In my previous article, I explained that learning Norwegian was one of my first challenges when I moved to Stavanger in Norway, from Ecuador in South America.
How did it start?
Because I was lacking the main tool required (the local language) to work in my field (I have a Masters degree in Communication), I started by taking intensive Norwegian classes every day. Further down the line I started working with children in order to practise the basic level of Norwegian I had by that stage.
Once I reached an intermediate level of the language and while working at a hotel, a guest asked me for an iron and I thought she wanted knitting needles to knit! I just thought “I know Norwegians are really into knitting, but how can they expect us to have knitting needles at a hotel?”
Lost in translation!
These 3 big challenges will explain a bit better my previous example that saw me confusing ironing with knitting (“å stryke” versus “å strikke”)
1) Programming your mind to pronounce vowels differently to what you are used to if you speak a Latin language is one challenge. The letter “å” is pronounced /o/ – as in or, “o” is actually pronounced /u/ – which is not easy to describe, “u” is pronounced /ü/ – as in the last part of “you” … and finally that “y” is not pronounced like “y” – as in the first part of “you”.[D2]
2) Another challenge is learning to pronounce a word with a single consonant different to one with double consonant. Not doing it can mean that you’re asking for a file or row – spelled “rekke” instead of shrimp – spelled “reke”.
3) The third challenge is that there are three additional vowels in the Norwegian alphabet: å, æ and ø that require some repetition and a lot of practice in order to learn their pronunciation and also to know how to recognise them when used in a sentence.
To sum it up, the lady had to mime ironing and I had to mime knitting… well, after all, non- verbal communication accounts for a large percentage of all communication.
Time to name another challenge.
4) Bokmål vs Nynorsk – The two official languages in Norway.
On one hand we have Bokmål, the Norwegian version of the Danish language, with its origin in the 16th century when the Danes occupied Norway. On the other hand we have Nynorsk (new Norwegian) which is actually made up of different dialects from the pre-Danish period. Norway is a long country that, due to its geography of fjords, mountains and valleys, translates into an array of different regions located far apart and each one with its own dialect.
Can you imagine a country with 2 official languages and who knows how many different dialects? Well, it just makes learning Norwegian even more interesting.
5) Another challenge that is not as common but still exists is that most Nordic words are made up of two or three words. One example of this can be the word mattilsynet, which seems to be made up of three different words: mat – til – synet. When you translate them literally they mean ‘food – for the – sight’. Well, it turns out that it actually means Food Safety Authority and is made up of two words: Mat – tilsynet.
6) It is of course common to learn by association. In my case I could recall easier words that were similar to those I had learned before.
Example – the word free, which is “gratis” in both Spanish and Norwegian – the word restaurant is pronounced exactly as in French and there are some common words with English that keep their meaning and pronunciation in Norwegian. The problem is when they don’t.
Example. – the word “sky”, which as well as being pronounced differently is not ‘sky’ but ‘cloud’ in Norwegian. A second example.- the word “bad”, spelled exactly the same is not “bad” but “bathroom” in Norwegian.
These are just some of the main challenges that you should be aware of in order to avoid communication problems.
My top tips for learning Norwegian
- Accept that you will be taking baby steps at first; start by writing down and memorising basic words or sentences
- Listen to Norwegian radio stations, as it will get you used to listening to local dialects
- For starters, watch movies and read books or comics in Norwegian, things that you like. Start with simple things like Disney films because the vocabulary is easier
- As you progress, watch TV series in English with subtitles in Norwegian and pay attention to them, you will catch many new words and expressions that are used in everyday life
- Talk to as many people as you can (it is often easier to begin with children), and if you are comfortable with it let them know that you want to be corrected by them in order to improveDo you have some tips to add, or have you experienced something similar to this while learning Norwegian?