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My New Strategy for Learning Norwegian – Year 2

Farts Dempere road sign in Norway
My Dad enjoying some Norwegian

When I began blogging about my move to Oslo, I had intended on giving regular progress updates on my quest to learn Norwegian, just like the lovely Will over at My Spanish Adventure. Over a year later and I realise I've barely mentioned it!

My last proper progress report was after just eight weeks when I spoke in general terms about the task ahead. I did set myself a short-term target for Norwegian to become my primary foreign language, which I achieved. Although I've mentioned language in posts since then, and welcomed on board Bryce as a Norwegian language blogger, I haven't touched base with you all… until now.

So, after a year in Norway, how have I done?

The answer is both better than worse than expected!

The elements of language learning

With the wonderful benefit of hindsight, I now realise my biggest mistake was not putting in place a proper strategy. I put this down to inexperience with language learning. Having not seriously tried learning a foreign language since the age of 16, I kinda forgot that learning a language is a complex interwoven web of written comprehension, listening comprehension, speaking and writing – all requiring very different skills and approaches.

My haphazard approach has resulted in my written comprehension and to some extent my listening comprehension to be better than I'd have expected, but I have really struggled with speaking. I'll openly admit, to some extent I fell into the expat trap of not trying for periods of time. This is extremely easy to do in Scandinavia, where the use of English is so prevalent.

Mistake number two was not taking Norwegian classes, although the main reason for that was the uncertainty of my contract job, and the expense! A perk of starting a permanent job is the bill for Norwegian lessons will be taken care of by my new employer. This will give me a regular opportunity to practice listening and speaking Norwegian in a structured way – something I should have done from day one.

My Strategy for Learning Norwegian – Year 2

I will be starting lessons at a more advanced level than complete beginner, but not too far along, to ensure I can practice conversing with the vocabulary I am already familiar with. In addition to this, after a year spent tackling the language in my own way and discussing tips with others, I can reveal a few other strands to my Norwegian strategy for Year 2!

Watching kids cartoons

Norwegian television is full of British and American sitcoms, documentaries and the like. These are subtitled, but with the average Norwegian's ability in English, not many need them. The only exception on Norwegian television is cartoons aimed at children, which are dubbed. Last night I watched some super old episodes of Top Cat and Scooby Doo dubbed in Norwegian – a very bizarre experience!

A former work colleague of mine suggested I watch cartoons, both international and native Norwegian, as the language used is basic and the pronunciation clearer. She was absolutely right! Even at my basic level of Norwegian, they are surprisingly easy to follow and it has given me a morale boost that I am making progress. Baby steps!

Scooby Doo dubbed in Norwegian

Reading Norwegian books

Not language text books, but novels. Gerry has started to read Den Mørke Materien (His Dark Materials) starting with The Golden Compass. His strategy is to read and highlight words he doesn't know. He then looks up the words and re-reads the page until he can comprehend the vocabulary and grammar. It's a very effective technique, but only once your vocabulary is at a certain level. As a variation of this strategy and a supplement to the one above, I am considering buying a few children's books to read.

Learning Norwegian from a novel

Playing a word game

As I'm a competitive little sod, playing games has become a great way to assist my language learning! A few months ago, Gerry and I bought a ordbokspill (dictionary game) called Lexico, which is a fantastic tool for building vocabulary and having fun at the same time. A nice touch is the three levels of difficulty, allowing those at different stages of progress to play in the same game.

Lexico Ordbokspill

Speaking only Norwegian to my Norwegian friends

I am typically British when it comes to this. When I don't understand something or get something wrong, I get flustered and immediately switch to English. If that doesn't happen, something else typically Scandinavian does – they start speaking English to you, even if your Norwegian was correct! This is a phenomenon in coffee bars and shops that makes practising conversational Norwegian extremely difficult.

So! I already chat in Norwegian to my local friends on Facebook, as I am far more confident reading and writing than I am speaking. From now on, I am going to invite my friends out for coffee and insist we speak Norwegian only. I have no doubt this will frustrate me immensely to begin with, as my conversational ability is limited to some basic chatter, but it's the only way I will make substantial progress with conversational Norwegian. So to Kathrine, Andreas, Hege, Jeppe, Ståle, Morten and everyone else – you have been warned!

Your Language Learning Tips

These are all elements of a language learning strategy that should have been in place since day one. But now I've committed to a future in Norway, I feel ready and motivated to fully take on the task of learning the language.

Do you have experience learning another language and have practical tips to share? Also, how do you think I should record progress? Continued blog posts like this, or maybe videos of me speaking Norwegian and/or responding to questions?

