If you’re traveling to Norway and are worried about potential language barriers, you might be surprised to learn that you don’t need to be fluent in Norwegien to get around and converse with locals. Many Norwegians are fluent in English, so does that mean people speak English in Norway?
People do speak English in Norway as a second language, with approximately 90% of the population being completely fluent. Although Norwegian is the primary, most widely spoken language in Norway, students learn English from an early age, so many Norwegians are comfortable communicating in English.
To learn more about why the majority of people in Norway are fluent in English, read on.
Learning To Speak English Begins Early in Norway
Learning to speak English starts early in the education of a Norwegian child. School children are taught English beginning in the lower grades and continuing throughout their school years, so it’s not so unusual that young people would be proficient. But in Norway, older adults also have a good working grasp of the language.
Many Norwegians are proficient in English. You might even assume that Norwegians speak English at home within their family and friend circle. How else can a foreign language be mastered and retained into the adult years?
Language Mastery Comes Through Cultural Immersion
A child leaves his homeland at a young age and grows up in another country. Unless he’s exposed to the language at home as he grows up, he’ll forget much of his native language. Immersion in his new language allows him to master it quickly. Rosetta Stone, a leading language learning system, puts great emphasis on immersion in language and culture.
Norwegian families don’t speak English in their home or within their circle of friends. They can retain their English language skills through another type of immersion. American culture came to them. American TV, movies, and music have become embedded in the Norwegian culture. That’s why even though they don’t actively use the language, they’re still able to retain their English skills. English is being spoken around them and to them daily.
Most schools in Norway teach British English, but American English filters in through entertainment and advertising. Norwegians watch both British and American TV and movies which are always played with subtitles rather than dubbed in Norwegian.
Norwegians Learn English To Further Their Careers
English is the language of business and science. It’s also the language of hospitality. So it’s not surprising that Norwegian college students would find college courses taught only in English a smart choice. According to an article in Times Higher Education, The Language Council of Norway is concerned that too much college coursework is taught in English.
A travel editor at Forbes believes that as a small wealthy nation, Norwegians and all Scandinavians, have greater opportunity to travel. He suggests that exposure to a broad culture may be one key to their English proficiency.
The English Proficiency Index for 2020 ranks Norway fifth out of 100 countries for English proficiency. It’s a regional accomplishment. After number 1 ranked Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden follow to complete the top five.
English Is Mandatory in Norwegian Schools
A paper prepared by Ragnhild Lund and posted on The Semantic Scholar details the road to the mandatory teaching of English in Norwegian Schools. In a period of educational reform during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s their slogan was ‘English for Everybody.’ By the end of the 1960’s, English was mandatory in all schools.
How English is taught in Norwegian schools has transitioned from a grammar-based curriculum of the 1970’s to the present-day cultural immersion method. The differences are seen in those who prefer immersion in British culture and those for whom American culture is preferred. Norwegians can travel to any English-speaking country and feel confident in their ability to communicate.
Norwegians Study English for Travel Opportunities
The majority of Norwegians speak English because as adults, they recognize the benefits of retaining the skill learned as children. Their country is able to welcome travelers from around the world and make them comfortable by speaking their language. Their people can freely travel to other countries and easily communicate with the locals.
In Norway, speaking English without sacrificing their own language has been a cultural and educational decision. The benefits extend to travel, more career choices, and commercial opportunities. Their universities welcome students from outside the country by teaching many popular courses in English.
English speaking only visitors can travel into the rural highways and byways of Norway, away from the major cities. They’ll be sure to find locals with which to communicate. As a country, they embrace the concept that common language creates open communication with the world.
English Use in Major Cities in Norway
Bergen – Bergen is a popular tourist destination on Norway west coast, and it is the second largest city in Norway. Bergen is considered as the international hub for aquaculture, transportation, oceanic technology, and regional tourism, education, and finance. Maybe the most iconic spot in Bergen is Bryggen, an older wharf with traditional wooden buildings. Even from the top of Mt. Fløyen, the entire city looks stunning, the peak is accessible via hiking trails or riding a tram to the peak. Other than visiting the mountains, people most likely visit Bergen for the fjords.
Kristiansand – Kristiansand is a popular summer destination for Norwegians. Kristiansand has a beach that is considered one of the prettiest in Norway. The sea and nearby fjords are ideal spots for fishing and sailing. Popular tourist attractions include Fiskebrygga, which is a fish market with restaurants along the central waterfront; the Strandpromenaden, a boardwalk that passes through beautiful parks along the waterfront and into the city’s center; and Posebyen, the remnants of Kristiansand’s old city.
Oslo – Oslo, Norway’s capital, is situated at the head of the Oslofjord, and the southern tip of Norway. Oslo is known for its museums and green spaces. Many of these are on the Bygdøy Peninsula, like the Norwegian Maritime Museum, and the Viking Ship Museum with 9th century Viking ships. The Holmenkollbakken is a ski-jumping hill with panoramic views of the fjords. Even though it is a major city, nature is easily accessible from Oslo. A short trip by bus, train, or car can take you out in the woodlands, or up the coastline to visit some fjords. Oslo has all the modern amenities.
