After a short while here in Sweden, and especially if you are taking lessons in Swedish, you will notice that the Swedish language has a hard and a soft side in regards to pronunciation.

For example, the words godis [candy], kall [cold], kul [fun], skål [cheers!], ska [will] are pronounced the way they are written, meaning with a normal hard Swedish g, k and a separate s and k in sk.

On the other hand, students often get surprised and struggle when they try to pronounce other words beginning with a g, k or a sk. Words like ger [give], Göteborg [Gothenburg], kär [in love], skärgård [archipelago], sked [spoon] are pronounced with a soft sound in the beginning. Hence, g turns into a Swedish j, k turns into a similar sound like in tjugo [twenty] and the sk turns into a the similar sound like in sju [seven].

The pronunciation might be tough

But the reason behind the different pronunciation is quite simple, luckily. So here we go! If a word starts with g, k and sk followed by any of the so called hard vowels A, U, O, Å, the sound of the beginning consonants g, k, sk is like they are spelled. But if If a word starts with g, k and sk followed by any of the so called soft vowels E, I, Y, Ä. Ö, the sound of the beginning consonants g, k, sk turns soft. Hence, you have to pronounce g as a Swedish j, the k as the tj-sound in tjugo [twenty] and the sk as the sj sound in sju [seven].

Many of my students claim that hard and soft vowels are new to them, but I claim the opposite

This is in fact a phenomenon recurring in most European languages, although with few vowels, it is not as predominant as in Swedish. Something that most of you will recognise is that what happens to the letter c, in English, French, Romanian, and many more languages. Preceding a hard vowel (a, o, u), it is often taking a [k] sound; cat, count, cute. Preceding a soft vowel (e, i, (y)), it takes an [s] sound; cent, incisive, cycle. The reason? Hard vowels (a, o, u, å - try it!), and consonants that often go with them, are pronounced in the back of your mouth. Soft vowels (e, i, y, ä, ö), on the other hand, closer to your teeth and lips. It simply requires less effort to create two sounds very close to each other than moving them around in your mouth.

 

But as you all know, no rule is without any exceptions

So, please keep in mind that the Swedish word kiss is pronounced with a hard k and has nothing to do with romance (it means pee in English). Some words are also borrowed from other languages such as kille [guy] and kör [choir]. Therefore, these words are exceptions from the rules above. Hence, you have to pronounce both kille and kör with a hard k-sound, as opposed to the verb kör [drive] pronounced with a soft k-sound.

 

Last but not least

Just remember that the hard vowels are A, U, O, Å and the soft vowels are E, I, Y, Ä, Ö and you will be fine! The best advice is try out on your own and also to listen to Swedish people speaking, in the subway or at work.