Fröken Senja and the Delights of Learning Swedish

Text Oili Salminen

The highly popular, highly praised and often awarded project “Senja Teaches You Swedish (and Finnish)” took the next step in autumn 2012 and published a book. The study book, composed of Facebook postings, forms an example of a new way of working and a new type of book: the producers crowdsourced the contents to create this bilingual study book. Fröken (Miss) Senja still teaches gleeful Swedish (riemuruotsi, älsklingssvenska) in Facebook.

Senja Larsen tells us that the idea is to practise the Swedish language, culture and structures as well as the exceptions that form the proof of them. This is a completely new way of learning and interacting in social media.

It started in Facebook. Ms. Senja Larsen, a very busy person, created a site she would have been interested in following herself. Suddenly, a great number of people were interested in the method of learning one or two new Swedish words per day. “I do not know Swedish all that well myself, even though I had promised to teach it to others, and when we suddenly had thousands of members, I asked other members – highly skilled verbally, and fun and liberal-minded – to help with the texts, and the language school got wind under its wings!”

From then on, “Senja Teaches You Swedish (and Finnish)” pages have been maintained by about twenty people in Senja’s office.

With more than 16 000 people liking it, this website is one of the most popular social media communities in Finland. The popularity is at least partly explained by the fact that in Senja’s language school, learning is a shared hobby seasoned with humour.

The operation of the language school relies on the text to be studied and the comments posted about it. The texts in Senja’s school are written in accordance with a precisely specified concept regardless of the fact that they approach their subject with hilarity. The texts to be studied form the basis which the commentators may increment with their expertise. The basic text is presented in Finnish, and Swedish translations are mixed into it. A person who speaks only Finnish can first read the text without looking at the Swedish words, and it works well, says Fröken Senja.

The Swedish translations are always given in upper case letters MED VERSALER in the form in which they would occur if the complete sentence were given in Swedish. Finnish words are always written in lower case letters.

“In our texts, we mix modern and oldfashioned language and the form of Swedish spoken in Sweden as well as the form spoken in Finland. The comments often give dialectal forms of Swedish. Occasionally, hilarious curses and other not-soproper words get slipped in. We delight in this diversity. Languages are not static – they assume their form according to their use”, Senja Larsen tells us.

Postings Become a Book

A voluntary work force compiled the book from the daily texts (about 300 of them, each no longer than 420 characters), and the more than 16 000 comments given to them. Comments from hundreds of people were included. In addition to the texts, the book contains more than 2500 comments from the community members. The most eager commentators were 42 in number, and more than 10 of their wisecracks were published in the book. Nadja Andersson was selected out of a large group of applicants to illustrate the book.

This book presents a combination of the traditional book with the hectic pace of social media in which topics rise and fall within days. Both of these aspects are found within this one volume.

“We left some mistakes in the book, because we like them. Making mistakes is necessary for learning. So much the better, if you are having fun too. If you can push a little and learn even one new thing a day, you are quite well set a year from now. You can read the book so that you deal with one topic per day,” Fröken Senja recommends.

The heaviest task after compiling and illustrating the book was proofreading it. Social media often use relaxed language and skip capitalisation and punctuation, and no spell-checkers understand two languages. Proofreading was completed by the members in Senja’s office together with seven volunteers who included translators and teachers.

“Our goal was to make sure of the correctness of the language so that the book can be used in education. But we still wanted to respect our commentators’ approaches and wanted to find a good balance between their personal touches and the meanings that they most likely intended,” Fröken Senja explains.

The Crowdsourced Funding Attempt Remained – An Attempt

Compiling and publishing a book is not free of costs. Illustrations, layout design and administration required funding, and fund-raising was attempted with one of the first ever crowdsourced funding projects in Finland. In July 2012, the community started their project to find out if the book would sell. In 30 days, they received 345 advance orders for the book and its spin-offs. This project was carried out in Kickstarter, the largest crowdsourced funding platform in the world, that has funded more than 23 000 projects with approximately 200 million euros.

The crowdsourced funding project was a greater success than expected, but before the book was published, this funding had to be cancelled. Under the Finnish law according to Finnish police administration, crowdsourcing in this type of case is not legal, and therefore, all funds already collected for the Senja book were returned to the contributors; their copies of the book were delivered to them nevertheless.

Fröken Senja believes that voluntary work is the only way with which a book that involves this much work could have been put together.

The crowdsourcing attempt raised a discussion that may have its effects on future decisions. Many members of parliament and ministers have expressed their views concerning the issue, and there is a web group established that works on renewing the Money Collection Act.

The book publication event was transmitted direct online via GoogleHangout with minor technological requirements, and saved in YouTube at the same time.

Senja Received a Price Even in the eEemeli Competition

This language instruction project has been widely acknowledged. This project has received the Vuoden kieliteko 2011 prize (Linguistic Act of the Year) from the Federation of Foreign Language Teachers in Finland, the Parasta Parasta (Best of the Best) prize from the Finnish eLearning Centre, the community award from Kulturfonden, and the Språksporre 2012 award from the Hugo Bergroth Society.

Additional information

Senja Larsen
e-mail | senja.larsen(a)
Tel. | +358 50 551 1377
Publication of the book in YouTube