Right now, I have begun a "Swedish for Immigrants" (SFI) class in Uppsala so I can learn to speak Swedish fluently. Though privately administered by one of Sweden's premier adult education companies, this course is subsidized by the Swedish government to get immigrants and ex pats to learn the Swedish language. In Uppsala, there are about 2000 people curently enrolled in the courses, coming from all parts of the worls. For the past two week, I have been observing how a successful language course is being taught here in Sweden.
As I mentioned, the students come from all over the world. In my class of 30, at least 21 different countries are represented. Most of the students can't speak Swedish--that's why they're taking the course--but all the students can understand English, at least rudimentarily as a second or third language (one of the staff is a speaker of Arabic and Farsi, which helps a lot for the students with the most rudimentary English). In this program, we meet in class for 10 hours a week, though there is additional homework and web instruction.
As much as the class as possible is conducted in Swedish, but not 100%. There is a lot of description in Swedish, and pictures to convey the names of things and actions. Still, because everyone knows some English, important administrative information is repeated in English. Also, to avoid getting stuck with an explanation in Swedish, and an English gloss or restatement is occasionally tossed out for help. The grammar teaching is not really inductive. There is a lot of grammatical explanation for parts of speech, word order, plural formation for five different classes of nouns, etc.
I suspect this class will be more effective at teaching Swedish than the average seminary Greek program. For one, the classroom time is more intense--2½ hours a day, four days a week. Some seminaries are lucky to assign more than 2½ hours a week of classtime. Another reason is that the teacher is actually fluent in Swedish and so I am hearing the language constantly throughout the 2½ hours a day of class time. Finally, the culture here is Swedish, so I have plenty of opportunities to practice the language at work and while shopping. None of these reasons seem to be available in the typical seminary, and I fear that the contraints of a masters-level program will make certain standard language learning approaches infeasible in that context.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke)
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Faculty of Theology, Uppsala