Each year, the 17th May marks a very important date in the Norwegian calendar. With marvellous parades and celebrations, Norwegian Constitution Day, known as Nasjonaldagen (National Day), Grunnlovsdagen (Constitution Day) or simply Syttende Mai (17th May), is celebrated in good spirit, and in style. So, here at Coffee Break Languages we thought that there was no better time than today to talk about the interesting aspects of the Norwegian language, and why learning it is kjempefint – “really great”!
1. Ja, vi elsker dette landet!
The Norwegian National Anthem begins with the line “yes, we love this land”, and really, how could you not? With some of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see, Norway must be in the top 5 most Instagrammable countries you’ll ever visit! Of course, if you can speak litt norsk (a little Norwegian), then your experience there will be all the more fulfilling. There’s a whole year until next Syttende Mai, so if you start learning some key phrases perhaps you can take a trip to Norway next year and join in the celebrations.
2. Two for the price of one
Believe it or not, there are actually two official, recognised versions of written Norwegian. They’re called Bokmål (literally “book tongue”) and Nynorsk (new Norwegian). Children in Norwegian schools have to learn both forms, but no-one really speaks either form: everyone speaks their own dialect! Don’t worry though – it is likely that most dialects will be understood by most Norwegian speakers, as Norwegians are used to hearing different dialects all the time.
3. One word + one word = much more than two words
There are a huge number of compound words in the Norwegian language, and very often the word takes on a whole new meaning. Take, for example soloppgang which literally means “sun up going”. This is the word used for “sunrise”. Or, if you have fire (ild) in your soul (sjel) about a particular cause then you’re an “enthusiast”: ildsjel. Our favourite compound word in Norwegian, however, has to be the word for “outer space”. Going back to Norse mythology, Odin established the different realms (or “rooms”) of the universe, making “outer space” verdensrommet, or “the room of the world”.
4. Sitt under the tre with your søster and read your bok
Guess what? There are already many words in the Norwegian language that you already know! There are a huge number of cognates – words with similar roots – between English and Norwegian and you’ll be able to work out the meaning of many Norwegian words simply by listening to them or reading them. Some examples are bok (“book”), tre (“tree”), over (“over”), familie (“family”), søster (“sister”), telefon (“telephone”), but there are lots more! English and Norwegian are both Germanic languages and therefore they’re related.
5. Jeg er, du er, han er, hun er…
Perhaps the best news of all when it comes to learning Norwegian is the fact that grammatically it’s really quite easy! If you’re used to six forms of conjugated verbs in other languages such as Spanish or French, worry no more. In Norwegian there’s just one form for each tense! So “I am” is jeg er; “you are” is du er; “he is” is han er; and “she is” translates as hun er. That means that “am”, “are” and “is” in English are all simply translated by one word in Norwegian: er. Så lett – so easy!
6. Three for the price of one
There’s another bargain to consider! If you understand Norwegian then you’ll be able to understand a fair bit of Swedish as many words are similar: to say “I understand a little English” a Norwegian would say jeg forstår litt engelsk and a Swede would say jag förstår lite engelska. And that’s not all: since written Norwegian (Bokmål) was based on written Danish, Norwegians can understand written Danish very easily. You’ll even be able to recognise words in Icelandic and Faroese, two other languages which derived from Old Norse.
7. You can learn in minutes – for free!
To celebrate Syttende Mai, we’re making our One Minute Norwegian course available on YouTube from today. With these ten short lessons presented by native speaker Dag, you’ll quickly pick up the basics of this beautiful language. The lessons cover greetings, introductions, counting and you’ll learn to say that you speak a little Norwegian. Although Norwegians generally speak amazing English, you can guarantee that when you say jeg snakker litt norsk to a native speaker they’ll smil from øre to øre!