely, you’re not starting from scratch. In fact, you most likely already have a decent degree of passive comprehension, either in reading, listening, or both. It’s what made annual Melfest viewing so much more rewarding, despite never having studied a jot of Swedish formally!

Because of that passive comprehension, though, beginners’ resources are much less useful when you hop across to sibling languages. For one thing, they’re boring; you feel like you already know the basics, as everything is so familiar. Instead of step-by-step textbooks, a better tactic is systematic exposure to higher-level media like podcasts, TV shows and current affairs apps, with a mindful eye on learning the features that distinguish the two languages.

Swedish ≠ NOrwegian in Disguise

Naively, I thought that might be almost entirely tonal, before I started out on my language family hopping. But no – Swedish isn’t just Norwegian with a cutesy accent. There are a lot more vocabulary differences than I’d expected.

Sometimes these are due to borrowing from different sources. Swedish, once the language of an expansive European great power, might have a Middle German loan (like fråga, question) where Norwegian has a North Germanic root (spørsmål). Other times, it’s Swedish that preserves the Norse root (bjuda, invite), while Norwegian has an international interloper (invitere). And then there are times they both go native in different ways (Swedish jämföra and Norwegian sammenligne, to compare).

In any case, my Swedish vocab strategy is to audit the mismatches I find, rather than make a record of all the vocabulary I come across. It’s fascinating watching it come together, like a tale of two siblings who were thick as thieves before going their separate ways. You can see the results so far below, a rather random hotchpotch of items I’ve spotted my recent listening and reading. It’s still early days, and it’s impossible ever to make this exhaustive, of course.

But that said, I hope other double-Scandi learners find it interesting and/or useful!

The Great Norwegian – Swedish Mismatch List


🇳🇴 🇸🇪 🇬🇧
en avis en tidning a newspaper
en bedrift, et selskap ett företag, ett bolag a company
en edderkopp en spindel a spider
en flamme en låga a flame
en forskjell en skillnad a difference
en lommebok en plånbok a wallet
lykke, flaks tur (good) luck
oppførsel beteende behaviour
ei pute en kudde a pillow
et samfunn ett samhälle a society
en sang en låt a song
en sky ett moln a cloud
en ting en sak a thing
en ulv en varg a wolf
en utfordring en utmaning a challenge


🇳🇴 🇸🇪 🇬🇧
bruke använda use
finde hitta find
fortelle berätta tell
invitere bjuda invite
like gilla, tycker om like
pleie å gjøre bruka göra to usually do
sammenligne jämföra compare
snakke prata, tala speak, talk
spise äta eat
stole på lita på rely on
unngå undvika avoid


🇳🇴 🇸🇪 🇬🇧
alle allihop everyone
cirka ungefær approximately, about
den eneste den enda the only one
en om gangen en i taget one at a time
en slags … en sorters … a kind of …
fordi eftersom, för att because
… igjen … kvar … left (over)
klar redo ready
nettopp (gjort) precis (gjort) just (done)
nå for tiden numera these days
selvsagt, åpenbart självklart obviously
skuffet besviken disappointed

Are there any biggies you’d add to this nascent list? Please share in the comments!

The Flag of Sweden, the Scandinavian country where Swedish is spoken. Image from

Scandinavian Swapshop : Switching Teams Late in the Game?

I always think Scandinavian languages are like football teams. You pick one and you stick with it.

It was Norwegian that I plucked out of the polyglot hat very early on. Admittedly, as with many of those early language choices, it was my Eurovision favourites that led the way. I positively lapped up Norway’s entries in the 90s, so resolved to learn as much as I possibly could about the country and language (or languages, as I soon found out).

Scandinavian Value for Money

The thing is, with a Scandi lang, you get bang for your buck. First-language speakers of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish grow up with this in mind. They readily understand each other’s languages – to varying degrees – and consume media from each other’s countries with few issues.

As a second-language speaker, you too can gain access to that value for money party to some extent. Learning Norwegian equips you with an ability to read Danish and Swedish with little difficulty, and, I soon found, to follow the gist to the most animated of Melodifestivalen presenters. You can even fake speaking one of the other languages semi-successfully by adjusting your accent and tone. It’s like supporting your team, but nipping over to see a rival team’s games now and again.

But this year, of course, Sweden went and won Eurovision (again). And if there’s anything that makes me want to learn a new language ‘properly’, it’s the thought of visiting a country to attend said Eurovision. How hard can it be, I thought? Norwegian and Swedish are so similar, it’s just a case of tweaking here and there.

Little Difference, Big Difference?

Ohhhh, no. I soon realised that it’s a slippery slope to assume any of the Scandilangs line up with each other perfectly. As I delve into formal Swedish study for the first time, I’m learning how unintentionally hilarious that assumption could be. For instance, the Norwegian word ful can mean clever or sly. Don’t go calling anyone in Sweden that, though. There, it means ugly.

Other mismatches are perhaps less likely to get you into actual trouble, but will still give you away as a blagger, not a speaker. You’ll need to remember that a newspaper is a tidning, not an avis, for example. You don’t like (like) and huske (remember) but rather tycka om and komma ihåg, using phrasal constructions that Swedish seems so much more partial to than Norwegian. And before you cry wolf, be aware that it’s a varg, not an ulv (incidentally, Swedish ditched the latter due to superstition, a fascinating phenomenon known as taboo replacement).

In any case, having a real go at Swedish is opening my eyes to how different the languages are from each other, and challenging the flawed assumption of equivalency. Maybe soon, I’ll be singing along to those Melfest favourites in the original language, and not my best faux Swewegian.

I’m still Team Norway – but might have sneakily bought a Sweden scarf to whip out at the right moment now and again too.