At Babbel, we know a thing or two about epic language challenges. In the past we’ve challenged a group of Babbel employees to start speaking Spanish in 3 weeks, and we gave 3 average guys seven days to have a conversation in French. But as tough as these challenges were, the languages chosen were a little “run of the mill.” After all, most people have had some kind of exposure to French or Spanish before, either in school or on vacation. This time, however, we decided to really crank up the pressure, by asking a group of employees to learn three languages often overlooked by language learners: Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. Each learner was assigned one of these Scandinavian languages, and in true challenge style, they were given only a week to learn it — with only the Babbel app to help them!
Nicki, one of our brave participants, loves languages (and challenges), so she fearlessly accepted the daunting task of speaking Swedish in only 7 days. Along the way she even picked up 5 tricks that helped her to chat away freely with a native Swedish speaker at the end of the challenge week!
Here are her 5 tricks to picking up the conversational basics of a new language in just one week.
Trick #1: Plan like a master
I knew I only had one week to learn Swedish, and my goal was to get to a basic conversational level. I wanted to be able to introduce myself, talk about my interests and to ask my conversation partners about themselves and their hobbies.
My strategy was to finish Babbel’s Swedish Beginners Course 1 and then, depending on emerging grammar and vocabulary needs, take a look at the other available courses. So, I thought carefully about how many lessons a day I could realistically do (three) and I planned ahead to see where I could squeeze my learning in during my daily routine (on the train to and from work, and after dinner).
Establishing a routine right from the start is crucial because it quickly turns your language learning into a habit.
Trick #2: Keep your focus
I love learning but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a life! I, therefore, tried to be as efficient as possible with my Swedish learning. I didn’t like the idea of sitting at my desk for hours, cramming — that’s mind-blowingly boring. Plus, I knew that from a neurological perspective, it would be much more effective to divide my learning into small chunks.
Fact: The average person can only focus — and I mean really focus — on one thing for about 20 minutes. Guess how long the average Babbel lesson takes? Yep, that’s right. Less than 20 minutes.
Therefore what I did was to activate my power focus into 20-minute learning blocks, which meant immersing myself fully into the world of super-efficient language learning while on the train to work.
I made sure to avoid simultaneous social networking (yay, Babbel offline-mode!), and I ensured that I didn’t push my learning past 20 minutes.
Trick #3: Team up and double down
When the going gets tough and your motivation starts to fade, the best thing to have is someone to learn with, in my case it was my lovely Brazilian colleague, Gabriel. Having a partner during my language challenge taught me one key lesson: Share the suffering, double the joy.
It was so good to have someone I could share problems and insights with. We could quiz each other, compete against each other, or just arrange a little Swedish fika (coffee break) to practice speaking together.
Learning in tandem with Gabriel was invaluable, especially as we could console each other and cry on each other’s shoulders over the fact that we would NEVER, EVER be able to pronounce the tongue twister that the mean Swedish lady made us say during the final test.
Trick #4: Take your learning out into the real world
During my week of learning Swedish, I powered through my Babbel lessons in a whole host of different settings. At home, on my couch, at my kitchen table, on the balcony, in bed, in the park, while running (yay, podcasts!), on the train, at work (shh, don’t tell anyone!) and in cafes.
Why the Swedish overload? Well, I wasn’t actively learning the whole time, but even passive exposure to the language helped with motivation, and it kept me awake and attentive.
One of my best experiences during the challenge week was visiting a Swedish cafe in Berlin. As I sat down to review Swedish vocabulary with Babbel on my phone, I noticed that the waitress was a real Swede. Suddenly, I was overcome by a frisson of excitement: Should I? Could I? Would I actually try to talk to her? I was petrified… and inspired! I gathered up all the courage I could muster and spoke to her:
- “Hej! Hur mår du?” (Hi! How are you?)
Time seemed to slow down, the world stood still. I could feel my heart beating and my cheeks burning. I looked at her expectantly and in slow motion a big smile spread across her face:
- “Jag mår bara bra, tack. Pratar du svenska?” (Yes, I’m doing really well, thanks. Do you speak Swedish?)
The bliss! The sense of achievement! OMG! And yes, I spoke with a thick German accent, but who cares? Certainly not my new Swedish friend!
Trick #5: Personalize your learning
The biggest surprise for me during my week of learning Swedish was that it was much easier than I anticipated. It did not take me very long to finish the Babbel Beginners Course 1 because I enjoyed it so much – it didn’t feel like a chore to do lesson after lesson after lesson!
My rapid progress with Swedish led to two surprises: 1. It boosted my motivation because I was ahead of my learning plan. And, 2. My progress gave me the freedom to choose which lesson I would work on next.
Babbel suggests a path for you with Beginners Courses 1, 2 and 3 — but you don’t have to stick to it! You can personalize your learning, dive deep into listening and speaking practice, complete grammar exercises, or focus on vocabulary for specific situations.
In order to prepare for the test of speaking to a real Swedish native speaker, I completed lessons on future and past tense, and dove into the Words and Sentences courses in order to enhance my vocabulary about hobbies. The new words I learned in this section were embedded in the context of real-life conversations, and — trust me — this is what you want to learn!
If you just google a translation quickly, let’s say to be ridiculously over-prepared for a Swedish test, you might end up saying “I am aroused” rather than “I am excited” in front of a camera, and the whole internet will see it. So embarrassing. Please never mention this to me. Ever again. Thanks.
I did it… and so can you!
Of course, these 5 tricks worked for me. You may have a different learning style, a different strategy, or even other methods that work better for you — but if you don’t know where to start, I dare you to try my five tricks! Can you learn a language in seven days? I would say ja, det kan du! (yes, you can!).