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Is Swedish similar to Norwegian and Finnish?


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I have always been wondering that if i start learning Swedish then i will be able to understand Norwegian and Finnish as well. I am asking this question because when i usually talk to my Norwegian friends they say that they can understand Swedish without any difficulties, is it because they are all the same? or are there just some similarities that are found in those Scandinavian languages?

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Scandinavian languages are similar in their vocabulary and grammar, but they're not exactly the same. You'd be able to comprehend certain words the same way you understand German from knowing English (lampen, apfel, zucker, etc.), but you wouldn't be able to flawlessly speak the language itself, especially if you start with Swedish.

The languages are a bit more closely related than English/German though, and you would be able to understand around 80-90% of Swedish vocabulary and written language by speaking Norwegian. If you want to understand Danish or Swedish as well in addition to your new language, your best bet is probably to start learning Norwegian (Bokmål), as it shares the most in common with the other languages.

And Finnish is just completely different.

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Scandinavian languages are similar in their vocabulary and grammar, but they're not exactly the same. You'd be able to comprehend certain words the same way you understand German from knowing English (lampen, apfel, zucker, etc.), but you wouldn't be able to flawlessly speak the language itself, especially if you start with Swedish.

The languages are a bit more closely related than English/German though, and you would be able to understand around 80-90% of Swedish vocabulary and written language by speaking Norwegian. If you want to understand Danish or Swedish as well in addition to your new language, your best bet is probably to start learning Norwegian (Bokmål), as it shares the most in common with the other languages.

And Finnish is just completely different.

I definitely agree on this one. Swedish and Norwegian are more alike in language, but Finnish has a totally different structure. For making things easier to understand, let us just say that Scandinavian languages can be compared to English (but they are Germanic in reality, of course). You have the American English, the British English and their accent, and then there's Australian and Canadian English plus their accents. The words are almost identical to each other, yet they differ in spelling, which also means alphabet, and the most obvious of all, pronunciation.

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As I am in Finland right now and staying with a Swedish-speaking Finn, so I feel a little qualified to answer this (after checking with her haha)!

Danish, Norwegian and Swedish have a lot in common, and enough that they are considered to be mutually intelligible, i.e. people who speak one of those languages can understand what is being said in the others. Norway is geographically in between Sweden and Denmark, so it makes sense that Norwegians can speak to Swedes and Danes but Sweden and Denmark are a little further away so they find it a bit harder to understand each other (Swedish speakers say that Danes sound like they are speaking with a potato in their mouth, and speak too quickly; I'm sure Danes say that Swedes sound weird too).

Finnish is a totally different language altogether. Finland, incidentally, isn't technically a part of Scandinavia either. There is a minority of Finnish people (about 5-6% of Finland's population) who speak Swedish natively and it is an official language in Finland, but the majority of people do not speak much Swedish (and probably speak better English, really).

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  • 5 months later...

Finnish is extremely far away from Swedish, and you're very unlikely to understand much from it if you know Swedish.

Danish can be somewhat understandable in some cases, but for the most part Danish is different enough that you won't understand most of what they are saying.

Norwegian however, is very simlar. Atleast the more common "bokmål" is. Even if the meaning of the words is somewhat different from swedish, atleast I can almost always understand what they are talking about without any problems. Nynorsk (which is the older "version" of norwegian, still used to some extent) however is impossible to understand.

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  • 3 months later...

Like  gegegeno said, Finnish isn't like Swedish at all. It's about as easy for a Swede who hasn't learned Finnish to understand it as it is for Swedish is a North Germanic language, while Finnish belongs to a completely different family of Finno-Ugric languages. That's why Finland isn't considered to be a Scandinavian country, despite the geographic and historic closeness to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

However, there is a minority of Swedish-speakers living in Finland, and schools there teach Swedish, so you might get some use out of your Swedish skills in Finland, too!

As for Norwegian, yes, it's fairly easy to understand it. At least for most Swedes. The words and grammar are both very similar, though of course the level of comprehension won't be anywhere near as good as it is for a Norwegian.

