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Moira Uggla: Moira Uggla: ”The most important step is the first one, to dare”

55 years ago, newly married, I came to Sweden. Since then I’ve thought a lot about what it means not to have Swedish as my native language.
Moira Uggla
Kristianstad • Publicerad 16 september 2020
Detta är en personligt skriven text i Mosaik Kristianstadsbladet. Åsikter som uttrycks är skribentens egna.
Moira Uggla.
Moira Uggla.Foto: Peter Åklundh

I was born and brought up in Scotland, where I studied to be a teacher, and came to Kristianstad with my husband, who was Swedish.

Most people spoke only Swedish. To begin with it was all very exciting. To go to the shops and come home with exactly what I wanted was a triumph. Often I had to make do with what the shop assistant thought I wanted.

I remember when I tried to buy minced meat in Stockholm. The assistant only spoke Swedish, so I had to wait until another customer came in to buy some. I leaped out and said ”That!”, and the assistant said very slowly and clearly, ”Kött-färs”. So we ate a lot of ”kött-färs” until I learned more words.

Once I was invited to a friend’s house. To begin with, everyone spoke slowly and clearly but soon everyone was chattering away in Swedish. I felt as if I were at Wimbledon, looking from side to side and trying to follow the conversation. When I heard my name, I said ”Yes”, and discovered I’d just volunteered to fix the next tea-party.

In the ’60’s there weren’t many people from other countries in Kristianstad. They were mostly from Finland and from Jugoslavia and Greece and had come to find work in the local industries. There was no Sfi, so I started by listening to the news on the radio. I practised numbers – and geography – by listening to the weather forecasts. Children’s programmes on the radio were also helpful. People spoke clearly and used simple words. One thing I remember that I enjoyed was listening to Astrid Lindgren reading aloud from her books about the children in Bullerbyn.

Newspapers were very useful. There was always something I could understand, perhaps just a report from a football match. And I collected words, to be able to say exactly what I meant.

I wanted to be able to manage in Swedish as soon as I could. At home we spoke nothing but Swedish – my husband pretended not to understand if I used English. But it was impossible for me to be really angry in Swedish. The children soon learned to stay out of my way when I used English!

Learning a new language isn’t easy – but it’s exciting. The feeling of being able to get just what you want in a shop, to be able to ask the way to the station – and understand the answer, to contact the authorities and explain what you want without having to involve a third party. That’s when it’s worth all the hard work.

As a native English speaker I faced far fewer difficulties in learning Swedish than many others. The alphabet is the same, the grammar has a lot in common with the languages I already knew.

But the most important step is the first one, to dare. Once you’ve taken the first step, there’s no stopping you. What happens if you say something wrong? Most often, nothing at all. Whoever you are speaking to knows what you mean. And just think – how many Swedes can speak your first language as well as you can?