Your average person might think Norwegian sounds funny, but if you’re reading this now, you probably think that your Norwegian sounds funny. Lucky for you, I have five tips to learn Norwegian, so you’ll be on your way to mastering this Scandinavian language in no time. Here are some of our best tips for beginners to help you get your head around this wonderful, musical language.
1. Don’t Worry About Perfection – Just Speak!
Unlike many other languages, such as German or Russian, Norwegian doesn’t have a spoken standard. Instead, everyone speaks their own dialect. On one hand, that makes the variation in pronunciation complex, but on the other hand, you don’t need to be afraid of mispronouncing a word since there’s rarely one correct way.
Perhaps you’ve had experiences with other language dialects and there’s a part of your brain saying: “But it’s so hard to understand dialects.” Yes, it’s part of the challenge of learning Norwegian for beginners, but remember that Norwegians experience this challenge too. They get around this issue by asking for clarification if they don’t understand what’s being said.
2. Take Advantage Of Similarities And Borrowed Words
Focus on easy wins like “international” words or Germanic words. Examples of international words are telefon (telephone) or tomat (tomato), which often look and sound the same across many languages in Europe and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Pan-Germanic words are words that are very similar throughout the Germanic languages because they once shared a common language ancestor. Some examples are melk (milk), buss (bus), park (park) and land (land).
Lucky for you, English is a Germanic language so there are a lot of similar words between English and Norwegian. Don’t believe me? Well try and guess the meaning of the words on this grocery list: egg, kake, melk, pasta and poteter. (If you surmised eggs, cake, milk, pasta and potatoes, you’re correct!)
3. Which Written Standard Should You Choose?
Hopefully, I’m not the first person to break this to you, but Norwegian has two written standards: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Both officially have equal status, and Norwegians have to learn both in school. In practice, though, Bokmål is used far more than Nynorsk.
Don’t let this small complication get you down, and don’t worry about making spelling mistakes! There are often multiple correct ways to write a word in Norwegian and even native speakers mix them up sometimes. Just using one standard, Bokmål, you could write: “Fins det en minibank i nærheten?” or “Finnes det en minibank i nærheten?” (Is there an ATM nearby?). Both are correct, and in spoken Norwegian you wouldn’t even hear the difference.
My tip to you is to focus on just one of these standards while you’re learning Norwegian. After you feel confident about one, you can go back to pick up the other.
4. Use It Or Lose It
Make Norwegian relevant for you! If you’re reading this right now, you almost certainly have a reason why you’re learning this language. To stay motivated and to remember what you’ve learned, it’s important that you learn through topics that matter to you and those you can apply in real life.
But how can you apply your new knowledge if you don’t know any Norwegians (yet)? Wherever you’re living, you can role-play different situations. Sound a little weird? Maybe a bit, but it’s worth it. For example, you can place an order at an imaginary coffee shop:
You: Jeg vil gjerne ha en stor kaffe. (I’d like a tall coffee.)
Waiter: Noe annet? (Anything else?)
You: Ja, et stykke eplekake, takk. (Yes, a piece of apple cake, please.)
Of course, you can go through this whole exchange in your head if you’re in public, but I recommend sitting in front of a mirror and speaking aloud for maximum pronunciation practice. Either way, this exercise helps you to discover vocabulary gaps so you don’t panic in the moment. Little role-play drills like this not only boost your memory but also lead to more success when applying what you’ve learned in real-life situations.
5. Let Yourself Love The Easy Grammar
No language is exactly a stroll in the park, but compared to other options, Norwegian is one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn. Besides the common vocabulary and flexible pronunciation rules, Norwegian grammar is comparatively easy and straightforward.
First of all, word order is pretty much the same as in English. (This isn’t the case with many languages, and learning a different sentence structure can be cumbersome work!) You can be thankful that Norwegian makes this aspect simple. Take a look at this sentence, and you’ll see what we mean: “Jeg er fra Kanada.” (I am from Canada.) See? Super easy!
On top of that, if you’ve tried learning another European language, you know just how challenging verb conjugation can be. Luckily, Norwegian conjugation is very simple: There’s only one verb form per tense, regardless of person or number. So it doesn’t matter if you’re ordering coffee for yourself (Jeg tar en kaffe) or for more people (Vi tar kaffe), the verb stays the same!
Bonus Tip For More Advanced Learners:
Once you understand the basics, try to slowly immerse yourself in more Norwegian. Start by reading the news in Norwegian — I recommend Klar Tale, which is an easy-to-read newspaper with short articles. You can even listen to the text, as the newspaper also caters to people with reading difficulties and the visually impaired.
Ready to go further? Why not watch some great Norwegian TV shows like Skam or Nobel? With Norwegian subtitles on, you’ll learn new vocabulary and get insights into the local culture, all while following a great story.