One of the things that I learned when Julie and I turned our waterfalling attention internationally was that travel was all about building bridges between your own perception of the world and the actual experiences in the real world.
And so I realized that one of the best ways to build this bridge was to try to learn the local language as this would help me to keep an open mind and be prepared to expand my horizons as I went.
Besides, I feel that trying to speak the local language (no matter how awkward it might be at first) goes a long way towards being encouraged while also being greeted with kindness as opposed to the opposite reaction when you expect or even demand the locals to speak English.
In the case of Norwegian, I had spent about 6 or more months in preparation for our first visit to Norway in June-July 2005. Perhaps I felt compelled to try to at least learn the local language to better understand how to read the maps and some of the web literature during our trip research.
But little did I realize that it also helped me to at least start to understand the land, the people, and the culture. This acquired knowledge tends to stick with you well after the trip’s conclusion.
The point of this page is to familiarize you with the language of Norwegian and perhaps motivate you to give the language a go. I won’t try to pretend that I’m fluent in the language because I’m not.
Nevertheless, in this page, I’ll delve into what I went through to get up to my current understanding of Norwegian. I’ll also try to divulge all that I know about the language to at least get you acquainted with it. Hopefully, you’ll find this page useful…
The Learning Process
I also managed to do a little learning of the language in the field in Norway, but to make a long story short, my current understanding of the language is still limited to just some basic expressions and some basic vocabulary.
I probably wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation beyond one or two exchanges. However, I was encouraged by some friendly chatter (in norsk with some engelsk) with a group of Norwegians that we happened to meet on our trip to Angel Falls in 2007. I’ll review the language resources that I’ve used so far in the next section.
As for the process of my learning, I basically used my work commute (typically an hour at a time) to get through both the textbook and the audio CDs. I could listen to the audio CDs in the car, and I could read through the textbook little-by-little on the metro.
This method allowed me to go through the lessons at my own pace without costing me any of my free time outside my normal day-to-day work routines.
In fact, I could argue that doing this during the commute was a far more productive use of this time than say listening to talk radio or whatever else was on the radio. It’s infinitely better than filling up my mind with road rage. I was even able to review or go back through chapters before proceeding onto the next chapter once I was learning while on the train.
Yet even with the limited amount of Norwegian that I’ve acquired, as with any language, you’d better use it or you’ll lose it.
Another thing to remember is that the quickest and most effective learning comes from real life conversations.
Anyways, I’m still itching to try to re-visit the language before a return trip to Norway, which will hopefully come soon…
Reviews of Learning Resources
The following are some of the resources that I’ve used to self-learn or self-reinforce what I’ve learned.
Overall Rating: 1.5/5
The Pimsleur Language Program was my first taste of learning Norwegian when I knew that we were going to Norway in the Summer of 2005.
I was lured by the promise of learning the language without the need for textbooks, and that it was said to make me pretty comfortable with the language by the time I was done going through all of the CDs.
Well, the reality was that this lesson was woefully insufficient. Since it was my primary method of learning Norwegian prior to our trip, I learned quickly that it didn’t come close to preparing me to use the language on our trip.
In fact, I had to pick up a different language lesson to do some last minute catch-up, and it was that latter lesson (which I’ll talk about later) that got me up to at least some rudimentary knowledge of the language.
The Pimsleur lesson consists of basically a long list of vocabulary and some small conversations that you’re asked to listen to and repeat over and over again.
There was hardly anything about grammar and many of the words in the lesson lacked a translation so you were pretty much having to guess what they meant.
I think the lesson could have benefitted tremendously with a textbook to follow along with the CDs. Finally, we paid over $100 for the lesson, and I honestly think it was a rip off after having gone through it.
Maybe the product has improved since we used it nearly 10 years ago, but this experience made me give up on the Pimsleur method for good. I gave it 1.5 stars because there were some vocabulary and expressions covered that the other lesson I’ve bought didn’t cover so it was at least good for that.
Teach Yourself Norwegian
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
The Teach Yourself Norwegian book and audio CDs (I used the 2004 revision with the pastel houses on the cover) ended up being my preferred self-learning resource for Norwegian.
The thing I really liked about this language lesson was that the author Margaretha Danbolt Simons seemed to have pretty seamlessly mixed meaningful contextual conversations (in a bit of interesting soap-opera-like drama) with the stuff you need to know about the language concerning vocabulary and grammar as well as other things you would learn in a more formal setting.
