Language: the key that opens doors

Photo: Erica “Ann” Parsons With a large Norwegian ancestry, I thought it was important someone in my family spoke the language of our roots.

Photo: Erica “Ann” Parsons
With a large Norwegian ancestry, I thought it was important someone in my family spoke the language of our roots.

Ross “Odin” Dybvig
Bemidji, Minn.

When I tell people that I can speak Norwegian, often I get responses like: “Why would you learn that language,” or “What good will that do you in today’s world?” While it may be true that the Norwegian language isn’t as widespread as many other languages, in today’s world, it can in fact be quite useful and open many doors. Let me explain.

Norway has been in the news recently. Businessman George Tsunis, President Obama’s nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, was defeated in his attempt to be our nation’s representative to our Nordic ally following a disastrous hearing and an outpouring of pressure from an otherwise mild-mannered Norwegian-American community. With the plummeting oil prices around the world, Norway, a leading oil producer, has taken center stage as it seeks to absorb the economic impact of such a decline. Disney’s Frozen, an animated film based on a Scandinavian folk tale, used Norwegian landscape, cities, and names to become the most popular animated film of all time.

So what do these stories all mean and what do they have to do with learning the Norwegian language? These events and more show that Norway is not a forgotten country in the frozen north, but rather a substantial player in an increasingly globalized world. Knowing the language of a country that is the fifth-largest oil exporter and third-largest gas exporter might be good for someone going into the energy industry or trade business, don’t you think? When a candidate to be one of our next ambassadors is up for nomination, wouldn’t it be important to know what that country, via its newspapers and media websites, thought about that person’s nomination? When companies like Disney want to make a film or reference to Norway, do you think it is important that they have correct pronunciation and context?

Photo: Ross “Odin” Dybvig At Skogfjorden, the staff always find the fun in teaching Norwegian to the next generation.

Photo: Ross “Odin” Dybvig
At Skogfjorden, the staff always find the fun in teaching Norwegian to the next generation.

Bottom line: learning the Norwegian language is important. Not only to preserve or revive one’s heritage, but also to be that informed global citizen. When I lived abroad in Lillehammer, Norway, during 2007, it wasn’t my one year of high school Spanish that made the locals open up to me and show me all the cool things not in a google search or on a tourist map, it was my seven years as a villager at Skogfjorden, Concordia’s Norwegian Language Village in Bemidji, Minn. Now every time I go to Norway, that language experience not only allows me to communicate, but also demonstrates a level of respect, learning, and understanding that we, the United States, are not alone in this world. What doors will language open for you?

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 23, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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