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Learning Norwegian at the University of Oslo International Summer School
In the summer of 2017, I was able to make a lifelong dream come true—I was accepted into the University of Oslo’s International Summer School (ISS) and was able to travel to Norway for the first time to study the Norwegian language for six weeks.
Students of Norwegian are often asked why they are learning the language. After all, don’t most Norwegians speak English? Aren’t there more useful languages to learn? In my own case, I’ve wanted to learn Norwegian my whole life—ever since I found out as a young child that I had Norwegian heritage. Growing up in Alaska, however, there were very few opportunities to take Norwegian classes, and so I studied German and Spanish in high school and college.
When I discovered the Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage around seven years ago, I was excited to learn that they offered Norwegian classes. While the classes have been a lot of fun and I have learned a lot, I wanted to take my language skills to the next level.
In addition to offering a number of undergraduate and graduate courses in a variety of subjects (all taught in English), the ISS also offers four levels of intensive Norwegian language instruction—from elementary to advanced. After looking at the sample exams for each course and talking with my teacher at the Bernt Balchen Lodge, we decided I was ready for the intermediate level. I was thrilled when I found out I’d been accepted into ISSN0120: Intensive Intermediate Norwegian, Level II.
After settling in to Blindern Studenterhjem, where many of the ISS students live, I bought my textbooks and supplies at the university bookstore and looked forward to studying Norwegian for three hours every weekday for six weeks.
I arrived at the first day of class, very excited and a little nervous. As the hours went by, however, my enthusiasm began to dim. By the end of the class all I could think was, I’ve made a huge mistake! In the immersion-style class, the instructor spoke only Norwegian, and it seemed she was speaking a million miles an hour. I could barely understand a word she said. I messed up on my class introduction, I could only catch every third word on the dictation exercise, and my conversation skills were abysmal. As I left class that day, I thought for sure I was going to be sent down to the elementary level. I was depressed to think I had vastly overestimated my language abilities. The next day I dreaded going to class, and sure enough on my way I overheard a few students talking about how someone in our class was getting moved down. I was sure they were talking about me.
When I got to class, however, the instructor began the lesson just as she had the previous day. It took me a few minutes to realize I wasn’t getting pulled out of class. Day two went a little easier, and by day three I realized I had a decent grasp of Norwegian grammar, and I felt confident I was in the right class after all.
There were 15 students in my class from all over the world. In fact, only two of us were from the U.S. The others were from Russia, Nepal, Japan, Austria, the U.K., Brazil, Australia, and Pakistan. Some were interested in moving to Norway. Others were academic faculty from other countries who had been hired at the University of Oslo and had to learn Norwegian as a condition of their employment. Several undergraduate students just thought it sounded fun. And some, like me, wanted to learn Norwegian due to their heritage.
Course topics covered aspects of Norwegian life and society, such as education, worklife, politics, culture, and human rights. Lessons consisted of reading comprehension, grammar exercises, conversation practice, and listening/dictation exercises. We also had to write two short essays per week. Every couple weeks we went to the language lab to practice our pronunciation skills. The last week of class was spent preparing for the final exam, which consisted of both an oral and a written examination. For the oral exam, we were assigned a partner and had to have a conversation about one of five possible topics for 20 minutes. The written exam was three hours long and consisted of dictation, reading comprehension, grammar exercises, and an essay.
The six weeks went by quickly, and I was very pleased with how much improvement I saw in my language skills. Outside of class I took every opportunity I could find to speak Norwegian. Some days I did great and other days were embarrassing failures, but I never gave up. I was pleasantly surprised to find so many Norwegians willing to help me practice. I was also able to meet my Norwegian relatives for the first time, and they helped me practice and answered all those “silly” questions I didn’t want to ask in class.
As with any language, it’s important to keep using it so that you don’t lose what you’ve learned. This semester I’ve enrolled in a hybrid online/face-to-face Norwegian 431 course through the University of North Dakota. Although I have to Skype in to class at 6:00 a.m. three days a week, I’m glad to be able to continue my language learning. This year I’ll also be helping out with the language classes at the Bernt Balchen Lodge.
I’d like to take this opportunity to show my gratitude to the Sons of Norway for the generous scholarships that made this opportunity possible. I was very honored to receive the Carl M. Saltveit Scholarship, which covered tuition, room, and board at the ISS. In addition, I also received a Language and Heritage Scholarship from Bernt Balchen Lodge.
For more information on The International Summer School (ISS) visit www.uio.no/english/studies/summerschool.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 20, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.