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How to Learn Norwegian: A Straightforward Guide

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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.

So, let’s take a look at how to learn Norwegian. We’ll explore the different Norwegian language courses, apps, textbooks, podcasts, YouTube channels, and more 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 explaining 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 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.

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How Difficult Is 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.

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.

Resources for Learning Norwegian

You won’t struggle to find Norwegian language-learning resources. In fact, your biggest difficulty might be choosing between them. From podcasts to textbooks and apps to easy-to-read news sites, we’ve listed all the resources we’ve found along with our experiences of them.

Norwegian Classes and Language Exchanges

Looking for a Norwegian language tutor to support you as you work through a textbook, lead guided conversations, and let you know what errors you’re making?

italki has several tutors for you to pick from, all of which offer different lesson packages, set their own prices, and have public reviews. You can also use italki to find a language exchange partner, get corrections from the community on your writing, and ask questions in the forum. Check out our review to find out our experiences with it.

Alternatively, you could try Verbling. In our experience, it’s slightly more expensive and has fewer teachers to choose from, but we like the payment processing options.

We’re also a fan of HiNative, where you can ask native speakers questions about all the things that your textbook or language course doesn’t cover.

There are numerous platforms for finding language exchange partners, but HelloTalk, Speaky, and Tandem are some of the most popular. You can download the apps and chat with language-learners around the world. Bear in mind that you might be expected to also talk with them in your native language. Take a look at our reviews (HelloTalk, Speaky, Tandem) to find out more.

You can also try joining online Norwegian-language forums such as Diskusjon.no to talk with native speakers online. The good news is that forum members are unlikely to want to speak to you in English. On the other hand, you might find that it’s less beginner friendly.

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Online and App-Based Norwegian Language Courses

Mango Languages will take you from complete beginner/A1 through to intermediate/B1. We like the focus on pronunciation as well as the cultural notes, although you’ll probably want to supplement it with resources for reading and writing. It does have some reading tasks and quizzes, but the focus is on speaking and listening.

We found that Babbel’s courses are easy to use and focused on practical phrases, although we struggled with some of the pronunciation drills. One of the All Language Resources team achieved fluency in Italian through it.

Duolingo teaches you vocabulary and sentence structure. Many Duolingo fans consider the Norwegian course to be one of the platform’s best, thanks to its extensiveness, supportive community, and humorous example sentences. Here’s what two All Language Resources’ reviewers thought of it.

FutureLearn has a range of free beginner-level courses from the University of Oslo and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Each one is designed to last around four weeks and should take you 5–6 hours a week, but you need to enroll and complete them at set dates.

LearnNoW is another free online course from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. It has 12 chapters, and unlike FutureLearn, you can use it any time.

Gramatikk has downloadable PDF grammar breakdowns and drills. It’s run by Kjell Heggvold Ullestad, a co-author of LearnNoW.

Meanwhile, Memrise has seven official courses and numerous community-made ones. You’ll find courses on vocabulary for specific textbooks, grammar points, basic Norwegian, and even thematic ones. The unofficial courses will vary in quality, but you can read about our experience with the official ones here.

Mondly is another Duolingo-esque course that you can do from your computer or on your smartphone. While it’s not a bad course, we didn’t think it stood out for its quality. Other courses impressed us more.

Glossika will help you improve your speaking and listening skills, although we were disappointed by its one-size-fits-all-languages approach and the many errors.

Instant Immersion pitches itself as a cheaper version of Rosetta Stone. It’s still quite expensive, though, and we haven’t been able to try it out. If you’re curious, it offers a 90-day money-back guarantee.

Norwegian Language Courses to Avoid

17 Minute Languages sounds promising, but we found that it was full of errors and lacked explanations. The only thing we liked was the native audio.

Transparent Language isn’t much better, in our experience. It’s repetitive, poorly structured, and won’t leave you able to create sentences or participate in a conversation.

As for Cudoo, it doesn’t deliver all the material that it promises on the sales page, lacks practice opportunities, and doesn’t provide any explanations.

