I barely know ANY Swedish, and I've already been here over 5 weeks.
Before coming to Sweden, my friend Matt -- some of you may know him as "Mongo", but that's another story entirely -- and I looked up the alphabet on a sort of speak-and-spell website. Like Hungary, the Swedes have very interesting vowels with crazy accent marks. These fancy letters make sounds that are unheard of in America. I have tried to have local students at Astradskolan (where Jo and I make guest appearances in English classes on random Thursdays) help me learn their pronunciations. I sound like a fool. Anything to make the children laugh.
For you, my lovely blog readers, I have done a little research to help better the overall understanding of the Swedish vowels.
A, a : pronounced long (as in hold it for a while), like in the word bar
E, e : pronounced both long, as in the word cafe, and short, as in the word net
I, i : pronounced both long, as in the word keep, and short, as in the word pit
O, o : pronounced 4 ways: long/short as in tool, long as in fore, short as in not
U, u : pronounced both long, as in rude, and short, but there isn't an English equivalent for the sound
Å, å : pronounced long, as in fore, and short as in yonder
Ä, ä : pronounced both long, as in air, and short, as in best
Ö, ö : pronounced long, as in deux (French), long (only when followed by an -r), as in fur, and short, as in her
As you can see, some letter-sounds overlap while others make absolutely impossible sounds, depending on the surrounding letters. This makes the pronunciations extremely difficult for someone who learned their ABC's in an English speaking country. Unless you're a cheater like Jo, who took 3 semesters of Swedish at University of Illinois. She claims that it was an easy A; that she didn't learn anything and just spoke English in class the whole time. Lies, my friends, lies. She can communicate with the little kindergarteners and understands various conversation that occurs around us. Meanwhile, I'm standing there watching the wind blow, completely oblivious that anyone is actually speaking even after they've transitioned back to English and are now trying to ask me a question.
I have managed to fool one kindergartener, named Stephanie, into thinking that I am fluent in Swedish. She tells me stories, completely in Swedish, and I stand there with a look of utter amazement on my face. Once she finishes, I challenge her information by saying "nej! nej!" (or "no! no!" -- I told you my Swedish was limited), and she rebuttals with "ja, ja!" This conversation goes on for a while before she tells me another story. Rinse and repeat. Despite Daniel's efforts to tell her that I, in fact, don't know any Swedish and have no idea what she is telling me, Stephanie continues telling me her stories. She'll probably learn English before I learn Swedish anyways.