Now that you’re here in Norway, learning Norwegian might be something on your to-do list, either because you want to know the culture and language better, because you like learning languages, because you have to learn it for work or to get work or because you need to learn it to communicate with your new Norwegian family.
Here are some tips that might help you with learning and practising Norwegian.
Enrol in a language course
Enrolling in a language class is possibly the best way to learn a language as you have a teacher to guide you, structured lessons and homework. You also get to practise with your classmates during class. In addition, just by making the effort to be in the class ensures you learn something.
Learn the alphabet and phonetics
Æ æ – Ø ø – Å å
Studying and perfecting the pronunciation of the alphabet helps you with reading new words. Since there are 3 extra letters in the Norwegian alphabet, it does pay off to take the time to learn them properly. For example, quite a few foreigners make the mistake of pronouncing Månafossen (Mo-na-fos-en) as Manafossen (Man-a-fos-en) which completely changes the meaning of the word.
You can learn the phonetics of the alphabet in your language class or online. Alternatively, check with a native speaker if you are pronouncing the letters right.
There are several sites which offer Norwegian language courses or self-learning courses.
A google search would help you with other useful sites.
Buy a language pack set or borrow one from the library
Most of the bookstores in town sell Norwegian textbooks and workbooks (Ny i Norge and På Vei are very commonly used) There are several supplements that follow these book sets as well.
The local libraries usually offer a range and several copies of Norwegian language books. Most of the books come with a CD or several CDs as well. Taking the time and effort to listen to the CD will greatly help with your listening and comprehension. You can listen to the CDs in your car or have it in your MP3 player. Just listening to the conversations over and over again can help you to grasp the tones and nuances of Norwegian speech.
While you are at the library, borrow some Norwegian children’s books that are easy to read and understand. You can start off with picture books for babies and graduate to short stories for older children.
Another option would be to borrow cartoon DVDs which you have already seen from before (such as Disney and Pixar cartoons) so you know the storyline and can follow the movie better when the characters speak Norwegian.
Label, label, label
Attaching Norwegian labels to everything in your house such as the door, table, chair, bathroom, bed, toothbrush and other common household items can help a ton.
You can also expand on these labels by adding sentences to them. For example, labeling the door and adding a sentence or several below it:
I open the door, I shut the door, I knock on the door
(Jeg åpner døren, Jeg lukker døren, Jeg banker på døren)
Take phrases that you use regularly and see how they can be expressed in Norwegian.
Using mental imagery might help you to remember more Norwegian words and increase your vocabulary. The images can be absurd or funny, as long as you remember them. For example, ‘water’ is ‘vann’ in Norwegian. You can have the mental image of a van full of water. ‘Sheep’ is ‘sau’ in Norwegian – maybe a mental picture of a sheep sewing some woolen clothes?
Learn related words together
For example when you are learning how to order a drink at a cafe, also learn the names of all cutlery, furniture, equipment and food you can find at a cafe.
Easy access to a Norwegian dictionary
Have a physical one close by or on your smartphone. If the dictionary is easily available, you will be more inclined to check up new words. If you have the time, writing down all the new words you learn daily will provide you with a large vocabulary after a while. Google Translate offers iPhone and Android apps and can also translate Norwegian words to English through the camera.
Practise every chance you get
Order your coffee at a cafe, read the Norwegian menu before checking the English version, ask for a second plastic bag at the supermarket, tell your Norwegian host that their food is excellent, practise, practise, practise!
Many foreigners find that the service staff speak to you in English even when you try to speak Norwegian to them. Don’t be swayed by that, continue to speak Norwegian even if they reply in English.
Online language exchange community/Language discussion group/Norwegian conversation group
Join these groups to increase your opportunities to speak and learn Norwegian.
Media – TV/Radio/Movies/Documentaries/Cartoons/Newspapers/Magazines
One of the ways I learned Norwegian was to read the Norwegian subtitles on English programmes or movies. If I was in a particularly hardworking mood, I would write down words that were new to me and look them up after the show. I found it entertaining and relaxing to learn Norwegian this way, although I found out after a while that the subtitles were not always accurate!
Reading the headlines in the local papers and the titles in magazines also helped with learning and recognizing Norwegian words. After a while, you will automatically delve further into the articles that interest you.
After you are more comfortable with Norwegian, you can ‘graduate’ to watching Norwegian documentaries (such as on NRK’s NettTV) and Norwegian movies with Norwegian subtitles. It’s a great way to learn more conversational language and to learn the different dialects.
Listening to Norwegian music and radio can be draining at first as you have to really concentrate to understand what is being spoken but you learn so much conversational language and dialect through listening to the radio. Start off with listening to nursery rhymes in Norwegian and work up to listening to adult pop and radio shows.
Talk to kids
Hang out with or offer to babysit your friend’s or colleague’s children. Kids around 3- 4 years old speak simple enough Norwegian for foreigners to understand. They may even correct your Norwegian pronunciation!
Try to think in Norwegian
When you talk to yourself in your head (yes, I am sure you do that!), try to think in Norwegian and aim to find words and phrases to express what you are thinking.
Common words and topics
Tony Buzan, in his book ‘Using your Memory’, points out that just 100 words comprise 50% of all words used in conversation in a language. Learning this core 100 words gets you a long way towards being able to speak in that language, albeit at a basic level. The 100 basic words used in conversation are shown here. Maybe learning the equivalent in Norwegian would help?
Common topics in conversation are usually family, business, personal care, travel and food. Learning key questions and phrases in these topics might help you carry on a Norwegian conversation for a longer period of time.
Play Norwegian board games
Playing games like Pictionary, Charades and Fantasi in Norwegian can help to increase your Norwegian vocabulary. Since you are having fun at the same time, it feels less like work!
Learn some idioms, proverbs, and expressions
As your level advances, learn about some of the idioms, proverbs and expressions in the language. Even if you do not use them much, it will help to recognize and understand these elements when you hear or read them.
Have short-term and long-term goals
Having goals can definitely help to spur your language learning on.
For example, you can set your short-term goals to passing the Norskprøve 1, 2 and 3 and finally a long-term goal of passing the Bergenstest. Other goals might be to finally ask out that cute Norwegian colleague of yours in Norwegian or to finally be able to speak to your Norwegian partner’s family in Norwegian.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
I know, easier said than done right? Just remember that others know and can hear that you are learning the language and most Norwegians are actually very appreciative of foreigners who try to pick up their language.
Ask your Norwegian friends and colleagues to correct you and simply laugh it off if you do make a mistake. It isn’t easy to learn a new language – you should be proud of yourself!
Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, there is nothing more annoying than someone nodding their head and saying yes when they didn’t understand the question or statement in the first place. Be honest and ask the other party to repeat themselves, maybe a little slower, so that you can understand what is being said. Most Norwegians speak slower, more bokmål and less dialect when they are speaking with someone that is learning Norwegian.
For native English speakers, Norwegian is one of the easiest languages to learn.
Finally, relax and enjoy yourself!
If all else fails, drinking a couple of beers will surely help to loosen your Norwegian tongue!