Norwegian 101: Teaching English in Norwegian Schools

(Undervisning i engelsk i norske skoler)

An old school bell.

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
Time to learn: An old school bell would once have called students in.

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

In Norway (i Norge), children start learning English (begynner barna å lære engelsk) in 1st grade (i 1. klasse) at six years old. It is common (det er vanlig) to learn (å lære) about the weather (været), the days of the week (ukedagene), and the months of the year (årets måneder), as well as (i tillegg til) the names of colors (farger), food (mat), and animals (dyr) when they are first exposed (de først blir utsatt) to English (engelsk).

In my opinion (etter min mening), that might be changing (kan dette endres). Today many children (mange barn) come to the 1st grade having been exposed to (etter å ha blitt utsatt for) English from a much earlier age (når de var små) thanks to the media. They watch TV and movies (TV og filmer), play video games (videospill), and listen to music (hører på musikk)… all in English (alt på engelsk). I wonder (jeg lurer på) what that means (hva det betyr) for the future (for fremtiden) of language teaching (språkundervisning).

Many Norwegian textbooks (norske lærebøker) use Norwegian (bruker norsk) as the language (som språk) of clarification (for avklaring), assuming that the first language (morsmål) of the users will be Norwegian. Teacher’s manuals for the English textbooks (lærebøker) are also written (skrevet) primarily in Norwegian. But as the number of Norwegians (antall nordmenn) who don’t (som ikke) have Norwegian as their first language rises, one can’t assume (kan man ikke anta) that Norwegian is the first language of everyone in the classroom (at norsk er morsmålet for alle i klasserommet).

According to (ifølge) Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentrabyrå /, at the beginning of (i begynnelsen av) 2017 there were 725,000 immigrants and 159,000 Norwegians born to immigrant parents in Norway. With a total population of 5,277,762, that’s over 16% of the population (befolkningen). I was at a conference recently where it was proposed (der det ble foreslått) that students who have a language other than Norwegian (som har et annet språk enn norsk) as their mother tongue be allowed to (får lov til) clarify things in the language they know best (språket de kjenner best), even if (selv om) the teacher can’t speak that language.

This has been accommodated somewhat in the Norwegian law (norsk lov), which states that children with a mother tongue other than Norwegian or Sámi are entitled to (har rett til) special Norwegian instruction until they are competent enough to follow along (kompetente nok til å følge med) in the regular classroom (i det vanlige klasserommet). They are also entitled to receive instruction (de har også rett til å motta undervisning) in their mother tongue and/or have an interpreter (tolk) if necessary (om nødvendig). If English is your native language (morsmålet ditt), however, even if (selv om) you don’t speak Norwegian (du ikke snakker norsk), these services (tjenestene) are often (imidlertid) not provided as it is assumed that English speakers are readily available (er lett tilgjengelige). With an increase (økning) in new languages (nye språk) spoken in Norway, I wonder how that will change (forandre) the way English is taught (måten engelsk blir undervist på).

The Norwegian Department of Education (Utdannings­direktortatet), as well as education departments around the world (over hele verden), has a plan for what should be taught in an English language classroom (, revised in 2006. Their plan, called the National Curriculum for Knowledge Promotion (Kunnskapsløftet), includes the core curriculum and the framework for basic skills (grunnleggende ferdigheter). The core curriculum (læreplan i engelsk ENG1-03) is broken down into four competence aims (kompetansemål) for grades 2, 4, 7, 10, and high school; language learning (språklæring), oral communication (muntlig kommunikasjon), written communication (skriftlig kommunikasjon), and culture, society, and literature (kultur, samfunn og litteratur). The framework for basic skills applies to each subject and includes oral skills (muntlige ferdigheter), reading (å kunne lese), writing (å kunne skrive), digital skills (digitale ferdigheter), and numeracy or math (å kunne regne).

The Department of Education is currently reviewing (vurderer) their educational documents (pedagogiske dokumenter) and it will be interesting (det vil være interessant) to see (å se) what they see as relevant (hva de ser som relevant) for future English language learning (for fremtidig engelskspråklig læring).

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.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.