But even if you don't understand it right away, learning Norwegian would be a fairly easy journey if you start off fluent in another Scandinavian language.

I think Danish is the most relevant to Swedish out of the Scandinavian countries? My Swedish housemate says she can have a reasonable conversation with a Danish person while speaking Swedish.

For me, personally, Danish is very difficult. I can barely understand a word of it when spoken, though written works better. Especially written 19th century Danish for some reason...

Norwegian is much easier for most Swedes, in my experience. I think it's because the pronunciation is clearer than it is in Danish.

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Like  gegegeno said, Finnish isn't like Swedish at all. It's about as easy for a Swede who hasn't learned Finnish to understand it as it is for you. Swedish is a North Germanic language, while Finnish belongs to a completely different family of Finno-Ugric languages. That's why Finland isn't considered to be a Scandinavian country, despite the geographic and historic closeness to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

However, there is a minority of Swedish-speakers living in Finland, and schools there teach Swedish, so you might get some use out of your Swedish skills in Finland, too!

As for Norwegian, yes, it's fairly easy to understand it. At least for most Swedes. The words and grammar are both very similar, though of course the level of comprehension won't be anywhere near as good as it is for a Norwegian.

But even if you don't understand it right away, learning Norwegian would be a fairly easy journey if you start off fluent in another Scandinavian language.

For me, personally, Danish is very difficult. I can barely understand a word of it when spoken, though written works better. Especially written 19th century Danish for some reason...

Norwegian is much easier for most Swedes, in my experience. I think it's because the pronunciation is clearer than it is in Danish.

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Similar to norwegian ? Yes! To Finnish? Not at all!  Swedish isn't even related to Finnish one bit. Actually I read a while ago that Finnish doesn't really have a lot relatives.

Swedish is wonderful, but I prefer Norwegian.  Norwegian is a bit easier to write.

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Actually I read a while ago that Finnish doesn't really have a lot relatives.

That's true, the Finno-Ugric group is not very large. The only languages in that group spoken by a decent number of speakers are Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. When I was just beginning my linguistics studies it really amazed me to find related languages in two countries like Hungary and Finland, which are not that close geographically and culturally.

But actually the whole grouping is controversial, it is unclear whether Ugric and Finno-Permic are actually related, there aren't that many words in common. Hence Finnish could have even fewer relatives! I think Finnish sounds and reads very differently from Hungarian, and without knowing it beforehand I would have never thought they were placed in the same group.

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  • 2 months later...

That's true, the Finno-Ugric group is not very large. The only languages in that group spoken by a decent number of speakers are Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. When I was just beginning my linguistics studies it really amazed me to find related languages in two countries like Hungary and Finland, which are not that close geographically and culturally.

But actually the whole grouping is controversial, it is unclear whether Ugric and Finno-Permic are actually related, there aren't that many words in common. Hence Finnish could have even fewer relatives! I think Finnish sounds and reads very differently from Hungarian, and without knowing it beforehand I would have never thought they were placed in the same group.

The reason why Finnish and Hungarian has been grouped together is that they have similar language structure, they use the same way to string a sentence together. They also use verbs in a similar way and several cases.  Much in the same way as Turkish, so traditionally they have been grouped together.

One must understand that Scandinavian languages have "official spoken and written language" , but most people speak various dialects, and the tradition of travel is greater in some parts of the region than others.  Also "old Norse" was a mosly common language 4-800 years ago in that entier region, including to some part the Baltics, Finland and parts of Estern Europe, before Latin was indoctrinated  with the Churches and many people fell back to local dialects forming from secluscion.

The biggest rift came about after The Black Plague, where more than 1/3 of populatin died in Northen Europe, among those many were scholars and educated people who also traveled.

Parts of these countries has been together more by fault of natural closeness than borders, also  through skilled workers and trade, as  most of naval expression is based on the typical "norse (as in scandinavia) language" mostly found in Norwegian today.

So learning the "official" language does not mean that you will understand how many people talk should you travel around, but in a work situation and official setting people will mostly default to it.

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