Monday, May 30, 2011


Hei. Jeg heter John. Jeg kommer fra Virginia i USA. These phrases—ones everyone learns in an intro language course—were the first ones I learned in my norskkurs at the Folkeuniversitet Midt-Norge in Trondheim. As you might have surmised, they mean “Hi. My name is John. I come from Virginia in the USA.” I have learned languages in the past, but had forgotten how humbling it is to start from scratch and stumble through basic sentences like an infant with endlessly patient people—thanks Tonje! My ability to speak Norwegian is progressing: I can now safely order at restaurants and cafés, decline plastic bags at the grocery store and occasionally engage in rudimentary conversations about most things…very slowly. But I’ve got a long way to go.

My motivation to learn Norwegian is twofold. On a practical level, I need to, at the very least, be able to speak the language conversationally in order to get a job in Norway that doesn’t involve washing dishes. Since employment in Norway is becoming a realistic goal of mine, this is important. But I also want to learn Norwegian so that I can speak it with Tonje and her family. Granted, they all speak English perfectly, but I feel that it’s somewhat selfish to always require that they speak what is naturally their second language: if the tables were turned, I know I’d feel the same way. So the fire beneath me is lit. And, although reading books and talking with Tonje are very helpful, a course in Norwegian was the obvious next step for me.

The class I’m currently taking meets on Mondays and Thursdays for three hours each day. It will last for six weeks. The five other students in the class each have unique reasons for being in Norway and wanting to learn the language. Several found work here already—which, luckily, didn’t require fluent, or any, Norwegian abilities—and are trying to gain some working knowledge of the language. Two others are here from China and Japan and are studying different subjects at the local university. It seems their motivations to learn the language stem mostly from curiosity and lots of free time—I can’t really tell since their English isn’t so great either. The last—a woman from the Philippines—is even more of a mystery to me: and Norwegian seems to be a mystery to her. From what I gather, she met a Norwegian online and intends to marry him in June. I don’t think she’s known him long. And since we sit next to each other in class—and she realllllly struggles with the basics of Norwegian—I’ve become something of a tutor to her during class time. This is fine since it helps me learn more too. But I constantly find myself wondering more about her story. I don’t want to infer too much about her reasons for being here, but the words “mail-order” and “bride” keep coming to mind. I’m just saying.

Luckily, since both Norwegian and English are Germanic languages, the grammatical structure of Norwegian is very similar to that of English. And many of the words are similar as well: “best” is “best”; “again” is “igjen”; “cat” is “katt.” In the present tense, verbs don’t conjugate. Whereas in English “to be” conjugates to “I am”, “You are”, etc…, in Norwegian, the same verb conjugates to “Jeg er”, “Du er”, “Vi er”, etc…. This again makes Norwegian relatively simple. Relatively. Getting in the mindset of speaking Norwegian all the time is difficult. And, since everyone here speaks English, it is hard to not rely on my native language as a crutch. But I’m really enjoying the process, and hope to be relatively capable by the time I return to the United States. Hopefully I won’t come back with a thick Scandinavian accent. Thanks for reading: Dere er de beste!

1 comment:

  1. Hi :) I can't remember how i stumbled upon your blog but it really interests me. Specially when I read this article, "But I constantly find myself wondering more about her story. I don’t want to infer too much about her reasons for being here, but the words “mail-order” and “bride” keep coming to mind." I'm also from the Philippines and been staying in Norway for almost 2 years now. I just feel sad/alarmed every time I read/heard news regarding this matter. The Philippines has suffered significant problems with the issue of sex trafficking. I just hope that she's not one of them. I don't know her personally but I want to thank you for helping her learn the Norwegian language. Please send my regards to her. She can email me on (I hope I'm not asking too much!) Tusen takk!:)Ha en god helg!