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NORWEGIAN LANGUAGE

READERS REVEAL: Can you get by in Norway with just English? 

It's very common to hear English spoken all over Norway. The Local's readers shared their thoughts on whether you'll be able to get by without learning Norwegian. 

Can you get by in Norway without Norwegian? Pictured is Oslo opera house.
Can you get by in Norway without Norwegian? Pictured is Oslo opera house. Photo by Gunnar Ridderström on Unsplash

Norway has recently been ranked among the best countries in the world for English language skills. In addition, many international firms have Oslo offices where the official working language is English. 

Wherever you find yourself in Norway, you are unlikely to be far from a proficient English speaker, even in more rural areas. 

This may lead to some assuming that they’ll be able to get by in Norway without learning Norwegian. 

We asked our readers whether this was the case. 

‘Everybody speaks English in Oslo’ 

Most of those who responded to our survey said it would be possible to get by in the country without learning Norwegian. 

“Yes, you can get by, but speaking some Norwegian is often appreciated,” Arjen, living in Jessheim, said, responding to our survey. 

“Yes, absolutely. Everybody speaks English in Oslo, where I was an Erasmus exchange student,” Bence Szabo responded. 

In addition, they also added that it would be possible to find work with English as the primary working language. 

“If you are working for a multinational abroad and have skills and experience to create value in Norway, you can certainly make a transfer to Norway work. However, I think it is expected that you learn Norwegian at some point,” one foreign resident who didn’t leave a name wrote. 

However, you will be more limited in the type of work you are likely to be offered. 

“Yes and no, depending on skills. (It is) very easy to find IT jobs, but as an electrical engineer, I faced many rejections because I don’t speak the language,” Maz Khan in Oslo wrote. 

“No. Most of the jobs require a well-spoken Norwegian. Only hard labour workspaces don’t care about the language, but they don’t pay well,” Dora Szabolcsi in Hønefoss said. 

Meanwhile, others pointed out that getting a job in tech was feasible while working in a Norwegian organisation would be off-limits without language skills. 

 ‘You can feel like you don’t belong to society’

Many of those who said that you could get by in Norway with just English were quick to add the caveats that living in the country without learning the language was a short-term solution or that you’d feel left out of society. 

“Yes, you can, but you still feel like you don’t belong to society,” Maz Khan wrote. 

“You can get by in daily life but struggle with the ‘big’ topics. Norwegians don’t like to have serious conversations, argue or deliver bad news in English, so you are at a big disadvantage in many situations where it’s important to understand 100% of what’s going on,” one foreigner in Akser responded. 

Sazi Luke in Fjellstrand said that learning the language would be essential for making friends and progressing your career. 

“(You can get by) in the beginning only. To make friends, build  work relationships and be competitive in the job market, it is beneficial to learn the language,” they wrote. 

Veronica Jaramillo Jimenez in Tønsberg said that ten years in the country without mastering led to feeling like an outsider. 

“Yes, you can manage, I have done so for ten years. However, it is really not ideal if you want to be included in everyday life; moreover, you are always seen as an outsider if you do not master the language, which is why my goal within the next 12 months is to become fluent in Norwegian,” she wrote. 

Member comments

  1. Completely agree that you will not feel fully a part of society; it can also feel quite awkward having to keep reminding people you are not fluent, or the side conversations that happen in the office, for example. More importantly, if you have kids, they will speak Norwegian for the first years and so it becomes essential….also a good way to learn is from them!

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NORWEGIAN LANGUAGE

Bergensk: A beginner’s guide to the Bergen dialect

So, you've armed yourself with Norwegian language courses and have acquired some proficiency in Norwegian – but now you're heading to Bergen. Prepare to have your linguistic confidence shattered.

Bergensk: A beginner's guide to the Bergen dialect

Most people who want to move to Norway spend some time trying to learn the language. Or they move and take steps to learn the language to feel more settled in. 

They take Norwegian language courses, watch educational YouTube videos, download Duolingo, join groups of like-minded people, and – eventually – they succeed in reaching at least a rudimentary mastery of the language.

