Sunday, April 15, 2012

Snakker Du Norsk?

Trying to learn a new language is so tough, and it seems Norwegian is especially difficult. It’s been almost two years since I first moved to Norway, and I’m still trying to master the basics. Having said that, I haven’t spent the entire two years in the country. I’ve spent about 14 months, of those two years actually in Norway.

Because I look quite Norwegian and I blend in quite a bit here, people always speak to me in Norwegian at first. It can be kind of funny to see their reaction when I respond in English. Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask me the same question, “What can you say to me in Norwegian?” It can get a bit irritating at times, but I always try my best, even if it turns into a complete red-faced mess at the end of it. The thing with Norwegian is if you don’t correctly pronounce the words exactly, people won’t understand you. Sometimes I feel like I’ve nailed the pronunciation of a new word and give it a try, and people will just look at me lost and confused, which can be very frustrating. I feel like if I’m speaking to someone who doesn’t speak English very well, I can still easily figure out what they’re trying to say, even if it’s way off; that’s not the case here in Norway. A big problem for foreigners in Norway that are trying to learn the language, is that everybody speaks almost perfect English. It’s extremely rare to find someone here who doesn’t speak English. Of course, some people are shy and most like to claim that they don’t speak English well, but that’s hardly ever true. When I’m walking around on the street and need to ask a random person a question, I don’t even need to ask if they speak English. Of course this is nice for me at times, but it also has made it very difficult to learn the language. English can be found everywhere here; on TV there are many American and British shows. English is a main subject in the schools here, so even young kids can speak the language well. Norwegians are very well educated people for the most part, and tend to speak 3-4 languages easily.

TV is actually a great way for me to learn Norwegian as well. All the English shows have Norwegian subtitles, which can be very helpful for me, because I get to see words over and over again. As I mentioned before the pronunciation of words is the hardest part for me. In Norwegian, there are three letters that we don’t have in the English language- Æ, Ø, Å. They’re all difficult to say, but out of the three, I find Ø the hardest to pronounce. Another major problem that I have is the way R is pronounced here. Norwegians roll their R’s in most words, which I’m still absolutely terrible at. I’ve noticed that I’m getting much better at reading Norwegian. I try to practice reading the newspaper and websites in Norwegian as much as possible. This has been a good way for me to pick up many new words. I’m also getting much better at understanding people talk, and I’m finding that I can pick up on what the conversation is about more often now; providing the people speaking don’t constantly change subjects. To make things even more difficult than they already are, there are many different dialects throughout the country. While most of the words remain the same, the way people speak and pronounce certain words, can be completely different from place to place. Personally, I found it easiest to understand people in Oslo, because they usually tend to speak slower there. Up North in Bodø, the way people speak is much different than in Oslo. Now that I’m staying in the middle of Norway, the dialect is again totally unique. The people in Trondheim speak so quickly, so I find it much more difficult to follow what people are saying here. As you can imagine, being exposed to different dialects in each place I’ve been to, has made it harder to learn the language. Having some consistency would certainly be helpful!

I’ve met many foreign players over here, and we all tend to agree its very tough to learn the language; simply because there’s never a situation where we’re forced to speak it. Even players that have been here for many years, sometimes still struggle to speak much of the language. At football training, I’ve been at some clubs where there are a number of foreign players, so half of the instructions are in Norwegian, half in English; which can be extremely helpful. This is actually pretty rare, and I’ve had to learn to really focus on what the coaches are saying (without a translation), and just go straight into the drills. Trust me, this is not an easy thing to do when you’re training with professional football clubs. There’s no room for error in the drills. You’re expected to do everything at the best of your ability and as quickly as possible. Essentially there’s no time to figure things out, you definitely get thrown straight into things. I remember one time while on trial with a new team; we were doing a complex passing drill, with very brief instructions in Norwegian. In the position I was standing in, I thought I was supposed to pass the ball first time when I received it, which I did. The coach started screaming at me, because apparently in my spot, I was supposed to control the ball before passing it. Harsh and unnecessary, since I was new to the club, clearly didn’t fully understand instructions and it was a very simple mistake. But this is just the way it can be over here, perfection is expected and things are supposed to be done right all the time. There is very little time to adapt to what’s happening in training and you have to stay focused at all times to be successful.

I’ve learned many of the basics in Norwegian by now. I can greet people properly, introduce myself, talk about what I like and don’t like to do, where I’m from, what I’m doing in Norway, order food, say goodbye, etc. I also know many individual words, which can be very helpful. If I can’t respond to someones question in Norwegian, I can often respond in English now, because I know what’s being asked. Hopefully as I keep practicing and learning the learning the language, I’ll be able to continue putting together new sentences all the time. Although learning a new language is tough, frustrating and even embarrassing at times, it can also be fun and interesting. Depending on how you look at things, it can be a great challenge. I love the feeling of mastering a new word or sentence, or knowing what somebody is asking me. I hope that one-day, I can speak Norwegian fluently; it would be a great accomplishment for me. I have a very long way to go until then, so for now I just need to keep improving one new word at a time. 

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