Learn Norwegian together

Start your own language conversation group


Photo: Amelia Johnson
Erik Brakstad enjoys a musical moment with his students in their Portland, Ore., language meetup. From left to right: Erik Brakstad, Bella Unni Allen, Mary Maria Klockeman, and Ove Sundberg.

Laila Simon

Have you ever thought about learning a new language but thought it may be difficult to do alone?

Conversation groups are a common way to gather language learners of all levels and help each other practice speaking. These meetups simulate what real-life conversations would be like in your new language.

I spoke to Erik Brakstad, who is the current lead of the Norwegian conversation group in Portland, Ore. He shared the reasons behind why they gather and how a conversation group can be a great way to learn language in community.

Laila Simon: How did you become involved with the Portland Norwegian conversation group?

Erik Brakstad: There was a group here in Portland that met at the Sons of Norway lodge. It was going for quite a while before I gave it a go. I was impressed by its gjestfrihet (hospitality) and the interesting range of characters that regularly showed up. The group moved online during the pandemic, and is still going strong, having gone national and international! This fall I wanted to reboot in-person meetups.

LS: What kind of events and meetups does the group host?

EB: We meet twice a month for an hour and a half in the evenings. One of those times is at Sons of Norway’s Grieg Lodge, and the other is at Nordic Northwest’s Nordia House.

LS: How many members does your group have? How is your group growing?

EB: Our numbers are growing steadily—last month at Nordia House we had 15. People are coming out of the woodwork. Many seem to have taken up learning Norwegian online during the pandemic and are excited to find out they’re not alone. The people showing up are not just “the usual suspects” (third- or fourth-generation Norwegians and Sons of Norway members). They are people of varied backgrounds (not necessarily Norwegian) who have their own unique reasons for wanting to learn the language.

LS: Why should someone join or create a conversation group in their language?

EB: It’s fun! It can be an opportunity to share one’s interest in a language you can’t find just anywhere.

LS: What would you say to someone who is nervous about speaking in front of others?

EB: This is an opportunity to hear real live humans engage and interact in Norwegian. We try to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere where people can choose their level of engagement—it is okay to just listen!

LS: Can you speak a bit about your connection to the Concordia Language Villages?

EB: After a year at folkehøyskole, I worked as a counselor at Skogfjorden for the first time in 1984—it blew my mind! I was so impressed by the positive and comprehensive learning environment and the way that language and cultural learning can be done in such a fun, affirming and effective way. I’ve been involved with Concordia Language Villages and Skogfjorden in various capacities since—including sending my kids there—and it still blows my mind. Recently, I took on directing Skog­fjorden for adults, the twice yearly program in Bemidji, Minn., where people 18 and older, of all learning levels, can dive in and learn Norwegian.

This year, the Skogfjorden adult weekends took place in April. When Erik is not at camp or hosting conversation groups, he works as a general contractor in Portland. He likes the casual teaching style of language in the group format.

“I’m liking this challenge of drop in, informal learning… seeing what people want, and seeing where the group goes,”  Brakstad said.

As far as starting or joining a Norwegian conversation group, it has never been easier in the era of Zoom, if you are willing to go online. Otherwise, checking with your local community centers or museums is a great place to start.

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Laila Simon

Laila Simon is a writer in Minneapolis. She is a dual citizen of Norway and the United States and has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2017. When she’s not attempting ambitious recipes, Laila translates Norwegian poetry and adds to her houseplant collection.