Norway: one country, many languages

A colorful paper parrot.

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
Perhaps this fargerik bird speaks multiple languages!

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

World Children’s Day, or Barnas Verdensdag, is celebrated every year in Norway. Many places host free celebrations for children and their families with music, art, stories, dance, and food from many different countries. The city of Levanger had its celebration on Saturday, September 30, at the Nord University campus. The theme this year was Fargerik (colorful).

The class of international students from Nord University decided to try telling some familiar fairy tales in many different languages… all at the same time! Think about hearing the story of Cinderella and Cinderella speaks Czech, the stepmother speaks Norwegian, the stepsisters speak German, the prince speaks Russian, and the fairy godmother speaks Spanish! Since it is a fairy tale you all know, you understand the story by the actions, even if you don’t understand the language.

An illustration of Cinderella.

Illustration: Obeliskgirljohanny / Deviant Art
We all know the story, so the language it’s told in barely matters.

That is another kind of language, body language. Have you ever been to a restaurant and watched someone at another table? You know how they are feeling because of the way they are acting. We use body language when we play charades, acting out different words so others can guess what we are trying to say.

Do you have anyone in your class at school, in your neighborhood, or even in your family that speaks another language? The language that you learned first is called your mother tongue, or your morsmål in Norwegian. Sometimes we have people in our family that speak a different language, and you might learn two languages at the same time. Maybe you learned a different language as you got older, like I did when I moved to Norway. That means you are bilingual or tospråklig. If you can speak more than two languages, as many immigrant children can, you are multilingual or flerespråklig.

A poster of people forming the letters of the alphabet.

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
This isn’t what’s typically meant by “body language,” but it’s a funny take on it. Each letter has a rhyming description, such as “From the Head to the Feet, He’s an F quite complete,” and “Pray look at me, in the form of a P.”

Maybe you even like to make up your own language. My sister and I used to do that. I remember when I was little, and we visited my grandmother’s small town in Iowa, we would walk around speaking our own made-up language, hoping people would think we were from another country, even though everyone knew who we were…

Some of the words we use in English come from other languages, including Norwegian! These are called loan words or borrowed words. Some of those words are sick (syk), ugly (uggligr), Viking (vikingr), wing (vængr), skin (skinn), and clip (klippa). Some words are exactly the same, like egg, or almost the same like hat and hatt. These are called transparent words because you can “see through them” like a window and know what they mean without trying very hard.

Just for Fun:
The cover of "Frindle."

Tell a fairy tale in another language! There are many versions of fairy tales like Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Little Red Riding Hood. Can you find someone who can speak another language and see if they can tell you the story? You already know what is going to happen, so you can follow along even if you don’t understand everything that they are saying.

Make up your own words. If you were going to make up a new language, what would you call a plate, a chair, a book, or an apple? Try making up new words for ordinary things you can find in your home.

There is a fun book about a boy who makes up a new word for pen, and soon so many people are using it that it ends up in the dictionary. The novel is called Frindle, and is by Andrew Clements (www.andrewclements.com/books-frindle.html).


This article is a part of Barneblad, a monthly feature by Heidi Håvan Grosch to share with kids and grandkids.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 20, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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