Monday, 10 December 2012

Learning Norwegian: reconsidering my goals

When I began learning Norwegian, I knew that it would be tough. From prior experience, I've experienced how tough learning a foreign language can be, both mentally and emotionally.

I thought I was prepared for this. I'd read a lot, and shared wry stories with fellow learners about the difficulties of motivation and the likelihood of looking and feeling very stupid. And for the most part I am ready for this - I can usually take it on the chin and treat it as part of the learning process. But sometimes it hits very hard.

Recently, while on a trip to Norway, I indirectly received some comments about my progress in learning the languages (I won't go into specifics here). It really knocked my confidence, especially as these words came from friends - they weren't meant to be personal and hurtful, I know... but the result was the same - I was hurt.

The comments were negative enough about my skills to make me question why I was even bothering to try, whether I was actually accomplishing anything and brought me very close to completely throwing in the towel. It affected me enough that, the next day, I refused point-blank an opportunity to have a conversation in Norwegian, something I'd been anticipating and looking forward to for weeks.

I'm still unsure what to think. I know full well that my main weakness is in my aural comprehension, struggling to understand what people are saying when they talk at normal speed, especially considering the multitude of accents, variations and dialects Norwegian has. The comments made me wonder if I'm ever going to 'get it', and whether it's even worth trying.

I could take it as advice, as a challenge - use this experience to drive me to improve my listening comprehension. I know that I can't get compliments all the time, and that anyone who tells me that my Norwegian is great and that I have nothing to worry about is lying to me and not doing me any favours. I need to learn from mistakes, and from failures, and try and make sure that, next time, these friends don't feel the need to make such comments.

On the other hand, my self-confidence and self-esteem have really been knocked by these comments. It's hard when you think you're doing well at something to be told pretty much outright that actually, no, you're not.

Am I ever going to get better? Am I ever going to be good enough at the language to make it worth continuing to put in all this effort? Should I switch my focus to another language, the speakers of which aren't all fluent in English anyway, rendering the learning more worthwhile? Or is it time to re-consider whether I really have those language-learning skills I've always thought I had since school?

Constructive thoughts much appreciated in the comments.


  1. Shall I start with questions first?

    You are aware of the fact that it takes time to learn a language. Actually one needs a couple of years to become somewhat fluent in the target language. Therefore, I think you will get better. Just give yourself enough time. I think this also answers your second question.

    Your only and I think the main problem is that you don't live in a Norwegian-spoken country and no matter how good your Reading and Writing skills are, it is challenging to improve your productive skills--listening and speaking. If you don't mind me giving examples from my personal experience, I've learnt here that "not too bad" means "good". I was taught that it would mean more than enough if you used "too" before adjectives. Therefore "not too bad" sounded to me that one felt bad, but not that bad. Such things also causes problems to language learners like you and me. I think it would help if you could live in Norway for a couple of months or have one/a few Norwegian friend(s) here that you could communicate on a daily basis.

    Switching another language would be a mistake, because Norwegian would linger in your mind. Please don't do that till you are completely done with it.

    I am by no means eligible to judge your language-learning skills, but I believe there is no need to re-consider them.;)

    Finally, self-pitying is good. Sooner or later, it helps you to reach the path that you realise your mistakes. So, just grab a bottle of wine and watch 1992, 1993 or 1994 Eurovision Song Contest--the one which you truly hate or despise. We can rant on the songs on the chat.;))

    1. Anil... thank you for making the effort to write so much (and the bit you added on Facebook too).

      I know that it takes time to learn a language. It's still really frustrating not to be able to understand after what feels like quite a bit of time - when I felt like I had to chance to really understand. I know I should take more time and not worry about it but... you know.

      Thing is, I do have Norwegian friends I communicate with on a daily basis - that's kinda what makes it so hard and frustrating that this went so badly. And the comments, of course.

      I do intend to switch to learning another language at some point, and I don't feel I would ever be fully done with Norwegian. And I don't mean that in a negative way - it's something I'd always have something to learn in, and it's an ongoing process. I'd go back and refresh from time to time.

      So... thank you. For commenting and saying all that - it really did make me think :)

      But don't go slagging off Eurovision 1994 ;).

  2. At the moment, listening to Norwegian sounds like it's unfun and scary. That's where your collection of MGP DVDs can come into play - Merethe Troan is Sneakily Educating You, and all that. Gi oss en soloppgang med barnelatter og sang!

    1. Hehehe, Nick, you'd be surprised - I already know all the words to Oj oj oj - and Merethe is next!

  3. to be honest am selflearning Nynorsk cause i did like the 1993 Norwegian Eurovision entry: "Alle Mine tanker"...I would never thought that the Bokmal speakers could be so snobbish at the Nynorsk!