This Babbel user portrait is courtesy of 20 year-old James Nash, from Portsmouth. In it, he tells us all about his Anglo-Swedish romance with fellow Erasmus student Anna-Louisa.
I’ve never really been much of a language learner, but then few people are in the UK. In fact, the first time I ever really needed to speak in a tongue other than my own was when I found myself doing an Erasmus year in Budapest. Since English isn’t as widely spoken there as it is in much of Western Europe, I soon realized the need to learn some Hungarian.
I took some classes, and pretty quickly I began to speak and to understand. I’d only rate my level of Hungarian as ‘conversational’, but it seemed a pretty good start.
Of course, no matter how well you do at something, someone else will always come along with abilities that put yours to shame. Anna-Louisa was one of those people. She was Swedish; fluent in English and German, and at an intermediate level in Dutch, French and Italian. And she didn’t even speak like the chef from the Muppets! She’d acquired a perfect English accent while studying at a college close to Manchester.
We quickly became close and began a relationship (speaking in English, of course). Communication was easy and natural, but I always felt as if I should be making a little more effort – it seemed somehow unfair that she’d always have to speak my language, even if she is very good at it.
So I decided to learn Swedish. I also decided not to tell her.
With my roommate as my accomplice, I signed up for Babbel and we both got to work learning Swedish. Progress initially came very fast. I was getting comfortable with more verbs and tenses, my pronunciation was improving, and I was soon able to talk quite comfortably about myself and we could have basic conversations. It was helpful to have somebody to practice and discuss the courses with.
I almost let the cat out of the bag a couple of times. I remember she once caught me interestedly reading a Swedish newspaper article over her shoulder, and another occasion on which she questioned my slightly-too-good pronunciation of a word she’d decided to ‘teach’ me. Overall though, I think I did a good job of hiding my project until it was time to reveal everything.
That time came when I traveled to Sweden to meet Anna-Louisa’s parents – a good first impression is always important, right?
After dinner on the first night we were sitting in the living room talking. Anna-Louisa was showing me a Swedish comic book from her childhood and was translating some of the words to try to acquaint me with the language a little more.
At this point, I was brimming with anticipation and decided to bring the family together for my announcement. I proceeded to give Anna’s parents a little gift I brought from Budapest, and explained that I had a little secret I wanted to tell them all. I explained that I’d been learning Swedish with Babbel, that I wanted to be able to speak to them in their own language, and that I hoped it would be seen as a sign of my respect for their culture.
Thankfully, they seemed to be both surprised and happy. Anna-Louisa had her suspicions, I think, but she certainly wasn’t expecting this. Her dad in particular voiced his appreciation of the fact that I was learning Swedish so early in the relationship, and thought it was a great gesture towards the whole family. I told them that I want to speak to them almost completely in Swedish the next time I see them – so I still have something big to aim for!
I’m trying to speak more and more Swedish with Anna-Louisa now. She recently moved to the UK and we’re relocating to Milton Keynes together for work. I look forward to having a ‘secret language’ that our friends and other people around us won’t understand.