Stavanger – Stavenger is Norway’s third largest city. Stavanger Cathedral dates to the city’s founding in the 12th century. The Stavanger Museum chronicles the city’s history and the preserved wildlife. The Øvre Holmegate shopping street is renowned for its colorful buildings. In recent years, Stavanger has become a popular ports of call for cruiselines, with a steady rise of cruise ships docking for stops. Stavanger is deep in fjord country, and has some of the most spectacular views. For example, Preikestolen is one of the famous natural wonders of Norway, and is a short distance from Stavanger. The famous clifftop overlooks the Lysefjord.
Trondheim – Tourists travel to Trondheim to enjoy the music, arts, entertainment, night life and education. Every year the St. Olav Festival starts at the end of July. The festival celebrates Olav Haraldsson who spread Christianity throughout Norway. The festival includes religious contributions and cultural events such as concerts, Middle Age dramatizations, lectures, exhibits, and more. Nidelva is the town’s true gem. The river where sunsets can be seen are spectacular. In the Viking Age, Trondheim was the Norway’s capital. This gives the city a rich history. Nidaros Cathedral is located in the city center, and there are many museums scattered around the city.
As most Norwegian’s English competency is very high, then you should have no problem finding English speakers to interact with when traveling around Norway. In Norway and other Scandinavian countries, you will not need to rely much on the local language, but of course it is always helpful to learn some basic phrases regardless, and locals will appreciate the gesture and view it as a sign of respect.
Norwegian is closely related to English, so many words and pronunciations are not difficult to learn. A University of Oslo article reports that perhaps English was strongly influenced by Norwegian and other Scandinavian languages. That when Old Norse peoples settled in the British Isles during the 5th century, that Viking brought language with them, and even though Old English died out, Norwegian is still around today. Similarities between Norwegian and English are the same on a lexical level all the way to the syntactical level.
What Languages are Spoken in Norway?
Norwegian – Norwegian is the most widely spoken language in Norway. It is a North Germanic language that is shares links with Swedish and Danish, both descend from Old Norse. Norwegian is a primary language for 95% of the population. The language has two disctinct written standards: Nynorsk (New Norwegian) and Bokmål (Book Language).
Sami – Sami is a group of Uralic languages spoken by the Sami people in Northern Europe (in parts of northern Finland, Norway, Sweden, and extreme northwest Russia. There are ten or more Sami languages, depending on the definition and divisional terminology. Arguably Sami is closely related to Finnish because Finnish is also a Uralic language.
English – Most Norwegians speak English from birth. Due to the proximity of English speaking media, travelers, and international business, English is very common. Virtually everybody speaks English (at minimum a basic understanding, usually in regards to the elder population). Tourist information is usually printed in other languages with most Norwegians also speaking German, French, or Spanish.
Kven – The Kven language, spoken by the Kven people, is a Finnish language, and spoken by about seven thousand people in northeastern Norway. Kven is often considered a Finnish dialect, and has a high degree of mutual intelligibility.
Romani – The Romani are a historically migrant community with Indian roots, and they are now scattered throughout Europe. The Romani language is an Indo-European and Indo-Aryan language that is divided into several dialects. Two of these dialects Tavringer Romani and Vlax Romani are spoken in Norway.
Is English necessary in Norway?
As a tourist while travelling through Scandinavian countries, out of nine people that you stop on the street, eight of them should be able to speak English. In other words, English speaking tourists should have no problem while traveling around Norway. While in a restaurant, bar, or hotel, you should have no problem using English. At many other places throughout the country, you should have no trouble speaking English too. There should be nothing to worry about. English speaking tourists will most likely not experience any problems when traveling around Norway.
As a local, most Scandinavian people are competent English speakers more so than other European countries. Most Norwegians are immersed in English without even leaving their own country. English speaking media saturates Norwegian culture, whereas countries like Korea or Japan have their own culture industry formed around K-Pop and Anime. That means there is less saturation, and less chance for a local to be surrounded by English. Though to be fair, Norwegian and English are more closely related than Japanese and Korean are to English.
English Teaching in Norway
English is spoken throughout Norway, and the education system is very high-quality and rigorous, which means that Norway does not have a high demand for foreign English teachers. If you have experience, a good education, and speak Norwegian, then it is helpful and makes you a competitive prospect in the teaching market. It is possible to find jobs in kindergartens, public and private schools, and language training schools.
Most jobs are online through recruiters, and it might be possible to show up, and find a job upon arrival. If you are not a European Union citizen, then be sure to research all positions. Most jobs are offered in Oslo, but it is most likely possible to find a job in a different city, especially if you are experienced and speak Norwegian.
At the same time, most Norwegians speak English from birth, so as they say English teachers are a dime a dozen. UK English is also preferred over American English. If you would like to move to Norway, then it might be best to work in a field outside the education industry. A specialization in cybersecurity or big data analytics might make you more desirable. Although speaking Norwegian is a must.
That is different from the main point of this section. Teaching jobs are available in Norway, but not as common as in different industries.
With many qualified English speakers, you will need to make your skill set stand out when applying for a teaching position. That does not mean teaching jobs are non-existent. It might be easier to find a job teaching Business English in a company.
People in Norway do speak English, but their challenge is to hold on to their own language as life becomes more global. So far they’ve been successful without losing the two Norwegian dialects that exist within the country.