Over to you! Comment away…

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

22 Comments

  1. Den er grei! Gleder meg til våre fremtidige samtaler på norsk over en kaffe, eller enda bedre, en øl! 😀

  2. To sum up my experiences in trying to learn Italian the last 12 years I would say that structure is the key. Taking classes or having a tutor will help to structure learning. Making full use of a good textbook (“lærebok”) will be very helpful as it “portions out” a proper amount of vocabulary and grammar at the time in each chapter. If you follow the structure of the textbook you’ll get both structure and a progress plan for your learning. Doing homework (lekse!) regularly is important! If no one gives you homework you’ll have to give to yourself!

    It looks to me that you have many good strategies in learning Norwegian. I’ve found it helpful to listen to Italian pop music (and opera!) in order to learn new words and phrases. So why not try Norwegian pop music in your battle with the Norwegian language? I also have internal monologues/dialogues with myself in Italian. Sounds crazy, but it helps! Why not go over your shopping list in your head in Norwegian?

    It’s possible to measure progress with different kinds of test (often found in textbooks), but I find them boring. I go back and read/listen to material I worked with a while ago and instantly see that I’ve progressed! After finishing chapter 1 thru 22 in your textbook you can go back to chapter 1 and you’ll see progress too!

    Lykke til! 😉

    1. I Helge,
      I read your post just a few minute ago, so I suppose. after two years, you have gained a good command of italian language.
      If not, I’m agree using text book to improve your ability.
      Also you can use old movies, by my point of view the period from 1950 to 1975, sentences are cleared.
      As usually happen if you want learning english by music: sentences in Beatles songs are clear and you can unvìderstand all.
      So as always you have to use different approaches, all depends by you and your abilities to memorize datas.

  3. I lived in Norway for 1 1/2 years while serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I bought “Donald Duck” faithfully while I was there and read it over and over to improve my language skills (although it did add a little “comic book spraak” to my conversations that my Norwegian friends found hilarious—“Gress og Gro!!”) I also got my hands on a tape version of the children’s Christmas play “Plutti, Plutti, Pott” and I listened again and again until the language unfolded. In general I enjoyed talking most to women with young children because they are natural teachers of language and helped me out so much. Most of all, my role as a missionary required me to start conversations with strangers. In your place I would attempt to start random conversations with strangers and begin with “I’m trying to improve my Norwegian and I need to speak it as much as possible.” If you use public transportation at all this should be easy. Some of my best pronunciation development happened while I sang with a Bergen Youth Choir and an Oslo Church choir. The conductors gave me such great tips to help me sound more like the natives around me. If you are a singer you might look in to that.

    I read about your visit to Tromso and it brought back such amazing memories. Good luck! I worry my Norwegian is slipping from my fingers and would love to have a chance to live there again.

  4. Hei David,

    I’m English and learning Norwegian too. I subscribe to a magazine called Språknytt. It’s written in Norwegian but aimed at learners. I’ve thrown myself in at the deep end somewhat and adopted Gerry’s technique of trying to see how much I can understand. Highlighting words I don’t understand and looking them up. This is what got me started: http://www.apronus.com/norsk/method/method.htm

    Språknytt web link: http://www.sprakrad.no/toppmeny/publikasjoner/spraaknytt/

    A friend got me to watch Resepsjonen and Påpp & Råkk, to help me build up my vocabulary and to learn a little about Norwegian humour. I’ve found the best way to learn for me has been to listen to as much Norwegian as possible. A bit daft but cookery programmes are a good way to build up vocab because they run through ingredients and techniques. It’s like playing a word association game. Another slightly daft programme I quite like watching is Åndenes Makt. Even if I can’t understand every word, I tend to get the gist and I tend to jot down words I can’t understand and look them up.

    Several years ago I decided to brush up on my French and I used to talk a mix of French and English. I tried to speak as much French as I could but if I didn’t know a word, I’d say it in English and get the person I was talking to tell me. Then I’d repeat it a few times and then repeat what I’d been trying to say.

    Lykke til!

  5. I speak from experience… One of easiest ways to learn WRITTEN Norsk is watching TV – with an English / Norwegain dictionary close to hand. Then looking up words.
    A beauty of Skandi countries is, they don’t dub over voice – just add text / subtitles. A fact which I think helps the ‘natives’ learn English, but also is great to learn Nowegian (or whichever Skandi language you need to) written. It really is surprising how many words you learn, as well as grammer.
    Next step is doing a subscription to a GOOD national newspaper. Such as Aftenposten or Dagsavisen. They are less likely to use ‘slang’ (like dagbladet, VG etc) and are a really good way to learn to read Norsk.
    Once you master some written, listen to NRK radio. They tend to speak good clear norsk (ignore the damn Nynorsk intervierws)
    From learning to READ norsk, you will learn how to write…
    As for spoken… Hmmm… no matter how good you are, Norwegians will still ask where you come from… Too obsessed with your dialect… But you can play a game. Ask them to guess! The closer you get to them saying a Nordic / Skandi language, you know you are doing well!!!
    Plus a fun game!!

