KINGSBURG – Swedish language lessons were first taught at Kingsburg’s Colony Covenant Church by Rev. A. Hallner at the turn of the previous century. History is now repeating itself as Swedish native Mats Hellgren has started a series of Swedish Summer Camps. The week-long sessions focus not only on the language, but the culture, foods and games as well.
Hellgren is currently a Clovis resident and is attending Fresno Pacific University as a graduate student. After helping with the Swedish Festival, he decided to offer camps so he could share his first-hand knowledge of the country.
“Immigrants that came here years ago are limited to information that is third- or second-hand, if nobody’s been there recently. And then that information is outdated because life in Sweden now doesn’t resemble what they left,” he said of Swedish descendants who have never travelled to the land of their ancestors.
Hellgren taught Swedish as a second language previously and is incorporating his experience as a chef into the lessons. So along with language lessons, participants will get cooking lessons as well.
On the second day of camp, one group was learning not only how to make traditional köttbullar and potatismos, or meatballs and mashed potatoes, but was also getting a language and math lesson as well.
As Hellgren walked the students through each of the ingredients, he helped them pronounce, translate and measure as they go. For example, to make the sås, or sauce, the students learned that smjör, vetemjöl and vatten - or butter, flour and water - are needed.
After seasoning the meat, the students rolled them into little meatballs and cooked them with Hellgren’s supervision. Meanwhile, potatoes were cut up and boiled and then Hellgren mixed the gravy.
“It’s not a Swedish meal without lingonberry,” he said once the food was ready to eat. “Try the sweet with the meat, gravy and potatoes all at the same time.”
Alison Rogers, 9, said this is the first time she’s getting a chance to learn Swedish and already knows some of the basics.
“Yesterday we learned about the Swedish alphabet, how to ask ‘what’s your name?’ and then how to respond.”
Kiera Lassen, 11, said she’s been to Sweden before when her father traveled there to take part in a floor hockey tournament. She met a friend and has kept in touch with her pen pal to keep practicing her Swedish.
“Olivia’s learning English and she’s good at it so now I’m learning a little bit more about the language.”
Brothers Nolan Smith, 11, and Conor Smith, 10, were also at the camp that week and in-between rolling the Swedish meatballs and sampling some of the already cooked ones, they said the week was turning out to be more fun than they first imagined.
“It’s fun to learn different languages,” Nolan said. “You get to learn how to speak, learn and eat like the people in Sweden do. My favorite part was the cooking.”
Hellgren said the children would go on to make cornflake cookies next as his goal is to keep the cooking lessons age-appropriate. Participants take home a binder of texts, exercises, recipes and song lyrics for additional practice. They will also be shown online classes and exercises to continue their learning.
“Swedish can be complicated, especially if you compare it to English,” Hellgren said, “but many of the base words have the same roots. The curriculum follows the course introduced to new immigrants in Sweden. It is designed to work for students with mixed backgrounds and academic levels.”
Since only a few universities in the United States even offer Swedish classes, this camp gives students a rare opportunity to learn the language from a native speaker.
“I’ve taught them a little bit so far. They can count, present themselves and we’ve gone through the colors and basic phrases. Now, we’ll go a little bit deeper every day and I’ll teach them more each time.”
Since life has changed and modernized in Sweden since many emigrated from the country, Hellgren is excited to teach local students, and possibly adults if there is enough interest, about Swedish life now.
“There are so many things to learn in this world and in this life. The same thing happened there that happened here. There aren’t cowboys running around with horse-drawn carriages any more. That’s the kind of life they left behind.”