If you could speak Swedish

2001, Video, 23’14”
Developed for Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

For this project Ersen asked a number of foreigners and refugees in one of the suburbs south of Stockholm who study Swedish at InfoKomp, Huddinge to write down – in their mother language – what they would like to say, if they could speak Swedish? The students were free to choose whatever subject they wanted, and their statements vary between personal, emotional and political comments.
Their answers have been translated into Swedish from amongst other languages Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Bengali. In front of the camera the students try – with the help of an instructor – to correctly pronounce their sentences in Swedish. Facial expressions, gestures and intonation add to and modify the meaning conveyed by the spoken word. The ease and fluency of the students’ comments in their native language contrast with the difficulties of using a new language. “If You Could Speak Swedish…” was shown at the legendary kebab restaurant, Jerusalem’s Grill House on Södermalm in Stockholm, and at Moderna Museet. For many immigrants kebab restaurants are important meeting places and information centres, where they can get information about the city, work, housing, etc. They are also places where immigrants may have a chance to speak their native languages.