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READERS REVEAL: Can you get by in Norway with just English?

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected] • 5 Feb, 2023 Updated Sun 5 Feb 2023 08:01 CEST
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Can you get by in Norway without Norwegian? Pictured is Oslo opera house. Photo by Gunnar Ridderström on Unsplash

It's very common to hear English spoken all over Norway. The Local's readers shared their thoughts on whether you'll be able to get by without learning Norwegian.

Norway has recently been ranked among the best countries in the world for English language skills. In addition, many international firms have Oslo offices where the official working language is English. 

Wherever you find yourself in Norway, you are unlikely to be far from a proficient English speaker, even in more rural areas. 

This may lead to some assuming that they'll be able to get by in Norway without learning Norwegian. 

We asked our readers whether this was the case. 

'Everybody speaks English in Oslo' 

Most of those who responded to our survey said it would be possible to get by in the country without learning Norwegian. 

"Yes, you can get by, but speaking some Norwegian is often appreciated," Arjen, living in Jessheim, said, responding to our survey. 

"Yes, absolutely. Everybody speaks English in Oslo, where I was an Erasmus exchange student," Bence Szabo responded. 

In addition, they also added that it would be possible to find work with English as the primary working language. 

"If you are working for a multinational abroad and have skills and experience to create value in Norway, you can certainly make a transfer to Norway work. However, I think it is expected that you learn Norwegian at some point," one foreign resident who didn't leave a name wrote. 

However, you will be more limited in the type of work you are likely to be offered. 

"Yes and no, depending on skills. (It is) very easy to find IT jobs, but as an electrical engineer, I faced many rejections because I don't speak the language," Maz Khan in Oslo wrote. 

"No. Most of the jobs require a well-spoken Norwegian. Only hard labour workspaces don't care about the language, but they don't pay well," Dora Szabolcsi in Hønefoss said. 

Meanwhile, others pointed out that getting a job in tech was feasible while working in a Norwegian organisation would be off-limits without language skills. 

 'You can feel like you don't belong to society'

Many of those who said that you could get by in Norway with just English were quick to add the caveats that living in the country without learning the language was a short-term solution or that you'd feel left out of society. 

"Yes, you can, but you still feel like you don't belong to society," Maz Khan wrote. 

"You can get by in daily life but struggle with the 'big' topics. Norwegians don't like to have serious conversations, argue or deliver bad news in English, so you are at a big disadvantage in many situations where it's important to understand 100% of what's going on," one foreigner in Akser responded. 

Sazi Luke in Fjellstrand said that learning the language would be essential for making friends and progressing your career. 

“(You can get by) in the beginning only. To make friends, build  work relationships and be competitive in the job market, it is beneficial to learn the language," they wrote. 

Veronica Jaramillo Jimenez in Tønsberg said that ten years in the country without mastering led to feeling like an outsider. 

"Yes, you can manage, I have done so for ten years. However, it is really not ideal if you want to be included in everyday life; moreover, you are always seen as an outsider if you do not master the language, which is why my goal within the next 12 months is to become fluent in Norwegian," she wrote. 

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Frazer Norwell 2023/02/05 08:01

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Pat 2022/11/30 14:53
Completely agree that you will not feel fully a part of society; it can also feel quite awkward having to keep reminding people you are not fluent, or the side conversations that happen in the office, for example. More importantly, if you have kids, they will speak Norwegian for the first years and so it becomes essential....also a good way to learn is from them!

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