Audio Courses for Learning Norwegian

More of an audio learner? NorwegianClass101 has an impressive array of videos and audio clips for you to listen to. If you pay for the premium plan, you’ll get access to additional features – although we weren’t convinced by all of them. Still, we believe NorwegianClass101 offers good value as part of a more balanced study plan.

Pimsleur focuses on getting you speaking, and we were pleasantly surprised by some of the extra features on the app. That being said, we think a bit more grammar would be useful at higher levels.

The Michel Thomas Method has a Norwegian audio course taught by Angela Shury-Smith. It focuses on teaching you the language’s common structures and connectors so that you can quickly build your own sentences rather than repeating memorized phrases.

Assimil also has some Norwegian courses. Bear in mind that the Assimil method means that you’re not expected to start forming sentences until lesson 50.

Teach Yourself Norwegian Conversation is praised for its good structure and its practical, basic language.

You’ll also find some audio courses if you search for podcasts. The short and accessible One Minute Norwegian series, for example, is designed to teach you the very basics. At 10 to 25 minutes per audio clip, Norskpodden is a more in-depth option. And Practice Norwegian has a variety of episodes dedicated to “basic grammar” and “advanced reading.”

Norwegian Word Lists and Vocabulary Games

While you should learn vocabulary in any course, sometimes you’ll find you just don’t know as many words as you need to speak with precision or that you need better ways of drilling new words. This is especially likely if your hobbies and interests aren’t covered in the syllabus.

Drops is a game-based app with an impressively large range of vocabulary for you to study. It has some small flaws: sometimes the pictures can be hard to tell apart, for example. However, it’s an entertaining and easy way to discover and memorize new words.

The fill-in-the-gaps web app Clozemaster will help you practice word recall. It comes with a free and paid-for version; you can find our thoughts on the differences here. In our experience, it’s a great supplementary tool for upper beginners and intermediate language learners.

Just going for a short trip? You might like uTalk, which will introduce you to set words and phrases and then get you to memorize them through playing games. Here’s our experience with it.

This expansive Norwegian verb list includes English translations and some of the most common conjugations for each word.

Loecsen has 17 different word lists you can print out. If you use the web version, though, you can also listen to the audio clip and record yourself speaking.

Want to access more flashcards and word lists, or even create your own? Try Anki. It will let you create multiple flashcard decks, as well as use someone else’s. For example, this deck has over 2,000 flashcards. What’s great about Anki is that it adapts to how difficult you find the phrases, plus it’s easy to edit the flashcards.

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 a quite 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).

Podcasts for Learning Norwegian

Podcasts are great for improving your listening as well as picking up new vocabulary. Bear in mind that any podcasts designed to teach you the language will be under the Audio Courses section, so scroll up to find them.

The Klar Tale podcast covers the news in easy-to-understand Norwegian, making it a popular choice among language learners.

NUPI Podcast covers news in both Norwegian and English, so it’s easier for you to double check what they’re talking about.

Relax with Slow Norwegian will calm you down as well as helping you practice your listening. Many of the episodes are readings of fairy tales.

SBS Norwegian hasn’t been updated for three years, and given that it’s focused on public affairs, this means that some of the episodes seem dated. However, there’s a large collection to choose from and some of them are still relevant.

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 try LingQ as well. It allows you to read and watch videos and look up new vocabulary without exiting the platform. You can also upload your own texts. 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.

Norwegian YouTube and TV

Looking for Norwegian classes on YouTube? You’ve got several to choose from. We recommend trying Norwegian Teacher – Karin and Learn Norwegian Naturally. When you’re ready for Norwegian tutorials in Norwegian, you might like Norsklærer Karense.

While infrequently updated, TV 2 Skole Elevkanalen has easy-to-understand news clips. Most of them are 50–58 minutes long.

Try streaming TV online with Dplay. If you’d prefer something shorter, the Dplay Norge YouTube channel has clips from some of their shows.

You can also stream series like the ‘90s sitcom Mot I Brøstet and its spinoff Karl & Co via TV 2 Sumo. You’ll need to subscribe to see all of them.

And of course, we can’t leave out Skam, the much-loved Norwegian TV show that has been remade in multiple locations in Europe and the US. You can view it here and here, although you might struggle to watch it outside of Norway.

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 through 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 one.

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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