Sunday, 26 February 2012

Learning Norwegian - visiting Norway

As mentioned in my last entry, I've recently started learning Norwegian. My first test of my progress came a couple of weeks ago, when, after less than two weeks' learning, I paid a visit to Bergen, Norway's second city.

I've been following the Pimsleur method with my learning, which involves a 30-minute audio lesson each day. I'll go into this in more details in a later entry when I review the course, but for now I'll just mention that it's a pure audio course, at least for the early stages, which involves learning from two native speakers on the recording, and strongly encourages a focus on pronunciation and recall.

When I went to Norway, I'd just completed lesson eleven. I was determined to try out what I'd learned on my friends, and hadn't told them anything about it before going. My intention was to surprise my friend Harald by talking to him in Norwegian when I got off the bus in Bergen city centre. I was very nervous about it all the way there, but, as I disembarked, I ignored his English greeting and spoke Norwegian. We had a simple conversation, during which I asked him how he was, said that I wanted a glass of wine and asked directions to Stortingsgata.

My vocabulary was very limited, as was my breadth of topics to discuss, but that wasn't an issue for me at that stage. I just wanted to try my pronunciation and comprehension in a natural environment, but one with inbuilt support. I was extremely worried that my accent would be very strong, and that in particular I wouldn't be able to pronounce my 'r's correctly, a strong indicator of a native English speaker. I'm pleased to report that my fears were ungrounded, as I was complimented on my accent, especially my 'r's - I even realised that I was over-rolling my 'r's, an easily-rectified problem that I would have been overjoyed to have had during my years of Serbian.

I continued my experiences by speaking Norwegian to Harald occasionally during the weekend, but the real test came when we went to a party of a friend of his on Saturday night, full of Norwegians. Of course, most Norwegians, particularly young people, speak excellent English, but I was determined to at least try out my Norwegian, and hope they wouldn't automatically switch to English to accommodate me. Happily, most of them didn't, and most of them understood what I was saying and were happy to enter into a very simple conversation with me. They were rarely more than a couple of minutes before disintegrating into a 'Jeg forstår ikke' and switching to English, but the effort was made, some success was had and my confidence boosted.

I was very worried before going that I would be laughed at for my poor accent, or lack of comprehension, or that people would just want to speak English with me. The latter only happened once, and I persevered in Norwegian with her. I was also only laughed at once, but I suspect that was more because the phrase I used, while correct, was overly formal for the situation. And my accent was genuinely praised my several people - and since it's early days, I'm taking "you sound a bit Swedish" as a compliment too.

I think much of this success is due to following an audio course. It allows me to really focus on my pronunciation without continually thinking about how words are written and distracting myself by thinking about their written form. Indeed, I have no idea how to spell most of the words I've been speaking.

Opening myself up and speaking Norwegian to strangers was a massive step for me to get over, particularly after the pummeling my confidence took in Serbia. But now I feel much better about myself, am really buoyed up, keen on my learning, and look forward to going back to Norway - this time with a much wider range of topic areas and increased vocabulary.


  1. We love it when people who doesn't really speak norwegian try to! :) I guess that goes for most nations?

    1. That's good to hear. I have to admit that my (limited) experience with Swedes is just the opposite... 'why are you bothering to try and speak our language?'.

      And now I'm going to try and decode your email!

  2. Norweigan language, literature and country is very charming.. Also does anybody know, old english literature is very smiliar with scandinavian words ! Cheers, @Linda