Mark has tried to pick up a bit of Swedish from me over the last week. That is, in a more organised and deliberate way than “how do you say this in Swedish?” While I want to encourage that, because it would be sweet if he learnt the language, it sounds so funny to my ears when he tries to speak it.
Swedish is so very similar to English, on the surface. It has the same word order, the same sentence structure, and many of the same words – except that the shared words are pronounced differently. But there are aspects of Swedish that are nearly impregnable for foreigners. Tone is such a concept, as I think I’ve mentioned before.
Depending on the tone of a word, a word can mean different things. A word like ‘tomten’ can mean both ‘Santa Clause’ and ‘the yard’. If you’re not careful around Christmas, you can tell a child that ‘the yard is going to give you presents’. Mostly context sorts these things out, but it does sound funny.
I actually think tone is the definite marker for a foreigner in Sweden. If you get the tone, then you can pass for a Swede with a bit of an accent. If you don’t get the tone, you’ll be marked as a foreigner. If you get marked as a foreigner, then you’ll most likely be the permanent outsider who is treated politely, but who is never included.
It can be a fairly insular culture, the Swedish. Inside and outside are rooted concepts, and no matter how much you struggle and strive, your foreignness will put up barriers. Particularly if you end up outside the more cosmopolitan big cities that are used to immigrants and foreigners everywhere.
Another thing is that in Swedish, nouns have genders: male, female, and neutral. If you don’t get that right, you’ll sound even more ridiculous and foreign than if you don’t get the tone right. In English you have ‘that’ as in ‘that car’ or ‘that house’. In Swedish you have ‘den bilen‘ or ‘det huset‘. If you say ‘det bilen’ or ‘den huset’ it sounds very strange.
I don’t know how to teach Mark Swedish. I think that before we go to Sweden for his summer job, he should try to find a proper teacher. I don’t even know where to begin. And this despite the fact that I’m dithering between teaching as a profession and journalism. If I settle on teaching, then maybe Mark would become a test case for how good I would be as a teacher. Right?
Next year’s special class is going to be 18th century literature. I have committed to that. It’s going to be something called an EPQ project, or an Extended Project Qualification. In normal terms, it’s an 120 hour project that counts as half an A-level. The topic is entirely free, and it is supposed to be done to the same standard as a university dissertation.
The difference is that it is an independent project, so I won’t have access to lecturers like I would at University. I need to do all my research myself. It is supposed to show my skill for academic work, as well as my ability to do independent research, and lastly my ability to write. It could mean the difference between acceptance at Oxbridge, and being lost in a sea of high-grade applicants.
At the end of the year I will have to write a long dissertation of at least 5,000 words, as well as defend my research to a panel. This is going to be so fun. That’s why I’ve chosen the 18th century because it’s so rich in sources, because it is back-ended by the Tudor poets and playwrights as well as the modernists.
So, I’ve committed to doing that now. What is needed now is to find a specific aspect of 18th century literature that can be reduced to a concrete research goal. I have all of summer to think of that.
Auntie wants to go visit my sister’s grave tomorrow, to make sure it’s not falling apart. I think mum has told her to. Me and Mark is going to join her. Once again my sister pops out and say ‘boo’ like a ghost.
Mark wants to know about her, and about what she was like. He’s asked before, but I never have any good answers for him. I just don’t remember her, except for little snippets of memories that aren’t very clear. I think he has to talk to mum about her.
But my excuses doesn’t sound very weighty even to me. I wasn’t that young when she died. I was five or six. I should remember more, shouldn’t I? I mean, her sickness did throw a long shadow over our lives for so long, and her death did too. So, why don’t I remember her more?
So, when she pops out and say ‘boo’, and surprise me because I haven’t thought about her at all, I almost feel a little guilty. Like I should think about her, at least once in a while.