Learn Norwegian to learn Norway

The possibilities of language

Eric Stavney
Mukilteo, Wash.

Norwegian language

Photo: boulanger.IE / Flickr
If you learn Norwegian, you may find some of their signs less funny—but there are plenty of benefits to make up for that downside.

You want to learn more about Norwegian culture, its stories and traditions, and how Norwegians think? Learn Norwegian.

According to Kramsch and Widdowson in Language and Culture, “language expresses cultural reality.” Some even argue that language shapes thought. As societal thinking evolves, so does the language of that society in order to express the new thinking.

Knowing the Norwegian language opens up a huge vista of opportunities, like speaking with your Norwegian relatives (I can’t tell you how satisfying that is). You could become a journalist and write for The Norwegian American [editor’s note: You can do this even without speaking Norwegian. Write me at emily@na-weekly.com if interested]. Or a translator, trade officer, interpreter, diplomat, collaborating scientist, or teacher, to name just a few things. Closer to home, it would give you huge credibility in a fraternal organization like the Sons of Norway. The biggest gain for me is in reading Norwegian literature, like Asbjørnsen and Moe’s fairy tales or Jo Nesbø’s novels, in the vernacular.

There are many opportunities to learn Norwegian, beginning with the invaluable resource you’re reading from now. If you haven’t noticed, The Norwegian American offers articles in both Norwegian and English (like Tuss og Troll), features like “Norsk 101” that teach beginning Norwegian words, and—if you want to struggle through an article in Norwegian to see if you understand it—it provides stories from the Norwegian press with a summary so you can see if you were right.

If you want to learn Norwegian in a formal way, you can earn a bachelor’s in Norwegian at a number of colleges and universities. In the Northwest, the University of Washington Scandinavian Studies Department in Seattle offers a Norwegian degree, along with those in other Scandinavian or Baltic languages. Pacific Lutheran University allows you to minor in Norwegian in their Nordic Studies major. Farther down the West Coast, UC-Berkeley and UCLA offer Norwegian degrees.

It’s no surprise that many programs in Norwegian are clustered in the Midwest, including those at Concordia (Moorehead, Minn.), the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis), St. Olav (Northfield, Minn.), the University of Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.), Luther College (Decorah, Iowa), and the University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, N.D.). In Canada, there’s a program at the University of Alberta-Augustana (Camrose, AB).

But if you don’t live near a university or can’t spend four years earning a degree, there are many other opportunities to learn the language. For kids, there are language camps, including the Concordia Language Villages (Minn.), Norwegian Ridge (Minn.), and the District 2 Youth Camp Program (Wash.). There’s also study abroad—for English-speaking kids there’s Norgeskogen in Gvarv, Norway. I attended Camp Norway in Sandane, Norway, when it was operated by St. Olav and then the Sons of Norway. That camp gave me enough Norwegian to talk to my relatives on that same trip.

Many Sons of Norway and Daughters of Norway lodges offer Norwegian classes around the United States and Canada. There are language schools like the Scandinavian Language Institute in the Nordic Museum in Seattle or the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby, BC (Canada).

Finally, there’s online/computer-based courses ranging from the formal, like campusonline.no, and lingu.no (fee-based), to the informal, like Learn Norwegian Naturally and Norwegian abc (both free).

No doubt I’ve missed other ways to learn Norwegian in your neck of the woods. Please write me to tell us of your program (and consider advertising it in The Norwegian American or on the Scandinavian Hour radio program). Truly, starting to learn about Norwegian language, culture, and thought is now only one click, one email, or one phone call away. Or simply turn to the next page in this issue of The Norwegian American.

Note: The Norwegian American isn’t responsible for any errors or omissions in these language programs; that would be all my doing. The programs I’ve listed are those I found from internet research or those I attended personally. Please write easkelad@gmail.com and set me straight!


Eric Stavney is a graduate of the UW Scandinavian Studies Department and cohosts the Scandinavian Hour on KKNW 1150AM, Saturdays at 9 a.m. Pacific at 1150kknw.com/listen.

This article originally appeared in the September 7, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Eric Stavney

Eric Stavney is a graduate of the University of Washington Department of Scandinavian Studies and hosts the interviews and music podcast “Nordic on Tap” at NordicOnTap.podbean.com.

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