When I was first signing up for SFI I asked how long it usually took to complete the course. The answer shocked me: eight to twelve months.
Ha! I thought. There’s no way I’ll be spending that long just learning Swedish. I’ll have a job long before then.
Later, when my student card came I checked the expiry date: 31/03/15. Not a problem, I thought. I’ll probably be working by then.
In fact, if you had told me that I would still be attending SFI four months in, I would have been pretty startled.
I always knew it would be tough to get a job without good Swedish skills, but it’s been taking longer than I expected. (More on which to follow in a later post.) Since it’s my lack of Swedish that is holding me back from a lot of opportunities, it makes sense to keep pressing on with the language course until that job offer arrives.
I last wrote about my experience of SFI when I was four weeks in to the course, so it seems fitting to post another update almost exactly four months from when I started.
First, an explanatory note. The SFI course has four class levels: A, B, C and D (with A being the most basic and D the highest level). The A course is for students who need to start with basic literacy skills; B is for absolute beginners in Swedish; C puts you at a decent beginner level (completing the C course is the equivalent to achieving CEFR level A2, “Basic user”); the D course takes you to CEFR level B2, “Independent user”.
New students are placed in a class depending on their level of education. It’s a slightly odd system – there was no initial assessment of my Swedish abilities and I was placed in the C course from the start simply because I’d been to university. (That’s why my first day was so terrible – but in fairness to the school, it is very flexible and you can change to a class that better suits your ability whenever you want.)
I was totally out of my depth when I started the course in November 2014, but by the end of the year I was feeling confident in my work, and as January wore on I wasn’t feeling challenged any more – we had arrived back at the point in the textbook where I’d started, and a largish group of the top students had moved on to the D course, bringing the overall level of the group down. So I took the C test at the next earliest opportunity and two weeks ago today I started in the D group.
Of course, studying every day for four months, my Swedish abilities have been improving so gradually that the change is almost imperceptible day by day and week by week. But on Friday I had a real opportunity to take a moment and recognise how far I’ve come.
A group of us from the course decided to go out for lunch and a drink after class. Over the course of around three hours we sat chatting about everything from E-numbers in Swedish candy to the sexual double standard in Afghanistan, entirely in Swedish. Maybe we didn’t always use exactly the right words or perfect grammar, but we could make ourselves understood to each other and the other people around us.
It’s rare for me to have an extended conversation in Swedish, because when you talk to Swedes in Swedish they speak so quickly and with so many informal uses of language (as we all do in our native tongues) that it doesn’t take long before switching to English becomes necessary. Chatting with my SFI friends that afternoon made me start to believe – perhaps for the first time – that the day will come when I’ll be able to go around in Swedish society and blend in, understanding what’s being said and being able to express myself.
It’s a world away from where I was four months ago, when I could barely cobble together a full sentence in Swedish. And while, for now, I will have to keep skipping over the job adverts that require excellent Swedish, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.