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Photo: Håkon Mosvold / NTB
In Mindekirken’s Intermediate Norwegian 5 class, students learned to research, plan, and describe sailing on Hurtigruten along the coast of Norway and other popular trips there.

Synneva Bratland
The Norwegian American

As with anything on Zoom, students tuned in from their living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens for Intermediate Norwegian 5, an online class through the Mindekirken Norwegian Language & Culture Program (NLCP). This cohort, under the instruction of Ingunn Henrikssen, has been studying Norwegian together for about two years.

The mission of NLCP is to “create a welcoming community that fosters Norwegian language learning for a wide variety of students of all ages, with a particular emphasis on speaking and listening.” Although the program was initiated more than 40 years ago, NLCP has only recently begun offering classes virtually. This fall, 13 of NLCP’s 19 classes will be offered online.

Henrikssen started off the evening with a lesson about Hurtigruten, the Norwegian coastal steamer often called “verdens vakreste sjøreise” (the world’s most beautiful sea voyage). Hurtigruten travels between Bergen and Kirkenes, stopping in dozens of harbors along the coast. This journey takes 11 days and nights and can be enjoyed either as a whole or through shorter trips in either direction. Students took turns reading a sentence of the text and then translating it into English. They were particularly skilled at capturing the nuances of a sentence and provided very accurate translations.

Beyond understanding the logistics of Hurtigruten, students were tasked with telling tales from their own theoretical travel. To practice this, students were split into groups and tasked with planning a trip they would like to take on Hurtigruten. One group decided they wanted to prioritize the nature of northern Norway, creating a route and choosing excursions that facilitated that — from dogsledding to walking on a glacier, and a bird safari. Taking inspiration from the example in the textbook, the group then worked together to write a postcard that shared some of the highlights.

After such a successful first voyage, students were introduced to the popular “Norway in a Nutshell” tour in western Norway. The trip involves taking trains and boats through some of the most beautiful places in Norway, including Myrdal, Flåm, Nærøyfjorden, and Stalheimskleiva. Described in the textbook in the form of an email, students learned about the tour by taking turns reading aloud and translating.

When faced with unfamiliar vocabulary, Henrikssen had a clever method to guide students to the meaning of a new word through context. For example, the word “fornøyd” caught a student off guard in the sentence “jeg var veldig fornøyd med turen.” Henrikssen then said, “OK. I was very *what* with the trip. Upset with? Angry about?”

These clear antonyms led students to the meaning of fornøyd—satisfied—without simply giving out the answer. This investigative process is not only likely to help students remember the word, but it also gives them a set of tools to use in future situations.

Once they understood the basics, each student was assigned a place on the tour and asked to write one explanatory sentence (in Norwegian), as well as share a photograph from that location with the class. Despite a few speed bumps in trying to share these photos (Zoom sure can be tricky!), everyone gained a clear understanding of what this tour consists of.

The last part of class was focused explicitly on verbs—first in the present or infinitive, and then in the preterit. Given the verb, students had to insert correct conjugations into blanks in a short text. This is tedious work, especially in the preterit.

Norwegian verbs are sorted into regular and irregular (called strong and weak)—the weak verbs are then divided into four subcategories based on their linguistic characteristics. Henrikssen reminded students to consider all categories when classifying a verb, as some groups have overlapping criteria. To help students remember which attributes to keep an eye out for, Henrikssen has certain mnemonic devices, such as “nodding lemon,” which points to a double L, double M, or double N in the stem of the verb.

When pronunciation got tricky, Henrikssen suggested students take a deep breath and go syllable by syllable. She reminded them that, as native English speakers, their brains are not used to differentiating between long and short vowels and consonants, so it takes training to make these distinctions.

As the class wrapped up for the evening, Henrikssen reminded her students to register for next term’s classes, where they will start working with a new textbook and continue to expand their Norwegian language and cultural abilities.

Fall classes begin the week of Sept. 11 with levels ranging from beginner to advanced, including literary discussion-based courses and a free language and culture group for children ages 5 to 12.

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

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Synneva Bratland

Synneva Bratland is the Editorial Assistant for The Norwegian American. Born and raised in Minnesota, she attended folkehøgskole outside of Oslo before receiving a dual degree in Norwegian and Mathematics from St. Olaf College. She currently lives in St. Paul, where she can be found playing Nordic folk music, instructing Norwegian language courses, and making art at her kitchen table.