While most language lessons I’ve come across were pretty dry and boring, this one actually got me wanting to learn the conversations so I could understand what was happening regarding the story of Bente and John.
It was kind of like you were following a bit of a tongue-in-cheek romance before things got pretty serious.
That was when John got jealous after Bente was kind of seeing another guy named Knut, and Bente eventually found herself trying to mend their relationship later on.
It was while I was following the drama did I realize after the fact that some of the expressions kind of started to come naturally and unconsciously. If only other language lessons could do the same thing, I think language learning can certainly be a lot of fun and not such a chore.
That said, I didn’t give this product a maximum 5 rating because the second CD didn’t seem to be finished. They kind of rushed through the last lessons (especially 15 and 16) so I never really got to hear all of the conversations that comprised the bittersweet love story I was following.
At least the textbook covered everything, but still it would have been nice to have the CD fully complement the text so I could better train my ears towards how the language is actually spoken.
I still think this is quite possibly the best passive learning resource you could buy (without having a Norwegian friend practising with you or straight up living in Norway yourself), and I paid around $30 USD for it, which was a bargain compared to Pimsleur.
This was by far my favorite of all the Teach Yourself lessons as well as most of the other language lessons in general that I’ve bought and used so far, and I only wish other language lessons did what Simons did with this resource.
Some Useful Expressions
Here’s a list of some very basic expressions that I have come across in my travels. Hopefully, you’ll find these to be useful.
To learn more expressions or go through a much more comprehensive list than this, I’d recommend checking out more authoritative resources than this, however.
- God dag – Good day [sounds like “goo DOG”]
- Hei! – Hi! [sounds like the English way of saying it]
- Ha det! / Ha det bra! – Good bye! (literally: Have it (good)) [sounds like “ha duh BRAH”]
- Takk – Thanks
- Vær so god.. – Please, go ahead… or Would you be so kind as to…; this is something we heard a lot in Norway and it’s like an invitation by the speaker for you to start a dialog or transaction.
- Hvordan har du det? – How are you? [sounds like “vor-DAHN har doo duh”]
- Bare bra/fint, takk. Og du? – Just fine, thanks. And you?
- Ja eller nei – yes or no [sounds like “Yah / Naye” where the latter rhymes with the aye in the expression “aye-aye captain”]
- Kan jeg hjelpe deg? – Can I help you? [sounds like “can yaye YELP-eh DAYE”]
- Hvor er … ? – Where is … ? [sounds like “vor are…”]
- Snakker du engelsk? – Do you speak English?
- Jeg vil gjerne ha… et glass vann / et glass øl / en kopp kaffe – I would like to have… a glass of water / a glass of beer / a cup of coffee [sounds like “yaye vil yah-nuh ha…”]
- Tar dere kreditkort? – Do you guys take credit card?
- Jeg vil gherne betale – I would like to pay
Some Useful Vocabulary
I’m sure there can be any number of words that would be helpful to know, but I’m going to do things a little differently and try to bias this vocabulary list with things more related to waterfalls or other geographical features.
I figure that might at least help you read some maps or at least have a better understanding of what some of the local place names mean.
- foss (-en) – (the) waterfall. Example: Kjosfossen is the Kjos Falls
- fjord (-en) – (the) fjord. Example: Sørfjorden is the South Fjord
- fjell (-et) – (the) mountain. Example: Høyfjellet is literally the high mountain
- elv (-en/-a) – (the) river. Example: Reisaelva is the Reisa River.
- dal (-en) – (the) valley. Example: Oddadalen is the Odda Valley
- skog (-en) – (the) forest.
- vatn (-et) – (the) lake. Example: Storvatnet is the Big Lake and Eikeskogsvatnet is the Oak Forest Lake
- øy (-a) – (the) island. Example: Vestvågøy is one of the islands belonging to the famous Lofoten Islands.
- vidde (–a) – (the) mountain plateau. Example: Hardangervidda is the Hardanger Plateau, which is one of NOrway’s most famous mountain plateaus.
