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Learn Norwegian

Norway: it’s the land of jaw-dropping natural landscapes, wild polar bears, some of the happiest people on Earth – and, of course, the Norwegian language.

Learning Norwegian, or Norsk, will make it easier to travel and work across the country, and it will also let you read untranslated Nordic noir, watch Nordic TV shows like Skam, and make new friends.

Read on and learn Norwegian by yourself. Explore the language, grammar, vocabulary, resources, study tips, and answers to learning FAQs here.

So, let’s take a look at how to learn Norwegian. We’ll explore the Norwegian language a bit, a few learning tips, and additional Norwegian resources that you should be using. And we’ll also tell you why Norwegian is one of the easiest languages you could learn, as well as explain the difference between Bokmål and Nynorsk (and which one you should learn!).

About the Norwegian Language

Over 5 million people speak Norwegian, although it’s not the only language you’ll hear when traveling through this Scandinavian country. The Sámi languages share co-official status, while minority groups also speak Kven Finnish, Romani, and Scandoromani.

Plus, over 16% of the population is classed as a first- or second-generation immigrant. Don’t be surprised if you overhear Polish, Turkish, or Syrian while wandering through Oslo’s streets.

It’s true, however, that most of the country’s population speaks Norwegian as a first language. Yet Norwegian isn’t as homogenous as you might expect: there are multiple dialects and two official written forms. One of your earliest language-learning decisions might be which type of Norwegian you want to learn.

The Norwegian language’s diversity is all due to Denmark – or, more specifically, Margaret I, the 14th-century queen who united most of Scandinavia so that it could better protect itself against other European powers.

Like most historic female rulers, she came to power through family and marriage. Her father, the King of Denmark, married her to King Haakon VI of Norway. As her father’s youngest daughter, being a king’s wife was likely considered the most powerful position she would ever hold.

Margaret, however, had ambition. After her father’s death, she installed her four-year-old son Olaf as King of Denmark – even though he didn’t have the strongest claim to the throne – and ruled in his stead as regent.

When Margaret’s husband Haakon VI died, Olaf became the king of both Norway and Denmark. He died shortly afterwards, and Margaret made herself the Queen and ruler of the two countries. And a few years later, she invaded Sweden – at the invitation of the Swedish nobility, mind you.

That’s how she came to name herself Queen Margaret I of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden – a territory that also included Finland, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and parts of what is today considered the British Isles.

Of course, it was the 14th century: women were only supposed to rule on a man’s behalf.

So Margaret brought the Scandinavian nations together in the Kalmar Union, crowned her great-nephew Erik of Pomerania as king of all three states, and then made herself regent again.

Technically, none of the countries gave up their autonomy by joining the Kalmar Union. Yet Denmark is often considered to have been the most powerful player.

Denmark and Norway did not part ways until 1814. Norway’s central government moved to Copenhagen in the 1400s, and the Norwegian written language eventually died out. The nobles preferred to write in Danish, the language of power.

Even in conversation, a Dano-Norwegian koiné language became the norm. While this language had some Norwegian elements, they were limited: it is often described as “Danish spoken with a Norwegian accent.”

In the mid-nineteenth century, a search for an official Norwegian language led to the development of Nynorsk or “new Norwegian,” a written form designed to replace Danish.

But while all Norwegians learn Nynorsk, it’s less used than the Bokmål writing system, which is based on the Dano-Norwegian koiné and developed in the early 20th century. Most language learners study Bokmål unless they know they’re planning to spend time in a place where Nynorsk is widely used, or they want a government job that requires knowledge of both forms.

As for spoken Norwegian, it has at least 15 dialects. While the Oslo dialect is often taught in schools and considered the closest thing to a standard spoken Norwegian, there are eastern and western dialects, as well as urban and rural ones. The Bergen dialect, for example, is strikingly different from the Oslo one – not least because it only has two grammatical genders while most Norwegian dialects have three.

Thanks to the close relationship between Nordic countries, Norwegian speakers typically find Danish and Swedish easy to understand. In fact, some people might argue that certain dialects have more in common with Swedish than Bergen Norwegian.

Don’t despair, though: all Norwegian dialects are mutually intelligible, and it won’t take you too long to start understanding people from other regions. It just requires a little exposure.

How to Learn Norwegian

While Norwegian has a reputation as a relatively easy language to pick up, you’ll find it easier if you have a study plan and good resources.

Before you jump in, take the time to work out what you want to do in Norwegian. Do you want to live in Norway? Listen to Norwegian music? Speak to Norwegian friends online? No matter what your goal is, you should take that into account when creating your study plan.

For example, if you want to work for a Norwegian company, you’ll probably want to learn industry-specific jargon and both the Norwegian writing systems: Bokmål and Nynorsk. But if you just want to listen to Norwegian music or visit the fjords, then you’ll likely be okay just learning Bokmål and skipping the business talk.

Once you’ve identified the skills and types of vocabulary you’ll need, create your study plan. A balanced one will include reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, although the balance should vary according to your level as well as your goals.

