Which Scandinavian language is most useful?
The Scandinavian languages (Norwegian, Swedish, Danish) are spoken widely around the world. They have mutual intelligibility which means that learning one means you easily get to learn the other two.
Among the three, Norwegian is deemed to be the most useful Scandinavian language to learn first when it comes to learning the Scandinavian languages. Once you master Norwegian, learning Swedish and Danish will be so much easier for you because when it comes to the written language, Norwegian and Danish are very similar – in fact, they use the same alphabet. When it comes to the spoken language, Norwegian and Swedish pronunciations are very similar.
Is it better to learn Swedish or Danish?
If you want to learn the Scandinavian language starting with Swedish, you will have a harder time compared to learning Norwegian first because the written form of the Swedish language is very different from that of the Norwegian and Danish languages.
If you want to learn the Scandinavian language starting with Danish, you will have a harder time compared to learning Norwegian first because, among the three, Danish is considered to be the hardest to understand because of the way they pronounce their words. Although, Norwegian and Danish is similar in writing, the accents and the way they say things are very different.
Despite the high degree of mutual intelligibility, Norwegians tend to understand Swedes and Danes better than Swedes and Danes can readily understand Norwegians, so basically, they have an advantage. Because Norwegian is the common denominator between all three Scandinavian languages, most linguists would advise you to start with Norwegian first.
How hard is it to learn Norwegian?
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) rated Norwegian as a Category I language when it comes to the difficulty for English speakers. The FSI language difficulty ranking informs English speakers how long it would need to be proficient in learning a foreign language. There are five categories overall. Category I is the easiest wherein FSI determines that it will take 23 to 24 weeks or 575 to 600 hours to learn the language. Languages under Category I are languages that are considered to be closely related to English, therefore they are the easiest foreign language to learn for native English speakers.
What makes Norwegian easy to learn for English speakers?
- Norwegian is under the Germanic language family – the branch that English also belongs to – which means that while learning the language, you will be encountering cognates between the English and the Norwegian vocabulary. For example, say “Velkommen til jungelen”. Then read it again slowly. You can easily come to the conclusion that the phrase translates to “Welcome to the jungle”. You can easily make a connection that they almost sound the same.
- You will find a lot of similar words with English so some terms are easier to memorize. For instance, “problem” is the same for English and Norwegian but for Norwegian, it is pronounced as “pro-bleh-em”.
- Learning Norwegian grammar is easier. The grammar is actually simpler compared to other Germanic languages and follows the same sentence structure as the English language. Aside from that, the verbs in Scandinavian languages, in general, have the least complicated conjugations compared to all European languages.
- The word order is closer to English. The Norwegian word order is different from other Germanic languages because it is closer to the word order of the English language. It is not exactly the same but it is similar enough that any English speaking learner is able to get by without struggling with it all the time.
- The Norwegian alphabet is the same as the English alphabet with the exception that it has 29 letters. The extra three letters are extra vowels: “æ”, “ø”, and “å”. These extra vowels are listed at the end of the 26-letter alphabet that we are already familiar with.
- The letters of the Norwegian alphabet are pronounced the same way except for the letters “e” (pronounced like the vowel in “egg”), “i” (pronounced as the double vowels in “see”), and “j” (pronounced as “y”).
Is it hard to write in Norwegian?
Before Christianity came to Norway, Norwegians used runic symbols. The oldest records of runic Norwegian writing comes from the ninth century. When Christianity came to Norway in 1030, the Latin alphabet was introduced and Norwegian manuscripts using the Latin alphabet started to be produced more or less a century later. Because Norway adopted the Latin alphabet that we are already familiar with, it is not hard to learn how to write Norwegian.
Written Norwegian: Bokmål or Nynorsk?
There are two official standard versions of written Norwegian:
This version is more dominant and it is taught in schools as the standard for the written form. It is also used in the urban parts of Norway. The Bokmål is often referred to as the Norwegian version of the Danish language. This is because it originated way back in the sixteenth century when Denmark ruled over Norway. During this time, Norwegians learned to write Danish as all official proclamations by the administration were written in Danish but their spoken language was able to develop independently and differently. When Norway was free from Danish rule, they had a language that was written like Danish but with different pronunciations and vocabulary and this resulted in Bokmål. Bokmål is the written language that can be traced back to the Eastern and Western sides of Norwegian.
Nynorsk was created by language scholar Ivar Aasen during the mid-nineteenth century. The Nynorsk is often referred to as the “pure” written version of the Norwegian language because it was based primarily on the different dialects from the western and central rural areas. These dialects and the vocabulary used are the ones being practiced even before Denmark took over. Today, this written version of the Norwegian language is more used in the Western rural areas of Norway. Out of the 431 municipalities in Norway, only 116 uses Nynorsk.
So which one should you choose?
Both varieties are being used in media, religious services, and public administration. A movement was made to merge both versions but to date, coming up with one standard remains to be a feat. So, which one should you study? It is recommended that you learn Bokmål since it is the more commonly used version and it is used in most cities and towns of Norway.
Which dialect should I choose when learning to speak Norwegian?
Some people have the misconception that Norwegian is hard to learn because it has a lot of regional accents and dialects. Most of the time, strong dialects can change what you hear when spoken.
The local dialects are divided into four major groups:
- North (Nordnorsk)
- Central (Trøndnorsk)
- West (Vestnorsk)
- East (Østnorsk)
Foreigners who are learning Norwegian as a second language are usually taught the Oslo dialect also known as the “standard Norwegian”, which is from the Eastern group of dialects.
