Book review: Beginner’s Norwegian by Laura Ziukaite-Hansen
Anyone wanting to learn Norwegian probably has a really good reason to do so—mostly involved with family and ancestry—because since most Norwegians are quite fluent in English, traveling in Norway is easy enough without learning Norwegian. If you’d like to go a step further, however, and participate more fully in the rich, cultural experience, or understand your genealogical research documents, you will thoroughly enjoy Ziukaite-Hansen’s clear, entertaining, and informative guide to the language, along with the two accompanying CDs.
The chapters are easy to follow: a lively Norwegian conversation, followed by the English translation, followed by footnotes, a lively in-depth examination of two or three new phrases, followed by the grammar explanations, the vocabulary, expressions (idiomatic), and the exercises, which are fill-in-the-blank and really test the knowledge imparted earlier. One of the bonuses of the author’s explanations are the insights into the language toward the end of each chapter, labeled as “Merk/Note,” which give the eager student more information about the culture and how to actually use the expressions in language that were presented in the conversation.
The accompanying CDs are well-done; the first conversation in Norwegian is at natural pace, and then, a sentence-by-sentence repeat of the conversation follows, giving the listener ample time to repeat the Norwegian sentence. The voices are young and energetic, imparting enthusiasm for whatever subject they are discussing. Dry, they are not! Cultural facts, history, and tips on how to study Norwegian are appended at the end of the book.
Any hopeful student of Norwegian would do well to study this book and will enjoy its insights into the culture and language. Genealogists will appreciate knowing the nuances of pronunciation that may have morphed ancestors’ names and birthplaces into Anglicized versions that bear little resemblance to the original spelling. Travelers to Norway will appreciate their studies using this book when they land in Oslo or Trondheim. Ziukaite-Hansen’s work has stood me in good stead in visits to Norway—we got the senior discount on the flybuss from the airport in Trondheim because of my Norwegian, and we got smiles and ready assent when we told servers in restaurants to split our dinners. Norwegians are always happy to have you try to speak their language, because it is unusual for tourists to be able to do so.
Additionally, the insights into Norwegian character learned by studying Norwegian are a delight. Language acquisition is hardwired into our brains, and those ancestral genes are strong. Thus, I now understand why my husband of Norsk ancestry merely points to the salt, instead of asking politely for it. There is no word for “please” in Norwegian (“Would you be so kind,” or “I would gladly have”)—but many ways to say “thank you”!
Author of 30 traditionally-published books for young readers and fumbling speaker of five languages, Margo Sorenson has won recognition and awards for her books, including being named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. Two of her books take place in North Dakota and use Norwegian phrases: Nothing Is for Free and Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue. Visit her at www.margosorenson.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.