Swedish Club Celebrates Its First Anniversary: Interview with One of the Founders, Jan-Erik Åberg

Swedish club Sigma

Sigma Technology’s team in Gothenburg is diverse and truly international. Our employees come from different countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and many others. Though English is the official language for business communications, being able to speak Swedish makes work and life in general easier and more fun. Therefore, one year ago a group of Swedes at the Gothenburg office launched Swedish Club meetings, where people can write, talk, and practice listening comprehension. Jan-Erik Åberg, one of the founders of the Club, told us how this initiative started last year.

Jan-Erik, please tell us a little bit about yourself, your education, and professional experience.

I’m a language nerd, currently trying to find a way to learn more than two languages at the same time. I studied at the university here in Gothenburg. I’ve got a Master of Science in computational linguistics + a few courses in miscellaneous Slavic languages. In my professional life I started out as a programmer, turned to testing, and moved on to technical writing.

How did you come up with the idea to start Swedish Club? What was the motivation for it then?

I and other people in the company had spent fika breaks helping people with Swedish for quite a long while, and I just thought it was time to see if we could help more people. My motivation: I like to have fun, preferably while doing something useful.

We started helping people with Swedish for free, and as we proved that it was useful, we received more and more support from the management.

Do you remember the first session one year ago?

We just invited people to write something on whatever topic they liked and took it from there. You start with some words, you treat them with lots of love and a modicum of discipline, and you often end up with slightly better words. It’s generally an enjoyable and rewarding process, so I suppose everyone was in an agreeable state of mind. According to the internal booking system, we were 17 there that day.

Describe the concept of Swedish Club, how do you structure the lessons?

The concept is to try to help people at whatever level of Swedish they are today, and to target things you might not find in a textbook. In the beginning, we didn’t have lessons at all. To be able to do Swedish Club for free, we did what reviewers do each day at this company: someone handed us a text and we tried to improve it. The plan has never been to give a structured presentation of the entire language. You can get that in a course. We do what we think will help the majority of people the most. To help people with listening comprehension in general and office-speak in particular, we started to make short video clips. We noticed that many people are unsure of how to use the different variants of the future tense, so that’s what we’re doing next. After that, I think we’ll do vowels.

What is the most inspiring feedback you’ve received, the feedback that motivates you to continue the Club activities?

The most inspiring feedback for me is not the words people say. It’s to hear people speaking Swedish knowing that I contributed a little to it. It’s hearing the laughter during the Swedish Club sessions. It’s seeing someone dare to speak a foreign language in front of a group of people and gain a bit of confidence from the exercise.

Both Swedes and foreigners can come to the lessons, what is the benefit for Swedish speakers to participate?

Swedish Club is not a one-man band. When it comes to leading, we are a group of Swedish people that either come up with ideas or borrow them from other people who come to Swedish Club, and then we implement those ideas. During writing sessions, everyone’s helping everyone. During more lesson-like sessions, I usually speak a lot, while the other Swedes stop me if I say something really stupid. They give more or better examples. The benefit for Swedish speakers to participate is very simple: we’re a documentation company. Caring about and working with language (any language, in any situation, at any level) make our jobs more interesting and fun. And it improves the documentation we deliver.

What are your plans for the next few years?

For Swedish Club: to try to be relevant for as many people as possible. For me: as always, to make sure that my job is as much fun as it can be and, if possible, to improve something in the process.


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