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Speaking the LanguageBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Norway - Speaking the Language
Norwegian has two recognised written forms. Bokmål is the standard format used by the significant majority of Norwegians. It developed out of Danish language use in Norway during the 400 years of Danish rule, and is particularly seen as a cultured form of Norwegian to be used by city dwellers. Nynorsk is the contemporary form of Norway based on rural Norwegian speech, which became one of the written formats of school instruction more than a hundred years ago. Today the routine use of Nynorsk is limited to about 5% of the Norwegian population.
Norwegians are used to hearing a range of different dialects being spoken in the Norwegian language media. There are essentially four dialects across the country - Northern, Eastern, Western and Trøndersk/Mid - but there are many variations around them. The geography of Norway has kept populations remote from each other throughout history, and media standards have not suppressed regional accents in the way that London’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) did in its first few decades of existence.
The other three official languages are Sami languages; North, South and Lule Sami. North Sami is used by around 15,000 Sami living in Norway. Most of these Northern Scandinavian indigenous people have been subject to historic assimilation policies. As a result, they usually speak the dominant language of the Scandinavian country in which they reside, and Norway is no exception. However, all the official languages of Norway are now protected by the constitution including the indigenous ones.
Norwegian Sign Language is one of four official minority languages, and has the two dialects of Oslo and Trondheim. The seven languages of the Romani people (summed up as one, Standard Romani) whilst the “Scandoromani” language used by Norwegian Traveller people make up a further two official minority languages. The final one is the Finnish language of Kven, used by a few thousand residents in the northeast of Norway.
With the exception of Norwegian, the size of population using the official and minority languages is smaller than that of many immigrant languages. Immigrants make up 15% of the Norwegian population, and children and grandchildren often identify with the heritage of their ancestors.
Swedish is commonly found in Oslo, as the proximity of the two countries and the similarities in their languages means Swedish people often move to Norwegian cities and settle there.
There is a very large Polish community in Norway of about 70,000 people, and recent years have seen a surprising growth in the Somali population. Urdu speaking Pakistanis have settled in Norway for many years. Populations of more than 10,000 foreign language residents also include Arabic and Kurdish speaking Iraquis, Turkish and Kurdish speaking Turks, Farsi and Kurdish speaking Iranians, Bosnians, Serbs, Kosovars and Albanians, Tamil speaking Sri Lankans, Philippines, Danes, Russians, Germans and English.
English is taught for many years in almost all Norwegian schools, including those funded by the state. As a result, almost nine out of ten Norwegians can speak English.
Many Norwegians have also learned French or German at school as a third language. Educational developments mean Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic is increasingly offered as an option.
Because so many people speak English to a reasonable or good level, you will find it easy to access services and build friendships in Norway, especially in the cities.
However, if you want to be employed in a good job you will normally be expected to have a basic grasp of Norwegian. There are some exceptions; the oil industry employs enough English speakers that you could get by with that alone if you have the specific skills that are in demand. Some people get good enough contacts with local English speaking residents that they are able to get their small businesses off the ground.
English is commonly spoken in Norway, and Norwegians are generally well educated. Therefore you will find it difficult to find work teaching English unless you have strong qualifications - usually a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate as a minimum - and at least two years teaching experience. You should ideally secure a job before arriving in Norway; September to January would be the peak recruiting season. Telephone and Skype interviews are possible though many schools will prefer a face to face meeting. Language schools are the best starting point, followed by International schools. You can try programmes such as TeachAway to find placements. You may find you receive your airfare and initial accommodation in addition to a wage if you are a sought after candidate. Private health insurance will vary between schools.
Most job adverts are only in Norwegian which signifies the importance of the native language in those workplaces.
If you are trying to learn Norwegian it can be difficult to get enough practise as many people around you will find it easier to speak to you in English. This is a real catch-22, especially as you may be finding it a difficult language to learn in the first place. Language training and classes through such organisations as AAC Global ,http://www.aacglobal.com/ and Berlitz http://www.berlitz.no/en/ may help get you enough confidence to tackle Norwegian conversations.
Most films and TV programmes made in the US or UK are screened in their original English without dubbing. Material specifically aimed at children is the only notable exception.
Nearly all British TV services are limited to the UK and Eire, so you cannot, for example, legally subscribe to Sky whilst living in Norway. Online catch-up services try to avoid access abroad by monitoring IP addresses.
Virtual Private Network services, such as the subscription service PureVPN which launched in 2006, tunnel network traffic as though it is coming from a different country. This allows streaming of UK television to your location in Norway for example. The data is encrypted to allow browsing in safety even if you are using insecure wifi points, enhancing your online privacy. A good VPN will have hundreds of servers across a number of countries, and a responsive customer services support department.
Popular shows in the UK and US are likely to appear in Norway at some point, and BBC Worldwide channels offer some access to its programming for an international audience.
Netflix operates a subscription service in Norway, offering a schedule of Scandinavian shows in addition to popular US and UK productions.
American TV programmes can also be watched in Norway by subscribing to HBO Nordic.
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