Sofyan Aswad : ” I can’t answer yes or no if I don’t understand.”

Sofyan Aswad
Sofyan Aswad
Foto:Sofyan Aswad

None of us likes to land in an embarrassing situation, especially when spoken to or asked about something. When I came to Sweden I used to say yes to everything – and had often problems.

When I came to Sweden I did what all the other new arrivals did. I started to learn Swedish on my own, with the help of several websites, and dozens of videos on Youtube. But when you learn a new language without a teacher who can explain things for you, there are problems when you speak to other people. You land far off the mark. It was exactly like that for me to begin with.

If anyone asked me about something, I always said yes. There were often problems, for I didn’t understand what people said to me. Someone asked me ”Where is your family now?” and ”How are they?” - and I answered ”Yes”. Once I went with a friend to a Valborg celebration, with a big bonfire to mark the return of spring. No matter what people said to me, I always answered ”yes, please, no thank you, thank you very much’”. ”How many people live here?” - ”Yes, please”, ”Did you come alone or with your family?’” –”Yes, please”.

Sometimes I answered a non-committal ”Well ...”

I felt really stupid, as if I didn’t know anything at all.

I made up my mind to stop saying yes, no or thank you if I didn’t understand the question. Now I am more interested in learning more about the language and Swedish society and its traditions. I’ve started to ask ”What do you mean?”, and the answer has often been clear. A person who asks you something wants you to understand too. Otherwise there will be no conversation.

Swedes are most often pleasant and helpful. If I don’t understand, the person usually explains again and again until I do understand. I’ve never been embarrassed about asking someone to repeat a question, or asking them to explain in simpler words to make understanding easier.

But you must have the courage to say, ”I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand what you’re saying”. To excuse yourself is a fine way to confront people.

Don’t say yes or no to something you don’t understand – be brave and ask. ”As a man sows, so shall he reap.” You needn’t worry about what others think about you if you ask too many questions. There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.