Danish journalists question Swedish reputation as superb English-speakers

Ben Hamilton
November 19th, 2018

This article is more than 5 years old.

Sour grapes and the result of a bitter rivalry, or objective research and a gentle ribbing?

The woman on the left said that when Danes speak English, they sound like Danes, and that when Swedes speak English, they sound like they’re English (or maybe American as none of the Swedes said the potato chips were crisps) (photo: screenshot from DR video)

Since 1500, Sweden and Denmark have fought 13 wars and reached 28 official peace settlements. Indeed, most historians concur that a de facto state of war existed between the countries from 1523 to 1813.

And now a new war is brewing: over Education First’s (EF) ranking of the Swedes as the best non-mother tongue speakers of English in the world.

READ MORE: Denmark drops down English proficiency rankings

The Danes, who ranked first in 2014 but are now judged to be the worst in Scandinavia and fifth best in the world, are not happy if the reaction of Detektor, DR’s official fact-checking team, is anything to go by.

The shildren are eating ships 
A Detektor journalist has taken to the streets of Sweden to test members of the public on their ability to speak English, and the result has certainly ruffled feathers, according to some of the comments on the fact-checker’s Facebook page.

Some have accused the journalist of being selective, choosing to only broadcast Swedes whose English was clearly not up to par, and also criticised her for focusing on the same pronunciation error: the ‘ch’ sound.

A number of Swedes were asked to pronounce the words ‘chips’ and ‘children’ – and most were not up to the task, saying ‘ships’ and ‘shildren’.

Inaccurate but a good indicator?
However, Detektor raised more serious issues with the way EF comes up with its rankings – namely that their findings are based on people taking tests, and proficient speakers are highly unlikely to do this.

Furthermore, Detektor pointed out that EF has no way of knowing what percentage of the people taking the test in Sweden are actually Swedish.

Morten Frederiksen, an associate professor at Aalborg University, told DR the rankings are merely “promotional material” and not a “random sample of the population”.

EF, though, maintains they are a “good indicator”.



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