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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The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your Swedish

Once you've learned the basics of Swedish, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for Swedish learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your Swedish


Coffee Break Swedish 

Coffee Break Swedish aims to take you through the basics of Swedish in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where Swedish native Hanna teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break Swedish Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes.

Say it in Swedish 

This lively podcast from Stockholm-based Joakim Andersson has an enormous amount of content, with a course of beginners lessons, and stand-alone lessons on various different aspects of Swedish usage. Andersson stopped making podcasts after 80 episodes to concentrate on his YouTube channel, which is also very much worth a watch, with a lot of interesting, and fun, snippets on how to pronounce and use Swedish. There’s also a merchandise site, with some fun Swedish-themed t-shirts. 

Pimsleur Swedish.

OK, so this is an app rather than a podcast, but the experience of doing the daily 30-minute audio lessons in Pimsleur Swedish is very similar to listening to a regular podcast. This is a highly structured audio-based language learning programme, which encourages you to learn through sound rather than the written word, and repeats vocabulary and grammar at intervals to implant them in your memory. It’s very effective, and is a good way to have decent pronunciation from the start. The downsides are the cost – at $150, or $20.95 a month, it’s not particularly cheap – and the fact that Pimsleur have so far only made 30 lessons, meaning it only gets you to quite a basic level.  


Radio Sweden på Lätt Svenska

This daily news bulletin in simplified Swedish put out by Sweden’s state broadcaster SR is a fantastic resource which, so far as we know, exists in no other country. It’s essentially the main stories from Ekot, SR’s main news bulletin, simplified and then read very slowly, with short sections of real-life interviews. If you go onto Radio Sweden’s website, you can read along with the text. Incidentally, 8sidor, which means literally “eight pages”, a newspaper in simplified Swedish, has a function which allows you to listen to the stories. 

Klartext on P4 

The Klartext news bulletin is actually designed for mentally disabled people, but it also works for beginners learning Swedish. It’s faster than Radio Sweden på Lätt Svenska, but still uses simplified language, so it’s good for language learners wanting to move a step up (so long as you don’t mind getting a bit more news than you might expect of particular relevance to the disabled). 

Simple Swedish

Despite its name, the Simple Swedish podcast from Fredrik Arhusiander, is not for beginners, but rather to help people who already understand basic Swedish develop their vocabulary and listening skills. The episodes aren’t graded, so can be listened to in any order, and feature Fredrik discuss his life, what he’s doing, what’s in the news, basically anything at all, in slow, simplified Swedish. With 146 episodes so far, there’s a lot of material to get through. Fredrik also offers his Strong Swedish online course for €199. 

SR Ekot nyheter 

After you’ve listened to the two simplified versions of Sweden’s official radio news bulletin for a few months, it might be time to try the real deal. The Ekot Nyheter podcast has three major broadcasts a day: in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening. If you make it part of your routine, you’ll find that what starts off a bit hard to grasp slowly becomes as easy to understand as news in your own language. 


Anyone with half-Swedish children can benefit from listening to Radioapan, “the radio monkey”, a podcast from Swedish state radio’s children’s channel which has original stories, children’s radio plays, and readings from children’s books. It’s a really great resource. 


Lysande Lagom. The Lysande Lagom podcast from Emil Molander and Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux combines analysis of the clichés and reality around Sweden and Swedishness with language-learning advice. It’s from Lys Förlag, the publisher which published The Local’s Swedish Word of the Day anthology, Villa, Vovve, Volvo, and it makes for very entertaining listening. 

Ekots Lördagsintervju

The long Saturday interview on SR, Ekots Lördagsintervju, is a great way to develop your listening skills, with host Johar Bendjelloul grilling party leaders, ministers, agency chiefs and other important people in the news  

Alex och Sigges poddcast 

The 10-year-old comedy podcast, Alex & Sigge’s podcast, is an institution in Sweden. It features Alex Schulman and Sigge Eklund, two novelists and media personalities, talking about the news, their lives and just about anything they find amusing. 


Currently Sweden’s most listened-to podcast, Rättegångspodden, which translates as “The Trial Pod”, exploits the fact that all trials in Sweden are recorded, with the audio available to the public, to develop dramatic true crime podcasts. The podcast’s founder Nils Bergman, also uses audio evidence collected by police, such as intercepted phone calls. For language learners with a true crime bent, this is a great way of improving your Swedish. The long form documentary podcasts on P3 also have a lot to offer for true crime enthusiasts.  


The Politiken podcast from Svenska Dagbladet is far and away the best podcast in Swedish on politics in the country. Wife and husband journalist team Maggie Strömberg and Torbjörn Nilsson analyse the week’s developments, with Strömberg providing up-to-the-minute gossip from the Riksdag cafeteria and Nilsson drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Swedish political history to put it all in context. Linguistically, it’s quite rich, so regular listening will expand your vocabulary.  


Language geeks might enjoy Språket, a podcast from SR on language usage and etymology, which will help advanced Swedish learners get to grips with some of the things that puzzle even native speakers. If this is the sort of thing that floats your boat, then you might also enjoy Språktidningens podd, the podcast from Sweden’s language newspaper Språktidning.