Learning to talk Norwegian
is one of the hardest things oops, I mean, is the hardest thing I ever did!
I’m sure you heard the old saying –you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, you can its just going to take years to do it.
I landed in Norway with three young children in 1989 and the only words I knew were: takk for maten, which means thanks for the food and a few curse words (for some reason we always learn those first). We moved to a small town called Egersund and with the nearest International school miles away, I enrolled the children in Norwegian school. It didn’t take long for their young minds to absorb the Norwegian language. Meanwhile, as her whole world turned upside down, their poor mother struggled to clear the cobwebs from her head. I now had my eleven-year-old daughter reading my mail and translating cooking instructions for me.
I was living in an area where there were few expats, I didn’t even consider myself to be one. I wasn’t there because I had a job to do, or had a company supporting me, I was there as the wife of a local. I had no choice, but to sink or swim. At first, I really tried to swim; I took classes, read books and listened to language cassettes. The only thing I didn’t do was practice. I felt foolish speaking this foreign language, in which there were three extra letters in the Alphabet (Æ, Ø and Å) and all nouns were classified by gender.
Meaning, I had to learn the gender of every noun in the whole Norwegian language!
There were other problems as well; I was being taught proper (Bokmål) Norwegian, but the good people of Egersund were speaking in dialect. Help!
Years passed, and I began to understand the native tongue spoken around me, yet I still spoke English myself. It seemed like the perfect compromise; I talked my language, they talked theirs and everyone understood each other. The only thing is I stuck out like a sore thumb in the little town. I would try speaking to children, but always felt as if I were met with questioning eyes. When I tried speaking around the house to my own family I was either corrected or laughed at, (not in a mean way) but it still didn’t help matters.
I would spend hours rehearsing and planning what I would say. It sounded perfect inside my head, then something would go awry and I’d end up feeling dumb. What was wrong with me and why couldn’t I learn this damn language?! I was sinking.
Six years after moving to Norway and desperately wanting to fit in, I signed up for another Norsk course. The instructor informed the class that the only way to learn the language was to practice. “Drop your own language and speak Norwegian all the time,” he said. What did I have to lose, my humility? That was already long gone.
I threw myself out there and didn’t let my limited vocabulary or American accent stop me. I was tired of feeling bad about myself and was determined to conquer the language barrier this time!
That was seventeen years ago and guess what? I speak fluent Norwegian, with an American accent, and the occasional mistake thrown in every now and then for good measure.
So next time you meet someone speaking with an accent remember, they’re not thinking with one.