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Is it possible to get a job in Sweden without Swedish?

Is it possible to get a job in Sweden without Swedish?

This is probably one of the most repeated questions amongst the international community.

Not many of us would ask, “is it possible to get a job in France without French or in Germany without German”, because we know it is incredibly hard.

But with Sweden it is confusing. Most people here seem to be conversationally proficient in English and sometimes even claim to be happy to speak English. But somehow the job market doesn’t reflect that.

If we choose Sweden as location and just press enter in the Jobs text box in LinkedIn, we would receive a whooping 81,236 jobs in the results right now. (comprising all jobs published in LinkedIn in Sweden currently active).

Amongst this, if we look into the first 100 jobs to take a random sample and see how many of them has “Swedish” as a requirement, it would be 79.

So only 21% of this random sample jobs set did not have Swedish language as a requirement.

This creates a mixed image of Sweden that’s hard to comprehend. On one side, we see a global Swedish image that states the overwhelming ability of Sweden to communicate well in English but on the other side, we see “Swedish” as a mandatory requirement for almost 80% of the jobs.

Why is that? The answer comes down to one word “fluency”.

Sweden is indeed very high in the world in basic conversational English proficiency.

According to EU Europeans and their Languages Report 2012:

91% of Swedes are able to hold a basic conversation in one other language than their mother tongue and

86% of them are particularly likely to speak English as a foreign language.

This is incredibly high for a country with English as their second language. This is exactly the reason Sweden has branded themselves as able English speakers and rightly so.

But the percentage of Swedes who classify their English as “Very Good” according to the same report is only 40%.

We should also recognize the fact that, Swedes have very high standard on their expectation of English fluency. So, this number should technically be a bit higher in reality than reflected on the stat.

Following this, if we look into the percentage of Swedes who use a foreign language (most likely English) on a daily basis, it is 37% and those who regularly use a foreign language (most likely English) to write emails/letters is on a daily basis is only 34%.

So, based on this EU report, even though

almost 9 out of 10 Swedes would be able to give you directions on the street or chit chat about weather or would be able to hold a basic conversation comfortably in English,

only 4 out of 10 might be able to do communicate entirely in English on a daily basis over an intense 40-hour work week.

Also, we should consider that this 40% of highly fluent English-speakers might be predominantly distributed amongst youth population aged between 18 and 35 and within specific industry niches surrounding software/telecom/digital services or similar.

Hence based on this, if you are looking for a job in Sweden, the probability for you to find a team or workplace where every person has a fluency in English to communicate emotions, complex ideas and hold professional conversations over a work week, could be very limited.

Of course, depending on if you are residing in

  • a city or in the suburban towns,
  • the average age of the team,
  • industry
  • experience and the market need of your skillsets,

the probability of finding a job with English will increase.

As we see on the tech side these days, many software developer teams are changing their team’s language to English since there’s a heavy need within this area that requires a quick inclusion of global talent pool.

But on the softer side:

The coffee table banters over a fika, ski trips stories after a winter break, midsummer celebrations and every subtle cultural and social aspect of living in Sweden will be missed because of the language barrier and in the long run to develop a sense of belonging in this community, Swedish is mandatory.

I am not fluent in Swedish myself and this is a recent realization that I had for myself on what I am missing without my ability to speak Swedish and how fluent is the society around me in English. Hence, I thought this could be an interesting post to bring this topic into light.

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