Remember to practice output (speaking and writing) and not just input (listening and reading). This is particularly important if you’re in an area without many Norwegian speakers. Check out some of our language exchange and pronunciation resources and consider keeping a journal. Not only will it get you used to building sentences, but it will also improve your word recall.

Given that the Norwegian pronunciation and pitch accent can be tricky, you might want to spend time on this early on. Learning the rules will help you memorize new words quicker and also avoid potential miscommunications.

Regardless of what you want to work on, don’t get too ambitious: it’s better to take on something manageable and study most days than to overwork yourself and end up losing motivation. Be honest with yourself about how much free time you have and remember that you also need to relax and see friends and family.

Make sure to celebrate your achievements, too. Learning a language takes time and hard work, and sometimes progress can feel invisible. But if you return to things you wrote or read a few months ago, you’ll see the difference.

And don’t forget: det spiller ingen rolle hvor sakte du går så lenge du ikke stopper. It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you don’t stop.

How Hard is it to Learn Norwegian?

If you ask the US Foreign Services Institute, Norwegian is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. They say that it takes an average of 600 classroom hours, or 25 hours a week for 24 weeks, to achieve professional working proficiency.

That’s the same amount of time as they estimate it would take to learn Spanish or Portuguese, and significantly quicker than you could pick up French or German, let alone Chinese or Arabic.

Of course, context matters. The more opportunities you have to practice a language, the quicker you learn it – and unlike some languages, Norwegian is rarely spoken outside of Norway. But fortunately, it’s not that hard to find good resources online (more on that to come!).

Let’s start by looking at the more challenging aspects of this language. Most of its dialects have three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neutral. If you were to talk about “the boy in the house” (gutten i huset) both the boy and the house would be gendered masculine. However, in certain dialects, and sometimes in written Norwegian, there is no feminine gender.

Norwegian has something called pitch accent. This means that you can have two similarly pronounced words, and if you use the wrong pitch, speakers won’t know which word you’re using (unless the context makes it clear). While that might sound tricky, it’s relatively easy to understand once you’ve studied it a little.

You’ll probably want to spend time drilling pronunciation, especially because there are three new vowels to learn: æ, ø, and å. However, pronunciation rules tend to be more consistent than in English.

And don’t let all this put you off – Norwegian gets much easier once you’ve got a grip on the pronunciation and gender.

Norwegian sentence structure will seem similar. It’s arguably closer to English than German is. And while there are irregular verbs, they are surprisingly consistent.

In fact, Norwegian verb conjugation is generally much easier than in English or Spanish. You don’t need to conjugate based on the subject. While in English, “to be” might become “I am,” “they are,” and “she is,” in Norwegian, you can just say “er”: jeg er (I am), de er (they are), and hun er (she is).

English speakers will also notice a lot of similar vocabulary, from hatte (hat) to over (literally, over). Plus, with plenty of compound words, you might find yourself understanding some Norwegian words the first time you see or hear them.

The truth is that English and Norwegian have a lot in common – so much so that researchers at the University of Oslo argued in 2012 that English isn’t a West Germanic language, but rather, a Scandinavian one.

And if you’re familiar with Scottish English, you’ll likely come across even more similarities.

All languages require hard work and can at times be confusing. But Norwegian is definitely a more accessible language for English speakers.

What’s the Best Way to Learn Norwegian? 

If you are able to do so, travel to Norway to immerse yourself in the language and culture. Being surrounded by native speakers and authentic media can accelerate your learning and provide authentic experiences.

However, if this is not possible then you can make use of language-learning apps like Duolingo, Babbel, or Memrise. These apps offer interactive lessons, quizzes, and vocabulary-building exercises to make learning engaging.

What’s the Easiest Way to Learn Norwegian?

 Norwegian literature is a good place to start when wanting to learn the language. Begin with children’s books or simple texts written for beginners. These materials often use straightforward language and can help you grasp basic vocabulary and sentence structures.

Meanwhile, adult literature in Norway is characterized by a ‘toned down’ feeling compared to other European literature and contains straightforward, easy-to-read sentences with very little humour or metaphor. This makes them very accessible to learners with little understanding of Norwegian culture. Some of the most well-known Norwegian writers include Karl Ove Knausgård, Dag Solstad, and Jon Fosse.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Norwegian?

Norwegian is considered among the more accessible languages for English speakers to attain proficiency, according to FSI’s observations in language learning. This is due to English and Norwegian belonging to the same language family.  

Typically, achieving proficiency may take up to 24 weeks (around 600-750 class hours). This is very similar to the time it takes to learn its Nordic counterparts, Swedish and Danish, as well as Romance languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian. 

How to Learn Norwegian Fast

Consistency is the most important factor when it comes to learning a language quickly. Make sure you define specific, achievable goals for your Norwegian learning journey. Having clear objectives will help you stay focused and motivated, and the more you study the more you’ll find yourself wanting to study.

With this in mind, you should also dedicate focused and intensive study sessions to learning Norwegian. Short, frequent sessions with minimal distractions can be more effective than sporadic, longer sessions.

How to Speak Norwegian?