Armed with your newly-acquired language skills, you might think you’re now ready to impress the locals in most Norwegian cities with your linguistic prowess.

You’ve heard nice things about Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. It has amazing nature, it’s an international student hub, and there’s a lot of history and culture to enjoy in the city. It’s not only a great place to live, work and study but also to live. 

Now you’re thinking you might just move to (or visit) Bergen and hit the ground running (that is, swiftly expand your social circle, get job interviews, and use your Norwegian language skills to sort out the day-to-day aspects of city life).

Nice plan you have there… Would be a shame if something got in the way.

The Bergen dialect – Bergensk

To start off with a quote from American filmmaker Woody Allen, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

If you’ve decided to make Bergen your home (at least for a while), you’ll be in for quite a surprise, especially if you’re moving to or visiting Bergen from eastern Norway.

Note that, in a number of foreign language schools (even those in Bergen), the Norwegian language taught is very close to the eastern, Oslo dialect.

There are stories of people investing more than 40,000 kroner in Norwegian language courses, reaching B1/B2, and then having trouble understanding basic conversation among Bergen locals after moving to the city.

There’s no need to feel depressed. Even Norwegians from other parts of the country can sometimes have problems understanding Bergensk. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

Don’t expect the locals to switch to another dialect, however – they’re quite proud of the Bergen one. Therefore, you should take the time to upgrade your Norwegian language skills accordingly.

What makes Bergensk different?

One of the key obstacles that can prevent you from making a smooth transition between the Oslo and the Bergen dialect is pronunciation.

The Bergen dialect is more similar to Nynorsk (one of the two written standards of the Norwegian language, along with Bokmål) in pronunciation.

As online language school Skapago points out, the dialect stands out due to the pronunciation of “r” and the kj-sound. As most grammar guides will let you know, in the Bergensk dialect, the “r” is pronounced as a uvular “r,” not with the rolling pronunciation you’ll find in eastern and northern Norway.

Furthermore, since only dialects with a rolling r-sound can have retroflex sounds (which entails “rd,” “rl,” “rn,” “rs,” and “rt” merging into one sound) the Bergensk dialect does not have any of those sounds.

Instead, Skapago notes, these letter combinations are pronounced separately, as well as the combination of “sl,” which is usually pronounced “sh+l” in Oslo. Elsewhere, it is pronounced “s+l”.

Another interesting aspect of the Bergensk dialect is the pronunciation of the kj-sound. Usually, in Norwegian, this combination of letters has a distinct pronunciation. However, in Bergensk, the sound has merged with the sounds “sj” or “skj,” and is pronounced “sh” in all instances.

The words “kjøtt” (meat) and “kjøpe” (buy) and “ikkje” (not/does not – the Bergensk and Nynorsk form of “ikke”) are pronounced “shøtt,” “shøpe,” and “ishe.” This pronunciation is becoming more common across the country and growing in popularity among young Norwegians.

Furthermore, the Bergen dialect is one of two dialects in Norway with only two grammatical genders – other dialects in the country have three grammatical genders.

You should expect the transition to Bergensk to take a couple of months and might even want to consider a local language course “booster” (especially one that focuses on the dialect) to make the entire process as painless as possible.

You can find a short primer on Bergen dialect slang, compiled by the Bergen Municipality, here (in Norwegian).

Some common expressions

Study Bergen, an organisation aiming to promote Bergen as a student city, has put together a list of common expressions in Bergensk that you’ll likely hear around town after relocating.

Here are a few of the expressions they shared:

Ke det gåri (in Bokmål: “Hva skjer?”): What’s up?

Den e’ brun (in Bokmål: “Den er grei”): That’s fine.

Knall i padden (in Bokmål: “Kjempebra”/”kult”/”veldig gøy”): It’s super fun!

Belite seg (in Bokmål: “Gi seg”): Give up or admit that you were wrong.

Hallaien (in Bokmål: “Hallo”/”hei”): Hello!

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