Fun reasons to learn Norwegian
If you are still somehow unconvinced that Norwegian is the right Scandinavian language to learn, here is a list of interesting and fun reasons for you to learn Norwegian and even visit Norway
- Norway is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize The renowned Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Norway every December. The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel. Every year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards it to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” as per Alfred Nobel’s will.
- Norway is the entryway to the Arctics For those who love to travel and want to explore the Arctics, Norwegians are the best guides when it comes to the polar regions. They have explored the Arctic and Antarctic on foot, on skis, and with the help of their sled dogs. You will definitely encounter a Norwegian in these areas and learning the language can be a big help in case of emergencies.
- The Northern Lights are in Norway The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis is a natural marvel to see making it a bucket list item for almost everyone. Did you know that the first study on the Northern Lights was made by Norwegian Kristian Birkeland? This can be clearly seen in Norway’s summer evening skies which is another reason for you to travel to Norway and learn the language.
- Viking ancestry and culture If you are fascinated with all things Vikings, Norwegian is a language that can make you understand and appreciate their history and culture more because Norwegians were Vikings. Norway is the place to learn more about Vikings and their culture. There are even clubs in Midwest Norway that reenact Viking events and teach you some of the craftsmanship.
- Norway is the home of the hardingfele If you are a musician or music enthusiast, you would definitely love the hardingfele, Norway’s national instrument. It is a violin that has eight or nine strings and only four of those strings are being used. The rest of the strings are just there to resonate with the strings that are being played making the instrument give off a unique sound that is unlike any other instrument in the world.
- Norway is deemed to be one of the best countries to live in the world If you are thinking of moving to Europe, Norway is the best choice. Norwegians take good care of the environment and the people in their community. You will find Norwegians to be very active when it comes to community events and helping out each other. Norway has one of the highest rates in the UN Human Development Index as the most livable country. It is definitely one of the best countries to retire in happily.
Tips to help you learn Norwegian more effectively
- Learn like a child Sometimes you just have to learn a language just like a little child would. Read Norwegian children’s books. For this method, it is best that you choose a story that you are already familiar with for easier word association. You can also watch Norwegian children shows. Children shows are better compared to sitcoms or soap operas because the pronunciation is more clear and you start off with simpler words.
- Improve your pronunciation by listening Norwegian audiobooks and podcasts is a great way for you to improve your pronunciation. It also helps you understand how Norwegian words are being said. Make sure that you are not doing anything else when you try this method so that you stay focused.
- Use a Norwegian app Technology have made things a lot easier for us and that includes learning another language. You can use apps like Memrise or Duolingo to help you learn Norwegian.
- Play Norwegian games Games are a fun way to stimulate your brain and learn something. You can learn Norwegian by playing games in Norwegian. Your brain uses a lot of activity when you try to learn another language so in order for you to not overwork your brain, you can instead play Norwegian games that will help you learn while you relax at the same time. Try out games like Lexico or Letra.
- Take an online course Although it is possible to learn a language on your own, attending online sessions regularly will help speed up the process. Taking a Norwegian language course will give you a more structured learning process so you can easily absorb the new information. Online courses are recommended because they cost less than traditional Norwegian classes and if you are learning outside Norway, you might have a hard time looking for a school that teaches Norwegian in a traditional school setting.
- Look for a language exchange partner
If you have learned the basics of the Norwegian language, take it to a higher level by looking for someone who is fluent in Norwegian to be your language exchange partner. You can meet regularly to converse in Norwegian. This will help improve your confidence also in speaking Norwegian out loud. If you are learning outside of Norway and there are no Norwegians in your local area, you can always befriend someone online or go through language exchange sites or forums.
- Immersion Learning a language through immersion is very effective. Practice a “Norwegian only” time everyday meaning you only write and communicate in Norwegian for that period regularly.
- Travel to Norway as the final test The best way to learn Norwegian and to test your knowledge of the language is to travel to Norway and be surrounded by Norwegian speakers. This way, you are forced to know the language to overcome communication barriers.
Why study Scandinavian languages?
Once you perfect Norwegian, you will have no difficulty learning the other two Scandinavian languages. Instead of struggling to learn one, you get to learn three and brag that you are a linguist to your friends and family.
A lot of people would wonder why one person would choose to study Scandinavian languages over something more common like Spanish or French. Here is a list of reasons why you should prioritize the Scandinavian languages when you are considering learning another language:
It enables you to learn other European languages easily
The Scandinavian languages is mutually intelligible with a lot of other languages given their shared histories and geographic proximity. For example, learning the Scandinavian languages will make it easier for you to learn the Sami languages and the Baltic-Finnic languages.
The sentence structure is similar to English
One of the reasons why Scandinavian languages are considered as one of the easiest languages to learn for native English speakers is that the sentence structure of these languages is very similar to the sentence structure of the English language. The grammar rules are mostly the same as well. So basically, you only have to work hard on the vocabulary and pronunciation.
A lot of people speak the Scandinavian languages so it is definitely not a waste of time especially when you will be traveling to Europe. This will make communicating with the locals easier for you.
Business expansion in Europe
The economic situation in Europe is better and more stable compared to others. If you are a businessman, you may want to expand your business operations to that side of the world. Although they are also known to be quite fluent in English, learning the language will be an advantage when it comes to conducting business in the area and will definitely impress your potential business partners and clients.
Being fluent in another language is an impressive plus point in your resume. Most people do not know that there are certain languages that hold more importance to employers than others. Given the stable and improving economic situation of Europe, this can be an advantage for you to go up the ranks especially if you are working for a multinational company.