How to combat svorsk

Linda’s tips for learning Norwegian and Swedish—at the same time

Norwegian-Swedish border

Photo: Torstein Bøe/NTB
Norwegian and Swedish are mutually intelligible languages, but there are boundaries between the two—and it’s not always easy to keep things straight.

In our June 16 issue, we talked about the challenges of learning and speaking two Scandinavian languages and that strange dialect of svorsk, the self-concocted hybrid pidgin language that is a mixture of Swedish and Norwegian.

Since then, we’ve learned that a number of our readers are learning both Norwegian and Swedish, and one of them, Linda Stromberg of Toronto, Canada, has sent us her list of valuable tips for keeping your Norwegian and Swedish straight.

And as it turns out, with a few modifications, many of Linda’s ideas are excellent tips for learning any foreign language, and we are happy to share them with you.

1. Learn both the same word in Norwegian and Swedish at the same time.

2. Learn the gender of a given noun.  Use the article with the noun. Note that a few words in Swedish that are similar to Norwegian have a different gender than in Norwegian.

3. Learn the word using the correct pronunciation; accents and all. Speak. Write. Keep the three words: English, Norwegian and Swedish side by side in your personal dictionary. Indicate pronunciation as well.

4. Stay at your ability level in conversations. Try to get a personal teacher and engage in conversations that demonstrate good Norwegian and Swedish. Stay in good emotional control, which helps prevents interference.

5. Rehearse the words in context: pictures, sentences, poems, songs, etc.

6. Be careful with words that you pick up quickly. You may be able to recognize these words but may not be able to spell or say them properly later on.  Write them down as soon as possible.

7. Keep two language-specific resources. Pocket dictionaries like Berlitz are what I like, because they produce the exact same word list in each language dictionary. The dictionary includes the gender, pronunciation (if unusual) and irregular verbs. It is on the same page in the Norwegian dictionary as in the Swedish dictionary.)  Seeing the word in context with other words with the same root helps with the learning as well.  I also use the Svensk-norsk blå ordbok (pub. 2006 Kunnskapsforlaget).

8. Use Google Translate to see the Norwegian words opposite the Swedish words.

9. Make lists: false friends, problem words for English speakers (verbs, adverbs and prepositions).

10. List your own known German, Italian, Arabic, or French words that have been imported into Norwegian or Swedish.  

This article originally appeared in the July 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.