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The seven stages of learning Norwegian every foreigner goes through

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
The seven stages of learning Norwegian every foreigner goes through
Learning Norwegian may leave you feeling incredibly frustrated at times. Pictured is somebody frustrated. Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

You’ve got your 'ordbok’, you've downloaded all the apps, you are ready and willing to learn Norwegian. Then you move to Norway and reality hits


Stage one: Optimism 

You’ve decided to move to Norway: You may have recently finished watching The Lørenskog Disappearance on Netflix, or perhaps tried dipping your toes into Netflix’s first original Lillyhammer. Either that or you’ve read plenty of the Jo Nesbø books.

You can pick out some of the words like takk and hei, so you’re sure that within a year or so of actually living in the Scandinavian country, you’ll be speaking like a local. You can’t wait to get started.

For many, this optimism may be substituted with complete terror at the prospect of learning Norwegian.

Tip: Hold onto the optimism because you’re about to have the shock of your life.


Stage two: Overwhelmed

You arrive in Norway, and you’re overwhelmed by the language and struggle to understand a word of what’s going on. However, you’ll start picking up words while out and about be that words like tilbud, or rabbat while at shops or supermarket, or billett on public transport.

Even then, you’ll realise that you can’t learn Norwegian by reading it in your head.

There are times where you feel completely helpless by your lack of language skills, even though pretty much everyone you encounter will have no difficulty switching to English and many are able to live in the country years before getting stuck into Norwegian properly.

It’s around this time that you think a language course might be a wise choice, if you aren’t enrolled already.

Tip: Expand your vocabulary one word at a time. Use Google translate to get interested in the words around you.

Stage three: Quiet delight

You’ve passed your first module of your Norwegian language course. You had a little chat in Norwegian and explained which country you come from, where you now live with and how many siblings and/or pets you have.

This is it. You are going to be fluent in 18 months’ time. There’s tangible progress in your language skills and you are on your way to deciphering Norwegian.

Tip: Remember this feeling of progression and how good it feels because you’re going to have to keep it going for quite some time. Speak the little Norwegian you know, over and over again to gain confidence in hearing yourself make the sounds.

These small victories will give the inspiration to continue your journey.


Stage four: Experimentation

You’re taken what you’ve learnt so far and have gotten to grips with most of the key or at least basic vocab and grammar rules.

You’re now testing your new language skills in the wide world, at the store, with friends, maybe a little at work.

You’ll find yourself asking people you know whether “this sentence works” or “does it sound right if I say this”, or “is there a better way of saying this”, out of a curious desire to put your theoretical Norwegian into practical use. If you live outside of Oslo, you may also take an interest in learning the local words and idioms in a more regional dialect.

This may result in you to trying to work on your Norwegian even more by attending language cafes and watching and listening to more Norwegian media.


Step five: Frustration

You’ll hit the first of many walls, where it feels like you aren’t getting any better no matter how you much practice. When you hit one of these walls your skills will feel very limited, no matter how far you have come on your journey so far.

It may happen after spending a evening in the company of Norwegian speakers and finding yourself fumbling for sentences and key vocabulary. It could also happen when you attempt to speak some Norwegian and the person you are speaking to switches to English.

Additionally, many who learn the language in and around Oslo and feel they are on the right path can soon feel completely derailed when speaking to someone from Trondheim or Bergen for the first time.

This frustration may manifest itself as anger towards the language itself. You may even decide to take a break deciding its “pointless”.

What makes this more frustrating is that this wall always hits you just as you feel you were beginning to feel confident with Norwegian.

Don’t despair though, better days lie ahead.

Tip: If you are caught off-guard and feel like a rabbit in the headlights when listening to somebody speak with a regional dialect, tune into NRK’s distriktsnyheter to get more used to hearing different accents and dialects.

Stage six: Breakthrough

Congratulations! You’re not quite sure how it happened, but something seems to be clicking. The frustration you once felt has dissipated and things feel like they are coming to you much more naturally as when your confidence was at an ebb.

You may notice that less people are switching to English, and you’re understanding most of what you see and hear.

Tip: Be aware the frustration you earlier felt can return and knock you off your stride so try not to take your foot off the pedal and keep practicing. Also, try and remember the good feelings

Stage seven: Acceptance

You may not still speak fluent Norwegian, and you may still make mistakes, but that’s okay. You’ve still managed to improve significantly compared to where you started. You’ve also accepted that the language will probably take years to perfect, and the learning process will be a lifelong pursuit.

Even if the language feels like its coming to you a lot slower than others, and you feel like you still need some lessons to help you sharpen your skills you’ll be at peace with where you are at.

Tip: The more you use the language, the more you’ll improve. Keep reading, speaking, and listening and one day, it won’t even feel like an effort anymore. 


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