Learn Norwegian online

Mindekirken now offers virtual instruction

Krista Marie Schweppe

Photo courtesy of Krista Marie Schweppe
Krista Marie Schweppe is the coordinator for the Language & Culture Program at Mindekirken.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

One of the most frequent questions we get here at The Norwegian American is, “How can I learn Norwegian?” Of course, there is no one singular answer or one particular program to recommend. So many factors come into play when learning a new language: how much you already know, your specific goals, your physical location, how old you are, and any time constraints you might have.

The same teaching methods do not work for all learners either. Children learn differently than adults, some learners have very strong backgrounds in grammar, you may simply have a “good ear” for language, or you have already learned several languages, which makes the process easier. Often it is just a case of trying out a language course to see if it’s a good fit for you.

At Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church on the Norway Block in Minneapolis, many of these factors have been taken into consideration in the programming they have put together for their Norwegian Language & Culture Program. With a focus on the adult learner, they have structured their classes according to the learning levels established in Norway. I recently spoke with Krista Marie Schweppe, who has coordinated the language program at Mindekirken since 2005.

Schweppe came to the program with a strong background in second language acquisition, with fluency in both German and Norwegian. She studied and lived in Norway for several years. Now back home in Minnesota, she teaches English as a second language in her day job as a high school teacher.

The impetus for the interview was the good news that Mindekirken now offers classes online, making it possible for people from all over to connect and learn Norwegian. But first, Schweppe talked a little about the history of the language instruction offered at the church.

Schweppe explained that the current course offerings have their roots in a program that was once based at the Sons of Norway headquarters in South Minneapolis. When they ran out of space there, they moved the classes to Augsburg University for some time until they found a permanent home at Mindekirken.

The program thrived at its new location, and then the pandemic hit. Schweppe got together with her team of 10 teachers to imagine what an online program would look like. They decided on the Zoom platform, augmented by a web portal where the students can log in for additional practice and exercises.

It worked, and the team of teachers thought there were many benefits with the new platform. Some students found it easier to fit the instruction into their schedules, with less commuting time, it was no longer necessary to cancel classes because of inclement weather, and students could join in from coast to coast. While in-person instruction offered many one-on-one benefits, the team learned how to use Zoom features, such as break-out rooms, and the pandemic “experiment” became a huge success. It was easy to make the decision to continue with online instruction once the pandemic was over.

I asked Schweppe why people come to Mindekirken to learn Norwegian. She said that many are “heritage learners,” who are planning a family trip to Norway, people who want to learn the basics to make it through a trip. For this reason, there is a strong emphasis on the spoken language in the Mindekirken program, where students learn language with a cultural context. Many like to talk about their hobbies and interests, food, travel, business, and education.

But there are other types of learners as well. Sometimes students have come to Mindekirken from the University of Minnesota, once they exhausted their opportunities for learning Norwegian there. Some students may be in a Norwegian-American marriage, where only one of the spouses speaks Norwegian as their first language. Others may be planning to move to Norway to work.

There are beginner, intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced levels. As their website states, to keep the instruction relevant, “our curriculum explores a variety of themes related to both traditional and contemporary Norwegian life, language, and society.”

The duration of the course program is 10 weeks, with sessions in the fall, winter, and spring. Each session lasts two hours, with a coffee break in the middle to break things up. The cost is a reasonable $240 for the 10 sessions, as Mindekirken works to keep the cost of the courses down to make them accessible to all.

In general, a minimum of six participants is required for each course, and classes are usually capped off with 12 participants to ensure that everyone gets the optimal individual attention for learning a language. Most virtual classes start at 6:30 or 6:45 p.m. CST, to encompass enrollment from the two coasts.

Finally, I asked Schweppe how the transition to online course offerings has gone.

“It’s been great,” she said. “It’s one of those examples of where we pivoted and were completely unsure what would happen. And then it kind of blew open this whole world of like, we now have instructors who aren’t just local to the Twin Cities. We have students who have joined us from not just the United States but Canada as well. We have students from 14 states, whereas before we were primarily local, with people from the Twin Cities or surrounding areas. We would have students drive in from Wisconsin or maybe from an hour’s range from the Twin Cities, but that was it. We’ve broadened our world for the better.”

To learn more about Mindekirken’s Language & Culture Program, visit mnlcp.org.

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

Avatar photo

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.