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Do you really need to speak Norwegian to work in Norway?

Do you really need to speak Norwegian to work in Norway?
Photo: Robert Tudor on Unsplash
Knowing how to speak and understand Norwegian is definitely an advantage when living in Norway, writes Agnes Erickson.

The Norwegian language itself is a cultural entity, but is it necessary in the workplace? There are different factors to explore when considering exactly how important knowing Norwegian is in finding employment. Here are a few key ones. 

Which company you work for

You may find Norwegian as a helpful advantage even though it isn’t listed in the job requirements.

Russian native Ekaterina Jensen works in a management position for Cameron Sense AS, in Kristiansand, Norway. The business specialises in delivering high performance drilling equipment to international energy industries abroad. 

“The company, which was formally a Norwegian one, was bought out by a company with American and French origins,” she explains.

“They believe diversity is a key value to success and the working language is English.” 

Despite the company’s working language being English, Jensen admits “my interview to get the job was conducted in Norwegian, I have received emails in Norwegian and have asked meetings that began in Norwegian to be continued in English.”

Jensen believes knowing the native language “is always a plus.”

English is no longer in demand

When it comes to finding a job, it is most likely that anyone who knows the Norwegian language will stand in front of you as a more desirable candidate. Proficiency in English was more in demand 5 to 10 years ago than it is now. Oil companies have shed a great number of jobs in the past few years, leaving a surplus of English speakers on the job hunting market. 

Manager of southern Norway’s job recruitment and hiring agency JobZone, Ulf Singstad, told The Local that around 50 percent of the jobs listed on JobZone’s website have a requirement for speaking Norwegian. But he adds, “without having the exact statistics, I would guess only around 5 to 10 percent of the job seekers using the site can’t speak Norwegian.” 

It was more common in the past for restaurants and cafes to hire servers who didn’t speak Norwegian. Although this is still the case in communities relying heavily on tourism, the desire for a Norwegian speaking service staff is strong. According to an analysis carried out by opinion on behalf of the Language Council of Norway,  80 percent of guests prefer their server to speak Norwegian. Such a high percentage suggests Norwegian speaking candidates will be preferred in the recruitment process.

READ ALSO: Should Norway’s cafe and restaurant staff speak more Norwegian?

Where you live

Areas with a higher density of tourists are more prone to accept workers who don’t speak Norwegian. The popular tourist destination Lofoten, for example. Located in the North of Norway, the area is  highly dependent on international visitors to support their economy.  English is the dominant language used to communicate with foreigners. Food menus are printed in both Norwegian and English and it would be surprising to not to be greeted in English at a restaurant in Lofoten.  

READ ALSO: In pictures: Surfing above the Arctic Circle in Norway

Larger cities such as Oslo and Bergen have a higher percentage of international residents as well as international companies making English in the workplace more likely. 

“The south of Norway has a lot of export jobs which use English as the working language,” Singstad said.

In smaller towns and villages, the possibility for employment without knowing the language is extremely low. The few jobs offered will most likely go to those who can communicate in Norwegian.

The professional advantages of knowing Norwegian 

Professionally, there is stronger unity between coworkers who use the same language.

Researcher Jon Rogstad has discussed the use of language and its inclusive and excluding power in multicultural workplaces.

At an annual conference in Norway, Rogstad said he believes language is an important part of integration in working life, in large part because we are working as a team and there is more writing than before. Both those who are Norwegian and those who aren’t have a responsibility. 

Generally speaking, your Norwegian colleagues will switch to English if they know you do not understand, but it is greatly appreciated when you make an effort to learn the language.  Their willingness to speak English may decrease after time if they see no effort has been made on your behalf to learn their language. 

Singstad also points out the safety benefits of speaking the same language as your colleagues explaining, “people should be able to communicate with each other if there is ever an emergency situation.”

Possible jobs for those who do not know Norwegian

Singstad recommends jobs within warehouse facilities.

“There are a lot of workers hired that cannot speak Norwegian, there are also some that don’t speak English in warehouses,” adding that he recommends “looking for jobs that don’t require a lot of verbal exchanges.” 

That could include jobs within the construction, hospitality, and tourist industries, where contact with the customer is not a part of the job, such as a chef or dishwasher.

READ ALSO: Readers reveal: This is the best word in the Norwegian language

Restaurants and shops located in tourist dense areas such as Karl Johans gate and Aker Brygge  in the country’s capital city, Oslo. As stated above, the data shows guests preferences towards Norwegian speakers but it is worth searching. In a recent study, NRK reported one in two people in Norway has experienced being served in English by a non-Norwegian speaker during the last year. 

Foreign language teachers, or similarly jobs in sales of exports or purchasing of imports that  require a mastery of a foreign language, may not require Norwegian.

Starting your own business. You can set up and establish your own business in any language while living in Norway, although most rules and country guidelines for doing so are available in Norwegian.

If you are currently looking for or planning on looking for employment in Norway, the most popular website to find available jobs is on Finn.no. Finn does not offer an English version of its site, but if you type inEnglish or the language you speak in the search heading, possible job openings including your search word can appear.


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