Honestly, I didn’t think today would ever come. It was only last night, when it dawned on me that I would be rising before the birds, that I started to visualize myself behind a desk, pen poised over immaculate notepaper, ready to begin proper with a beautiful language that I’ve been listening to (and silently mouthing) for ten months.
In Sweden school starts early. I needed to be there at 8am which, looking back now was a good thing. It didn’t leave me time to get eaten up by nerves. When I entered the classroom, the smile and ‘välkommen’ from my teacher (Martha) were so full of warmth that my psyche felt cushioned. Surety blossomed from my heart up. I thought to myself ‘this is where I should be, I don’t need to run, I don’t need to be scared.’
I’ve always loved languages, but mastering them hasn’t come easy. Well, it hasn’t come at all. It’s something of an embarrassment to have reached thirty years of age and to only be able to speak my mother tongue.
To begin, Martha asked us, one by one, to introduce ourselves. I was in awe of the fluidity of the Swedish that poured from my classmates. The majority of them were from Syria, but you wouldn’t think it to listen to them speak. Their Swedish accents were practically flawless.
Martha – whose parents came to Sweden from Hungary – rarely broke away from Swedish to speak English, and when she did, it was to only say a few words. It felt so refreshing to hear her speak because she spoke slowly, enabling me time to digest one word before moving onto the next. I found I could understand so much more than I’d previously thought. I’m used to Swedish being spoken at one hundred miles an hour.
We spent some time learning which other languages were spoken by the class, and my jaw progressively dropped lower and lower as the list on the whiteboard grew. I was surrounded by people who could speak Armeniska, Kuriska, Arabiska, Ryska, Grekiska, Portugiskia, Kinesiska…I didn’t get a chance to write them all down. And we were hardly twenty in the group.
Today was about setting the foundations for the rest of the course, and I was relived for the calm ‘easing in.’ Though I did I find myself greatly encouraged by the fizzling enthusiasm of my classmates, and humbled by how they approached me with kind smiles and warm, firm handshakes.
I stopped being able to envisage myself speaking a foreign language a few years ago. I just sort of lost hope that I’d ever master another tongue and haven’t really dwelled on the thought because, as I mentioned, I never thought the day would arrive when I’d actually embark on the SFI course. But today, as I cycled away from my first lesson, I thought to myself ‘actually Katie, you might just be able to do this.’