    1. I have used this method and I am in England about to apply to move. I watched series and I used post it notes all lover my walls to try to learn more vocabulary. I even used an old calender to remember the time and dates. The only thing I struggle with is grammar composition. I also, find it easier to understand when spoken to slowly but I repeat what they say. My favourite series so far have to be DAG, Himmelblå, og Frikjent. I would recommend subtitles and a dictionary. I cannot believe I have forced myself to not communicate in English. It has given me such confidence.

  6. I recommend på vei to consolidate and then stein på stein, if you can get them as pdf files, you can then use a pdf editor to add annoations such as keywords / new words in norsk and english, and translate the passages in english writing it down, then translate it back vocally from the english text when you read it out, speaking out the norwegian. This takes time but will give results. If not pdf then the text books are good. Have a look at the keywords before you vocally translate, and each time you will get better. The courses both have good grammar sections and recorded sections to listen to either with or without reading the norsk passage text as backup. You can also do the seperate workbook exercises. Get a penpal and email them, and possibly when you get more confident skype them IM them and then chat, with agreed subjects. You could also do thi with norwegian friends. givehem passage from sein på steinand ask then, to practise chatting it with you keeping to hte types of stuff in the chapter. Hope this helps. I am moving to Norway next year on a work stay program and am spending loads of time i.e. 8 hours a day to learn båkmal in a structured way! I do not want to move back to the UK. Fed up with being made redundant by Cameron and Cleggs government. Have been to norway loads of times, a lovely place.

  7. I know you wrote this post a year ago, but I moved to Stavanger about 8 months ago and finally got a private tutor about 1 month ago…and the progress I’ve made in that one month has been unbelievable. I have been checking out children’s books from the library (the Leseløve collection is great…it is specifically “For deg som har lært å lese” haha) and that has really accelerated my comprehension and expanded my vocabulary. Also, there are a lot of “practice your Norwegian” meet-ups at local coffeeshops led by native Norwegian speakers for expats and other students of the language. They are always listed on the expat group for Stavanger on Facebook.

    I do have one question, though…and I’ve been Googling my heart out, but I canNOT find where to buy that Lexicon dictionary game you talked about in the post! I found the manufacturer’s website, but they don’t have an online store and they don’t have a list of their distributers/resellers…so frustrating. I’m always looking for ways to increase my vocabulary, since I am finding that to be the most important thing.

    Takk skal du ha!

  8. åååå! Jeg ar sååå sent å se dette innlegget! Hvordan er din norske kommer sammen? Jeg begynte å lese bøkene for noen måneder siden, og de hjelper veldig mye! Takk for alle tipsene!!

    Ha det fint! 🙂

  9. Thank you so much for your share! I’m going to learn Norwegian but only by myself. In my country there is not even one Norwegian class, so could you please recommend to me the books you have used to learn Norwegian and some useful materials? Thank you so much!

  10. I really wanna learn norwegian but i have so much difficulties. Like, Where can i watch norwegian series online? or A dubbed version of a show? I wanna start with cartoons who i already watched, like Steven Universe or it’s more easy like Peppa Pig (bleww) or other of the same level. I’ve watched ten episodes and i can watch again in norwegian and understand well. Are you understanding me? And where can i read a book online in norwegian? As a full beginner, like books for children for among 4 until 6. Or even less cuz i’m starting now. Ok, i know some things in but isn’t a lot for i have a talk or make sentences more hard.

    What i know (or i recall it now): Jeg er jente. Vi er ikke dyr. Detter er a fisk. To hunder. Jeg liker te. Jeg spiser. sukker. Kniv. Hvem er dette? Hun spiser brød. Han elsker ost og kaffe. Phases like that, a beginner.

    It would be so much more easy if i had conditions for pay a course or a study book . But aren’t my case, so i can live like this.

    I woube be so glad if you hep me with that problems.

  11. Hei!

    Everyone who finds this page in the future, check out italki.com. You can have a personal tutor and book lessons when it suits you 🙂 I only pay 100 nok per hour. You can do it for so many languages, it is seriously a lifesaver for practicing a language and not feeling like you’re using your friends but also not paying a fortune!

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