This is the most important area to consider if you are thinking about emigrating to Norway. You Must learn the language if want to be able to integrate and survive in Norwegian life. I can not stress how important this is as I was not prepared for the major problems this caused and this was one of the main reasons why my time there ended.
Before I moved to Norway I bought a beginners “Learn Norwegian” on PC CD ROM and a couple of books and went through the various lessons as often as I could. This way I learnt the very basics, but I was lucky to also have my Norwegian girlfriend to ask questions. Like any foreign language it does take time to learn it and the best way to generally learn a language is to live with it all around you as it is easier to pick up.
I have listed some Learn Norwegian CD ROMs, CDs and Books, from Amazon which I used when learning the language, so would recommend to buy them if you can, or anything similar for your own language:
When I arrived in Norway I attended two “norsk-kurs” or Norwegian classes at the university of Oslo for three weeks at basic level and another language school in Oslo for two weeks for intermediate. So in total I had five weeks formal training.
After about six months I had just got to grips with the language, could read and write it fine, but found it hard to put a sentence together in social situations. It’s easy to think about what to write as you have time to do so, but in conversation, that’s a different matter.
After just over a year of living in Norway I had just found the confidence to start speaking to people and had a grasp of about 60% of the language, however, then my relationship failed and I had to move back to England. I am sure I would have been fluent in Norwegian if I had stayed in Norway, but like any language, when you don’t use it it slips from your mind and I am losing words I used to know day by day, which is a shame.
The reason why I learnt Norwegian so easily is firstly because “jeg er kjempe flink” according to a few people I spoke to but mostly because of the similarities between English and Norwegian. I have chosen a selection of words below to illustrate what I mean with the first in Norwegian, including the phonetic sound of the word and the second the translation:
- du (doo) – you
- jeg (yei) – I
- er (arr) – are/is
- meg (my) – me
- brød (brer) – bread
- takk – (tuk) – thanks
- navn – (naven) – name
The words either look or sound the same when spoken, so quite a few words were easy to pick up. Also, there were other words which are also similar to French words which I learnt in school such as “douche – shower”.
However, some Norwegian words sound very similar, so you can end up saying something totally different to what you mean. I was in a shop once, buying some groceries, got the the till and the till attendant asked me “vil du har en pose“. This meant, “do you want a bag” but the way he said “pose” sounded almost the same as “pølser” so I thought he was asking if I wanted a hot dog! So, I said no and ended up carrying about 10 items in my hands all the way home.
I would also recommend using a online translator such as Google Translator which will help you when you forget certain words (I use it all the time). These translators are usually not 100% accurate, but at least they are close.
The Norwegian alphabet contains the same letters as the standard English alphabet, however they also have three extra letters of æ, ø and å. I tried my hardest to learn the language and it was interesting to learn, but I also had to adapt to the new environment and Norwegian culture and given more time things would have been easier.
Norwegians are taught English in school and have English programmes on television so I found most people could speak English (although sometimes with an American accent because of the American TV Norway gets) and even the older generation had a good understanding of English.
However, some Norwegians did not have the confidence to speak to me, even though they knew English, as like me, they felt too awkward just in case they made a mistake. I was working in an office in Oslo, walking down a corridor and I could see someone I worked with walking towards me. She looked up, saw me and darted into a room and pretended to do something. I knew she wasn’t comfortable speaking English to me, but that made me feel a little uneasy but ever more determined to learn the language.
In the same workplace, there was a guy who delighted in talking about me, in Norwegian to his friends, right in front of my face. He wasn’t a fan of the hired foreign help and thought it was funny. What he didn’t know was that I knew enough Norwegian to understand the gist of what he was talking about, but on my last day there I shook his hand (he had a look of shock on his face that I would do this) but never lowered myself to his level.
But these were just isolated incidents and didn’t represent the whole experience. However, on the whole I found that 90% of people I had contact with would try and speak English to me and help me learn Norwegian, which I appreciated.
When I had just moved to Norway I had a few parties and social situations and this is where not knowing the language was the problem and hit me hard. You could be in a room full of people all talking, laughing and joking… and yet feel so alone.
Not knowing the joke, not knowing what they are talking about, not knowing the song made me feel like a true alien. I remember once at a birthday party of mine there were about ten of us sitting around a table eating. A friend of mine at the other end of the table told a joke, in Norwegian of course and everyone laughed… except me, as I didn’t know what he was saying.
The room went quiet and the awkward look on peoples faces, who didn’t know whether to translate it for me or not… well, that occasion and a few others were hard to bear.
I tried my best to integrate, to meet new people, to talk to people at parties, but there were times I didn’t know where to stand or who to be with so found myself either going outside and being alone or making excuses to go to the toilet just to break the tension.
Again, this generally only strengthened my resolve to learn Norwegian and nearing the end of my time there I found social situations easier as I could pick up more of conversations around me.
You MUST learn Norwegian
This is pretty much the bottom line. You must learn the language… unless you are planning on never meeting new people or going to social occasions.
Also, if you want to get a decent job in Norway, you will need to have a good grasp of the language as otherwise you get more basic work, which I did. But at the end of the day you take the work as you need the money and it is another part of the experience.
Don’t expect to learn the language quickly and easily and give it time, but make sure to go on “norsk-kurs” when you get there and buy books, DVD’s and anything that might help you learn the language. Also, there are videos on Youtube for learning Norwegian, so give them a go too.
The key here is Time, you must give yourself enough time to learn the language, along with everything else that is new after you have moved to Norway. I didn’t have enough time for all of these things and was under pressure to adapt too quickly and in the end I broke.
Don’t let this put you off emigrating to Norway or going there for a visit as your experience of the language may be totally different to mine, but just give it time and you will learn the language even without noticing it as you live within the language itself.
My friends are surprised about how much Norwegian I still remember, even though I never use or have any contact with the language when I am in England. The odd word here and there has slipped my mind, but when I am now over in Norway I am constantly translating what people are saying, which can be tiring!
Norwegian isn’t a difficult language to learn in my experience, but we are all different so some take longer than others to learn and understand grammar, sentence structure etc. Norwegians appreciate you trying to use their language with them, even if its just “hello and goodbye” and don’t pick on or ridicule your mistakes.
So do your homework, read, use computers, CDs and anything you can get and learn Norwegian as often as possible, but if you are serious about moving to Norway, give it at least six months of learning Norwegian first, before even thinking of moving out there. You might find it difficult to grasp and if so, this may be your first stumbling block for a successful emigration to Norway.