- vei (-en) – (the) road. Example: Drammensveien is the Drammen’s Road
- gate (-n) – (the) street. Example: Stortingsgate is the Parliament Street as storting pertains to the Norwegian Parliament
- fart / fartsgrense (-n) – speed / (the) speed limit
- ferge (-n) – (the) ferry
- bil (-en) – (the) car
- bensin / bensinstasjon (-en) – Gas or Petrol / (the) Gas or Petrol Station
- arbeid (-et) – (the) work. I’m bringing this up because you might see orange signs with this word indicating there’s construction work on the road so slow down.
- sone (-n/–a) – (the) zone. You might see signs with the Ghostbusters-like circle with a slash through it with this word beneath it. This is essentially telling you that something (like parking or parkering) is forbidden in this zone.
- farlig – dangerous
- time (-n) / timer – (the) hour / hours; Example: Fergen tar tre timer. means “The ferry takes three hours”.
- båt (-en) – (the) boat
- bomstasjon (-en) – (the) toll station. We encountered lots of these while driving in Norway. Better have a lot of change on you as not all of them take credit cards
- kart (-en) – (the) map
- kirke (-n) – (the) church. Many of Norway’s famous churches are actually a form of wooden stav church or stavkirke.
From our 2005 trip to Norway, we realized that almost everyone there speaks good English.
For the entire 2.5 weeks we were there, we had only two instances where we actually had to use our limited Norwegian to facilitate communication with someone who didn’t speak much English.
The first was with a middle-aged accommodation proprietor in the town of Dombås and the other was with a river boat operator (maybe 10-20 years older than me) in Reisa National Park.
Both instances took place in regional Norway. With the younger generations and almost everyone we’ve encountered at the hotels, visitor centers, and shops, etc. speaks English. So I’d bet that had we stuck to the main tourist routes, we probably would have gotten by without speaking any Norwegian.
That said, I still firmly believe that it’s worth learning the language because it empowers you to go off the beaten path and have a richer and more unique experience in the country.
It’s also a bridge-building exercise where you can connect with locals and with the country in ways that are far more profound and lasting than a typical cookie-cutter tourist tour where the experiences aren’t as unique and the connections made aren’t as lasting.
Besides, of the languages that I took the effort to try to learn, it seemed like Norwegian seems to be pretty well-suited for English-speakers wishing to pick it up.
The reason why I think this is the case is that the grammar seems to be very similar to English. The conjugation of verbs are very straightforward, and even much of the vocabulary looks and sounds like it would in English.
That said, there are some other different aspects about the language that might throw off an English-speaker.
The first thing to note is that they have definite articles (aka “the”) attached to the end of nouns. The exception to this is if you have definite nouns with an adjective where you also have to add a separate definite article in front of the word as well. For example, veien (the road) becomes den store veien (the big road).
Norwegian also has compound words so if I was to say “the tourist information kiosk” in Norwegian, it might look like turistinformasjonkonteret. I suspect this is a result of the language’s Germanic roots.
Anyways, I just wanted to bring these things up just to give you a little bit of an appreciation of the language. Obviously, if you want to go deeper into the language, please use a formal resource to learn and practice.
Finally, I want to conclude by saying that structured learning from lessons can get you to a point where you can have enough confidence to try the language in a real life situation.
You might be pretty familiar with the very basic expressions and vocabulary (like where I think I’m at right now), and you might even have memorized the lessons inside out, but you can’t have illusions that the structured lessons alone will make you fluent.
All you have to do is to try to apply yourself in the field once to realize this fact.
Structured learning can only get you so far because after a while, you can almost predict the conversations through all the repetition and memorization in the lessons.
However, in a real life conversation, you can’t predict what someone else is going to say or how they’ll react to what you say.
That’s why there’s no substitute for in-the-field immersion, and you can’t be afraid to try. Still, the structured lessons are worth doing because it puts you in a position to at least have the confidence to try.
Indeed, fluency won’t occur until you’ve had a chance to practice what you’ve learned in real life situations repeatedly. This will take time. That’s why I suspect people who have lived the language pick it up much faster and more deeply than someone whose knowledge is dominated by remote book learning.
Still, just giving the language a try is huge when it comes to connecting with the country.
Don’t be discouraged by awkward exchanges or by someone putting you out of your misery by switching to English right away. More often than not, I’ve observed that people are genuinely pleased and more encouraging when you try to speak their language.
This happens far more often than the few instances where you might have run into someone who might be condescending. Besides, you’ll never know if you don’t try, and who knows where your learning will take you next? So what have you got to lose?