Lifelong language learning
Ed Egerdahl teaches Norwegian language classes with fun and relevance at the Scandinavian Language Institute in Seattle, Wash.
By Christy Olsen Field
Ed Egerdahl is the founder of the Scandinavian Language Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to vitalizing the rich Scandinavian heritage of the Pacific Northwest through language and cultural experience. The Scandinavian Language Institute celebrated 30 years of language instruction in 2011.
Egerdahl’s Norwegian roots are deep, though he wasn’t exposed to the language until his late teens. His father emigrated as a young child with his parents and four siblings from Hamarøy in northern Norway to Seattle, Wash. As the youngest child, his father was the only one who had not yet started school, and Norwegian was no longer used in the home. Egerdahl did not grow up around the language, but he spent two summers as a teenager immersed in the language and culture in Hamarøy.
Egerdahl has shown an affinity for language at an early age, as well as music. He was recognized for his abilities in Latin in high school, and went to pursue a degree in math at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.
While Egerdahl was in college, the Norwegian program at Ballard High School in Seattle, was bursting at the seams. He was recommended to take over one class so the main teacher could have a planning period, and Egerdahl secured the necessary go-ahead from the Seattle School District. He was just 20 years old.
His experience at Ballard High School changed his life trajectory: Egerdahl realized he really enjoyed teaching, and changed his major from math to Norwegian. He petitioned the College of Education to earn a teaching certification, but he was turned down. When the department chair heard this, he went to the College of Education and got them to accept Egerdahl into the program.
“Language is a funny combination of music and math,” said Egerdahl. “You need a musical ear and the structure of math.”
Egerdahl’s classes grew in popularity by word of mouth. He was asked to teach Norwegian through Seattle Pacific University’s extension program, starting with one class.
He soon was teaching six classes a week, and quit his day job to form the Scandinavian Language Institute in 1981, a non-profit organization that offered daytime and evening language classes in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic.
Egerdahl’s approach to learning language was different, and his students responded well to that.
“In the very old days, you had to go to Norway to learn Norwegian. A generation later you could get together with an immigrant native speaker and learn from them,” said Egerdahl. “I didn’t have the native ‘credentials’ but I could hang my hat on the fact that I myself had studied and learned the Norwegian language. I was the next generation.”
Egerdahl increased his offerings to 14 classes per week in four locations based on a quarter system. All together, he has taught more than 12,000 individual class sessions.
“I’m the Cal Ripken, Jr. of Norwegian class!” Egerdahl laughed.
Egerdahl has developed his own text material for the courses, putting emphasis on cultural concepts and pronunciation. Four levels allow students to pick their comfort level, from beginner and “Know-A-Little,” to intermediate and advanced conversation level. He often draws inspiration from Norwegian news, emails and Facebook messages from relatives, or other uses of Norwegian that goes beyond any textbook.
“Norwegians are more than the language they speak,” said Egerdahl. “When learning a language, people need to also learn about history, regional differences, current events… it needs to be culturally pertinent and entertaining at the same time.”
Perhaps Egerdahl’s approach to language is what makes him successful in his calling.
“I am a career-long learner of the Norwegian language, and in the classroom, I feel more like the host than the teacher.”
To learn more about the Scandinavian Language Institute, visit www.sliseattle.com, call (425) 771-5203 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.