Swedish With Your Baby
Svenska med baby (Swedish With Your Baby)
New parents from diverse backgrounds use conversation circles to learn about one another, develop common bonds and create a Sweden for all
When Karin Bruce took parental leave to be home with her new baby what she missed most about her work were the meetings and conversations about “global issues, future scenarios and complex challenges.” She found many of the young parents in her neighborhood too “similar” and the conversation topics often narrow.
Karin wanted to meet new and different people, from different parts of Stockholm and from around the world. When she went looking for activities in the community that brought together native Swedes and immigrants, she quickly discovered that few of these were suitable for parents with babies. Not content to leave it there, she and fellow-parent Ylva Strande set about identifying local spaces and places where they could find the conversations and explorations they craved. By the end of 2012, Swedish With Your Baby [Svenska med baby] was born.
We can only create a Sweden for everyone if we meet.
Swedish With Your Baby brings together children and new parents from different neighborhoods and immigrant backgrounds. Through open drop-in sessions and group activities, participants share conversation, develop new social networks and receive support in matters related to society and parenthood – with cooing, babbling and laughter in the mix.
At first glance, the concept is nothing new. New parents with babies have always gathered informally to socialize, get support, make new connections and forge friendships.
However, Swedish With Your Baby takes that age old approach and turns it into an integration experience. Now, parents with babies meet and interact across language, cultural boundaries, even geographic boundaries, and learn from each other. Men and women from Stockholm’s suburbs and those who have travelled from Stockholm’s city centre come together with a common bond – parenthood. Kids are a natural ice breaker, creating a comfortable and relaxing environment for learning and friendship.
“Swedish with your baby opens up lots of possibilities! It’s great for me that others want to learn from my experiences from Uzbekistan and we learn lots of things from each other…. I have a very small social network and it easily becomes a vicious spiral when I do not speak Swedish. It has been much easier to learn here, by talking to others, than to teach myself from books.” – Ziyoda, with six month old Zarina
From isolation to connection
“It is so easy to become isolated when you are on maternity leave. If you also do not speak Swedish very well it can be even harder,” says Amelie Edlund, a Swede who helped start a Swedish With Your Baby group in the Stockholm suburb of Tensta in 2013.
Immigration and integration can be an isolating experience, especially for women. Parenthood, with its uncertainties, disorientation and sleep deprivation can result in even further isolation. For newcomers, the impact is even greater. It can affect language acquisition and lengthen the time it takes to settle and integrate into their new communities.
Swedish With Your Baby works to build bridges among new parents and their children, not only across different neighbourhoods in Sweden, but across cultures as well. Focusing on integration through play and language learning is a simple concept that has reduced isolation and created new connections between Swedes and newcomers. The project has already seen success and growth in a short period of time.
Meetings take place in libraries, community centres, church basements and locations in suburbs where many people who have recently immigrated live. Locations are chosen that are easy to get to for those who are not very familiar with Stockholm’s suburbs. People who live in the city centre and normally do not visit the suburbs get a good reason to do so. According to Swedish With Your Baby project manager Anna Liebietis Jacobson, “It is about creating meeting places for people. There is a mutual exchange, where you get to meet others, but at the same time to practice the language.”
For newcomers the program has an immediate and tangible impact on their lives: “It’s very good for me to practice Swedish by talking to the parents who have Swedish as their mother tongue. Since I have not lived in Sweden for long, I also want to make friends…. It feels very natural to start talking and make new contacts. That’s why everyone is here!” Katarzyna, with 1 year old Filip
Local Swedes also find learning and growth in the interactions. Stefan Jansson, father of 18 month old My: “Here we are genuinely interested in each other, where we come from, why we live in Sweden, and what brought us here. There are many exciting life stories and I also learn how small, everyday situations with children can look quite different in other countries.” The groups have also made Jansson reflect more about the challenges of language learning and planting the seeds of empathy: “I practice expressing myself clearly so that other parents who are learning Swedish will understand. It has made me also think very hard about how I read stories and teach my language?”
Growing and replicating
Since its start in Stockholm at the end of 2012, Swedish With Your Baby meetings has welcomed over 2,000 participants from all over Stockholm, including newcomers from over 60 countries. In the fall of 2014 parents are meeting in nine suburbs around Stockholm, and there are plans to start up in several other cities. A growing number of enthusiastic participants, extensive media coverage and enquiries from all over Sweden to expand operations suggest that Swedish with Your Baby is needed.
Swedish With Your Baby recently won the 2014 Aftonbladet Wendela Prize as well as Stockholm County Council’s prize for fighting xenophobia and racism, both rich awards that reflect growing recognition of the importance of creating welcoming communities for new immigrants. Personal interactions, getting to know each other at the local level is one important way that xenophobia can be combatted. $50,000 Krona in award money, along with recent funding from the State Inheritance Fund, Skandia Foundation Ideas for Life, and commitments from the municipalities of Nacka and Botkyrka mean that Swedish With Your Baby will continue to develop and meet this need in more neighbourhoods in Stockholm and in cities around Sweden for a long time to come.
Making it Work for You:
- Integration comes through common bonds (in this case, raising a new baby) and community connections
- Meeting people where they live makes it easy to access programs and services creates an informal and welcoming approach - “Hey, we have this in common, join us!”
- Don't re-invent the wheel. Use approaches to language learning that are proven and effective, such as informal "conversation circles."
- Maximize the language learning experience by making sure participants are actively included and conversation is kept at a learner-accessible level to encourage contribution by all parties.