Language Learning and Me: Norwegian

Claire Handscombe

In a new series of interviews about the experience of language learning, I asked Katy a few questions about her experience with Norwegian.

I found Katy thanks to her blog, and specifically a post called "15 Years on and Still Learning the Language", in which she reminded us that some days are better than others, and that you won’t find all jokes funny in another language, and that’s okay.

Why Norwegian?

Because I met and fell in love with my husband who is Norwegian and moved to Norway to live.

You’ve learned other languages before. What were they, and did they help you with Norwegian at all?

Yes, I studied French and German to degree level, I did Latin at school and I can also manage a smattering of conversational Greek.

German helped in the sense that some words are similar but they all helped in the sense that I understand grammar and its importance.

What are the particular challenges of Norwegian, particularly when compared to the other languages you speak?

The main challenge was simply the sheer volume of words to learn. I found the grammar quite straightforward. When I moved here I only knew the words for yes, no and, rather helpfully given the climate, snow!

How did you go about learning Norwegian? Did it differ from how you learned the other languages? With hindsight, do you think yourapproach was the right one?

I had a private tutor for a couple of months to walk me through the grammar and then I continued on my own, reading newspapers, watching TV and talking to people. I learned French and German by sitting at a school desk and travelling to and living for some time in the respective countries. I learned a bit of modern Greek purely by being an au pair there in my long summer holiday while at university, two years running, which was different in that I learned it mainly by copying what I heard other people saying in certain situations. I don`t think there is one right approach, any approach is right if you end up learning the language

What resources would you recommend for someone wanting to learn Norwegian? And what advice would you give them?

I used the text books “Ny i Norge” and “Troll i ordet” I think the second one was called. Both were good. My advice would be to jump straight in and try to speak it as much as you can, don`t rely on others speaking your mother tongue and don`t be afraid of making mistakes or a fool of yourself. Another tip would be to ask those closest to you to correct your mistakes on the spot and where possible explain them.

After fifteen years of living in Norway, do you still deliberately try to improve your Norwegian, eg by using a vocab book?

Absolutely, it is an ongoing process. I am fluent but not word perfect. I don`t use a vocabulary book but always stop and ask someone if I come across or hear a word I haven`t heard before.

Do you think it’s important for expats to learn the local language?

Absolutely. I am a firm believer that not only is it the best aid to integration but it is also the polite and right thing to do. You have chosen to live in a country which has its own language, customs, tax system etc and I think you have an obligation to at least try to learn the language while accepting other aspects of the host culture too.

What’s your favourite Norwegian word or idiom?

It`s probably the phrase “å sitte i solveggen” which means to sit outside usually a house, cabin or café, up against a wall in the sun.

I don`t think we have an equivalent in English that sums up so precisely what it implies and it usually implies you are out in the cold weather but if the sun is shining it`s the best place to be as it is sheltered and as most buildings are wooden I guess they reflect the heat a bit too, so it`s very pleasant. It`s also something you usually (not necessarily though) do when you with others and usually (again, not necessarily) with a drink and a bite to eat so it has only positive connotations all round.

Photo by Mikita Karasiou on Unsplash

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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