Speaking Norwegian involves a combination of learning vocabulary, understanding grammar, and practicing pronunciation. It’s very important to pay attention to sounds that may be different from those in your native language because those can be the most difficult to master. To do this, regularly practice speaking Norwegian aloud, even if you’re practicing on your own. You might even choose to record yourself speaking in Norwegian and listen to the recordings. This can help you identify areas for improvement and track your progress.

If you struggle to come up with things to say, read Norwegian texts out loud, whether it’s a book, an article, or a passage from a language-learning resource. This helps reinforce your speaking skills and pronunciation without having to worry about the content of what you’re saying.

Additional Norwegian Learning Resources

You could always add a few more Norwegian language resources to your study plan. Norwegian textbooks, literature, music, news, or Television are all resources that could be beneficial as supplements to your main learning resources.

Norwegian Textbooks and Reference Books

Textbooks can give your studies structure and help you master complex grammar points, but there can be big differences in their style and pedagogical method. Plus, some might be easier to find if you’re already in Norway.

The two-part Mystery of Nils is loved by language learners for how fun it makes learning Norwegian. You can access free exercises, pronunciation videos, and more from the official website.

Ny I Norge and Bo I Norge are also popular. They’re designed to be studied one after the other, but make sure you get the latest edition.

Norsk for Utlendinger is quite a dated series and hard to get your hands on. The På Vei series, meanwhile, was released in 2012. Praktisk Norsk is designed to help you prepare for Norwegian exams.

The Sett i Gang series, in contrast, is up to date but can be challenging for complete beginners as it has very little English-language text. You’ll also want to go to the publisher’s website for the audio files, as well as some flashcards and exercises.

Colloquial Norwegian can be a bit challenging for complete beginners, but it is easy to buy even outside of Norway. You can also get the audio files for free from the Routledge website.

Norwegian Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Book is designed for upper beginners through to upper intermediates who feel that their Norwegian knowledge is missing a good grammatical foundation. Norwegian Verbs and Essentials of Grammar is a good alternative.

Or, if you feel confident studying in Norwegian, you could drill grammar with Norsk grammatikk enkelt forklart and Grammatikk-tabeller (bokmål).

Norwegian Fiction Books

Reading Norwegian fiction will expand your vocabulary and make studying feel like a hobby. And thanks to texts written for language learners, you don’t need too much Norwegian knowledge to get started.

Short Stories in Norwegian is geared at upper beginners and lower intermediates. Meanwhile, Naiv. Super. is a touching read that’s often compared to The Catcher in the Rye.

You could also try LingQ. It allows you to read and watch videos and look up new vocabulary without exiting the platform. You can upload your own texts, too. We found that the word review functions were poorly organized, but when used just as a reading app, it might help you get through that book you’ve been struggling with.

Nordic noir, anyone? This moody crime genre has won fans around the world. Bear in mind, however, that asking for Nordic noir could result in bemused looks in Norway, where it’s just called “crime fiction.”

You might like to begin with Jo Nesbø, who dreamed up the character Harry Hole. If you want to read his work chronologically, read Flaggermusmannen first. Or if reading fiction from the ‘90s is off-putting, try Tørst or Kniv, published in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

Anne Holt is Norway’s best-selling female crime writer. Her most recent title is I støv og aske, while 1222 is popular among readers. And Karin Fossum, known as the Norwegian Queen of Crime, is a prolific author. Try Hviskeren.

Of course, there’s much more to Norwegian literature than crime fiction. Kjell Askildsen is a much-loved short story writer, while the Camilla Collett is widely considered Norway’s first feminist writer as well as a pioneer of social realism. Her only novel is Amtmandens Døtre.

Ready to think and feel? Halvbroren by Lars Saabye Christensen is a hard-hitting book that tells the story of a boy conceived through rape. Linn Ulmman’s semi-autobiographical De urolige divides readers. But if you don’t mind a challenge and like character-focused books, it might be a good choice for you.

Music, News Sites, and Other Norwegian Resources

Want to improve your vocabulary while staying up to date on Norwegian and international current affairs? Try reading the news. You could begin with Klar Tale, which purposefully uses simple Norwegian.

If you’re ready for something a little more challenging, Dagbladet is still fairly accessible, while Aftenposten is one of the country’s most-read papers.

The Nrk Ekko radio station features lots of talk shows. If you don’t like it, give Radio Norge a go. Surprised by some of the dialects? Familiarize yourself with them by listening to the audio files here.

Norway also has a thriving music industry, and there’s nothing like a catchy song for getting phrases stuck in your head. Use them with caution, though! Just because something’s in a song doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for everyday use. To find artists you like, try sampling a few playlists, such as this one, this one, and this.

With all this Norwegian immersion, you’re bound to come across new vocabulary. Look words up in the online dictionaries Ordnett and Oslomett, and double-check their pronunciation with Forvo.

Learning Norwegian, whether it’s because you love Skam or you’re moving to Oslo, is a rewarding experience. You’ll feel pride and satisfaction with every new accomplishment, whether it’s remembering the words on your flashcards or speaking confidently in a conversation.

So, don’t put it off: try out some of these resources, start creating your study plan, and get ready to speak Norwegian.

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