Understanding Norwegian dialects can be challenging – but it’s not impossible!

undredal flam fishing villageThe fishing village of Undredal near Flam. Photo courtesy of Speak Norsk

Learning Norwegian, like any language, comes with its difficulties. One of these is understanding different dialects. But the good news is, learning localisms is well within reach.

As someone currently learning Norwegian and making progress, you may have at least once experienced going to the store, feeling confident in your language skills, and still not understanding a word out of the cashier’s mouth. Sound familiar?

Such a situation means that you likely encountered a dialect and panicked a little on the spot. As if it wasn’t hard enough to learn the language, right?

It’s not that you have to understand dialects. But it sure can help in grasping the language more quickly and integrating into the society more easily.

Norway’s large variety of dialects varies from region to region. In fact, even some Norwegians can’t fully understand each other.

For example…

Take one of the (at first glance) most straightforward words in Norwegian: “Jeg” (meaning, “I”). Its pronunciation differs from place to place.

Here is a short overview of six versions of this pronoun’s pronunciation that can be found in Norway.

“Jæi” – Maybe the most common and used version; also, the one taught at Norwegian language schools in Oslo. It’s encountered in big parts of Østlandet, and especially in cities such as Oslo, Drammen, and Tønsberg.

Oslo. Photo courtesy of Speak Norsk

“Je” – Used in some places in Østlandet. If you come from smaller areas, like Gjøvik or Toten, you might hear people saying “je veit itte” (I don’t know).

“Jæ” – Originally from Østfold. You can encounter this pronunciation in towns like Halden, Sarpsborg, or Fredrikstad, for example.

Torvet Fredrikstad
Torvet Square in Fredrikstad. Photo courtesy of Speak Norsk

“I” – If you come from Molde, you likely say “i e moldeneser” (I am from Molde). In the areas around Romsdal, this pronunciation is a characteristic of the local dialect.

“Eg” – People from big parts of Vestlandet (for example, the areas surrounding Bergen and Stavanger) say: “eg”. Some parts of Nord-Norge, like Lofoten and Mo i Rana, also use “eg”.

“Æ” – In Sørlandet, in cities like Kristiansand and Mandal, you can hear people say “æ”. This is also a common characteristic in the dialects of the northernmost counties: Trøndelag, Nordland, and Troms og Finnmark.

Where to begin

Language school Speak Norsk advises learners to stick with the dialect they feel comfortable with at first. For most Norwegian learners, this is the usual Oslo dialect. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand people from Tromsø yet! As you might know by now, Norwegian dialects can even be difficult for Norwegians to understand.

Once you have mastered the initial dialect you are learning, you can start exploring all the linguistic ranges Norway has to offer.

If you’re at the point where you are ready to start branching out, there are a few things you can do to help the process. First and foremost, study hard and study consistently. Don’t go through all the dialects all at once. Instead, choose one to start with and then go in-depth with the others. Learning about dialects’ origins will also help you understand Norwegian culture better.

Besides self-studying and asking your Norwegian friends, the topic of dialects will arise at more advanced levels of Norwegian, such as the C1 level. Generally, Norwegian language schools will give you a great introduction to the Norwegian dialects and a closer look into some of the most-spoken ones in Norway.

A great way to immerse yourself in the ever-fascinating world of Norwegian dialects is Speak Norsk’s online C1 course, recommended by many who have reached an advanced level in the language and want to comprehend the linguistic background of the Nordic region.

This is a wonderful way to learn the basic characteristics and intonations of Norwegian dialects. You can expect to grasp:

  • How to differentiate different Norwegian dialects, such as Bergen’s, Stavanger’s, and more
  • An understanding of the particular nuances of the Norwegian language and authentic word phrases, unknown to beginner/intermediate students and generally used only by the Norwegian community through history, through listening and reading exercises
Speak Norsk
Teacher Jon from the C1 course at Speak Norsk. Photo courtesy of Speak Norsk

Ready to dive in?

Speak Norsk awaits.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to this team of passionate teachers, dedicated to making your life in Norway even better:

This post has been published in collaboration with Speak Norsk.

Source: Speak Norsk / #Norway Today

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