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How to speak Norwegian like a native

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Why Norwegian? And a little about the lingo

As a country that consistently tops the United Nations Human Development Index for quality of life, there are plenty of reasons to visit or even work in the Scandinavian country of Norway. As well as being a diverse country of stunning scenery and historic towns, Norway leads the fields in areas as widely spread as energy and maritime industries, architecture, literature (especially crime fiction), salmon fishing or even cosy evenings spent around a log fire watching ‘slow TV’!

All of these provide great incentives to visit Norway or to think about relocating there for your career. And, if you are thinking of a future career in translation or interpreting, learning a less widely spoken language such as Norwegian is an excellent choice, guaranteeing you plenty of future work. In fact, Norwegian, like all of the Scandinavian languages, is increasingly in demand.

There is not just one official written language in Norway but two, Bokmål (book language) and Nynorsk (new Norwegian). During a period of Danish and Swedish rule, written Norwegian ceased to exist, although dialects of it were still spoken. When Norway regained independence in 1904, a linguist, Ivar Aasen, created a new language based on these different dialects. This became Nynorsk. At the same time a teacher, Knud Knudsen, worked on aligning the existing Danish language with spoken language and this became Bokmål.

Today, both have equal status, although Bokmål is the first language of approximately 85% of the population and is the tongue most heard in urban areas, whereas Nynorsk is more closely associated with northern rural regions. To get a good grasp of Norwegian, you should develop familiarity with both, although you’ll find there are more Bokmål resources available, especially for the new learner. If you’re going to be visiting or working in Norway, though, and certainly if you’re heading to rural areas, an ear for Nynorsk will help you understand the different dialects you’ll encounter.

Top tips for learning how to speak Norwegian

1. Start with the basics

Start with learning useful vocabulary that can be grouped together and learnt by rote such as numbers, pronouns and greetings. Whenever you have anything to count, get into the habit of doing it in Norwegian and imagine scenarios where you meet and greet new friends and practise using the words for ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘how are you?’ Even better, get friends and family to help you.

2. Master the alphabet and conjugation

Then, master the pronunciation of the Norwegian alphabet. There are 29 letters in the alphabet, nine of which are vowels. A few letters - c, q, w, x, og and z - are only used in words borrowed from other languages and occasionally for Norwegian surnames. Once you’ve practised the alphabet by listening to it online and repeating it, you are well on your way to mastering Norwegian pronunciation. While getting to grips with this early vocabulary, spend some time conjugating Norwegian verbs. If you have learnt English grammar in a formal way or have already studied a second language, you should have no trouble with these. Download the Babbel app and whenever you have a few moments, you can practise on the go.

3. Get practising

Everyone has different learning styles, but the more ways you find of practising a new language the more of it you will retain. Listening, speaking and learning by rote are good starts for learning how to speak Norwegian but back this up with Norwegian grammar workbooks. A quick internet search will deliver a wealth of resources for every level from beginner to advanced. Use these alongside online learning or classes to help embed your new knowledge.

4. Expand your vocabulary

By now, your vocabulary should be growing, so it’s time to work on developing this. Invest in a good Norwegian dictionary and every time you need a new word and have to look it up, make a vocabulary flashcard. You can also make flashcards to support your online studies as well. Put the Norwegian word on one side, the English on the other and run through them at least once a day. Every time you can translate quickly from English to Norwegian, give yourself a tick. Once you have five ticks the word should be embedded and you can tear up the flashcard. It’s very satisfying to do! There are also websites where you can make virtual flashcards.

5. Explore the culture

Once your vocabulary and basic grammar knowledge start to grow, it’s time to begin reading in Norwegian. Subscribe to Norwegian daily newspapers or magazines, either from your newsagent or online and spend a few minutes reading them every day. Useful online newspaper suggestions are Klar Tale or Utrop while good novels to start with are Naiv Super and Jernvognen. Most Norwegian novels are translated into English, including these two, so if you think you might struggle, have the English copy alongside you as you read. Listening to a new language is as important, if not more important than reading it. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to tap into Netflix, Amazon or YouTube to source Norwegian films and TV shows in the original language with subtitles. The more you watch and listen, the more you’ll subconsciously absorb the language, helped by the subtitles. Where possible, have a Norwegian radio channel playing in the background and before long, you’ll find that you’re following a conversation or interview with growing ease.

6. Get talking

While studying, reading and listening to a new language are great ways of starting, nothing can beat talking with native Norwegian speakers. One of the best ways of doing this is by signing up to immersive language schools in Norway. Not only will you spend your days and evenings immersed in Norwegian, but you’ll also start to find out more about the country’s fascinating culture and history. Or, a little closer to home, you can build on what you’ve mastered by employing a local tutor who can speak Norwegian. Norwegian is quite a specialised language so this might not be possible in all areas of the United Kingdom. It is more likely in the north of Scotland where there are close links between the country and Norway, forged in the oil and maritime trades.

7. Be consistent with your learning

Finally, it’s better to do a little bit of new language and grammar practice every day or several times a week rather than doing a lot on one day and then not consolidating it for a long time in between.

Learning with Babbel

An increasingly popular way of learning Norwegian that combines plenty of the tips above is Babbel. Babbel, our app, provides a huge wealth of language learning that is fun and absorbing and is presented in an engaging multimedia way. Our curriculum is based on the latest didactic research, and is designed to give you the skills to use right away, so you can immerse yourself in the language like a native.

In addition, your curriculum with Babbel will be centred on what you want to learn – rather than a strict, defined syllabus, so if you don’t want to, you won’t have to spend hours memorising the gender of different types of breakfast food like you did at school. This is particularly good if you are learning Norwegian for a specific reason – business or pleasure.

Best of all, Babbel makes the difficult task of disciplining yourself (sometimes you just don’t want to practice grammar…) much easier, with short 15-minute lessons and a method that is based on real-life dialogue, rather than abstract drills. This means you’ll feel like you’re getting practical use out of the language from early on. You’ll also be helped to wrap your chops around tricky pronunciation through voice recognition software, so you can speak with confidence.

But, whether you choose Babbel or not, just crack on. Languages really are the gateway to new opportunities, whether that’s getting away from the embarrassment of starting every conversation in another country with ‘sorry, but do you speak English?’ or beginning a new life elsewhere.

How To Speak Norwegian