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The Swedish vocabulary parents need to know for back-to-school season

Parents around the country will be preparing for their children's return to school – or perhaps their very first term – over the next few weeks. Here are the crucial pieces of Swedish vocabulary that will help international families navigate the school year.

The Swedish vocabulary parents need to know for back-to-school season
Do you know your läxor from your läroplan? Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

Types of schools

Most schools in Sweden are kommunala skolor (municipal schools) run by the local municipality, but there are also fristående skolor, usually called friskolor (independent or charter schools), which are run by private companies but are free to attend, because they receive funding from the Swedish National Agency for Education if they receive its official approval.

Fee-charging schools are rare in Sweden, and those which exist are often internatskolor (boarding schools), usually called internat for short, where some or all pupils stay overnight at the school.

The school years are also divided up in a way that might be different from what you’re used to. From the age of one, children can attend the non-mandatory förskola (preschool), also called dagis (daycare). This is heavily subsidised but not totally free.


From the autumn of the year a child is six, they attend förskoleklass (preschool class), which is a compulsory one-year transition between förskola and grundskola (primary school). Years 1-3 of the grundskola are called lågstadiet (lower studies, years 1–3), followed by mellanstadiet (middle studies, years 4–6), and högstadiet (higher studies, years 7–9). The entire grundskola is both compulsory and completely free to attend.

After that, the three-year gymnasieskola (high school) begins in the year a child turns 16. This is optional, but most Swedish teens do attend.

In Sweden, parents can choose which schools to apply for, and there are various tools available online to help make the decision. The application for the hösttermin (autumn semester) usually takes place in late January and parents should receive a decision in April.

You might want to look at criteria such as lärartäthet/elever per lärare (teacher density/students per teacher), the proportion of lärare med legitimation eller behörighet (teachers with the Swedish teacher qualification; due to a shortage of teachers in the country, many schools struggle to fill all their positions with fully qualified staff), or the average slutbetyg (final grade) in various subjects. 

Photo: Alexander Olivera/TT

Terms and timing

First thing’s first: semester means “holiday” and not “term” in Swedish. In the school context, you’re more likely to hear the term lov than semester (since lov usually refers to organised periods of leave, while semester suggests a trip or chosen vacation).

As well as the long sommarlov (summer holiday) which usually lasts up to ten weeks, there’s the jullov (Christmas break) over the winter period, sportlov (sport holiday/half-term break) in February, påsklov (Easter break) later in spring, and the höstlov (autumn break), sometimes also called läslov (reading break) in an effort to encourage literacy, which takes place around October.

As in much of Europe, but in contrast to countries like the US, the skolår (school year) starts in the autumn, usually mid-late August or sometimes early September, and is split into two terminer (terms): the hösttermin (autumn term) and vårtermin (spring term). Each of these begin with the skolstart (literally “school start” or “back to school”), and the word for the final day of term is avslutning (literally “closure”, meaning “end of term”).

Then there are occasional studiedagar (“study days”) when teachers go on training and students have the day free from school, supposedly to study independently.



At the start of term, especially by the time of högstadiet, your child might receive a skolschema (timetable) showing their lesson plan.

In the grundskola, some subjects are obligatory in the läroplan (curriculum): matematik (maths), svenska or svenska som andraspråk (Swedish or Swedish as a second language), engelska (English), biologi (biology), fysik (physics), kemi (chemistry), teknik (technology), geografi (geography), historia (history), religionskunskap (religious education), idrott och hälsa (sport and health), musik (music), hem- och konsumentkunskap or hemkunskap for short (home and consumer education), samhällskunskap (social education), slöjd (crafts) and bild (literally “images” but translated as “visual arts”, incorporating traditional artistic methods but also digital media).

Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/

If you speak a language other than Swedish at home, there’s the possibility to enrol your child in modersmålsundervisning or hemspråk classes (“mother tongue education” or “home language”). This is only possible if there’s a teacher for the language in your municipality or nearby, and the teaching typically takes place out of usual school hours.

At the end of the day, there’s the option to enrol your child in fritids (literally “free time”, translating more accurately as “after-school club”). There’s usually a fee for this programme which often includes options for children to take part in music, sport, or other activity clubs, or to do their own independent activities. Most children will also have hemläxa or läxa (homework) to do too.

Children undertake nationella prov (national tests) three times in the grundskola: in grades 3, 6 and 9. However, children are only given betyg (grades) from grade 6 onwards, later than in many other countries.

And of course it’s not all work and no play: students usually get at least one rast (break) in addition to the lunchrast (lunchbreak) during the skoldag (school day). 

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