|One of the 23 iron sculptures that make up "Broken Column." The sculptures can be found all over Stavanger creating an imaginary column from the Stavanger Art Gallery to the harbour.|
When we arrive in a new country that will be our home for the foreseeable future, we have all sorts of expectations, goals & hopes outlining what we want our stay to look like. We have an idea as to how we'll spend our time, what we'd like to learn and where we'll travel. Some of those things come to fruition while others do not.
When I arrived in Norway, I was motivated to start learning Norwegian. I'm in a new country with a completely foreign (to me) language and out of respect & interest in the culture, I figured it would be in my best interest to take a few lessons. Once we found out we were staying, I made a few calls in hopes of securing a tutor for Joe and I at our company's expense. (Side note: Our company will pay a certain amount for Joe's lessons however not for mine.) I waited and waited for Joe to settle into his new position and find some time to track down the information and paperwork needed before starting lessons. It took forever and with that, my interest and motivation started to wane. When we finally did secure everything we needed, our travel schedule picked up and the tutor advised us to wait until we had a more consistent schedule.
In the meantime, it became evident that most everyone in Norway speaks English.
Norwegians start learning English as early as Kindergarten and they continue throughout their entire schooling career. By the time they graduate, most Norwegians will speak excellent English. (The teacher in me finds this fascinating particularly coming from Canada where our commitment to French language instruction has failed miserably to produce a bilingual country.) Obviously, in larger cities with more exposure to foreigners, English is more widely used and there is a bit of a generation gap but even in the rural areas, most Norwegians will have a working knowledge of the language.
Of course, the official language of Norway is Norsk thus signs, advertisements, labels and the first language most people will speak in day to day life will be Norwegian. Movies & TV shows (with the exception of cartoons) that come from North America and the UK are left in English with the addition of Norwegian subtitles and are very rarely dubbed. Official government documents for visas, taxes & healthcare are generally in Norwegian although with an influx or immigrants and expatriates, it's not hard to find an English version. It's pretty common to hear Norwegians move between English and Norsk seamlessly even within one conversation amongst themselves. It really is quite impressive.
In the beginning, I faced some challenges with the language. As opposed to Gabon where I had a lot of French vocabulary to assist me, I didn't know a single word in Norwegian and the language looked and sounded completely foreign to me. There were moments in the grocery store where I was guessing when buying 1%, 2% or skim milk and a bit of difficulty when researching mobile phone carriers as the websites were all in Norwegian. However, when someone speaks to me in Norwegian and I apologize, "I'm sorry, I speak English," they immediately switch over without hesitation or judgement.
To date, I've picked up a few words. I can do the checkout at the grocery store without English, as long as they stick to the script. I know that "kylling" means chicken and "jordbær" means strawberry. I can "hei, hei" in greeting and "ha det" in closing with the best of them. I've nailed "tusen takk" and "ja" and "nei" and I now know that although "pose" and "pølse" sound similar they don't mean the same thing (bag and hot dog respectively.) I still sound ridiculous when sounding out words as I often try to impose English sounds on Norwegian words and I keep my home address written in my wallet because no one seems to understand my street name no matter how hard I try to say it correctly.
It appears that English has once again allowed us to get by without learning another language. This always feels like a blessing and a curse. It certainly is convenient but it also allows us to lazily take a backseat in the language learning department. I haven't fully abandoned the idea of taking Norwegian lessons as I do still consider it important to learn and to make an effort but I'm just not exactly sure how that will look for us.