Do you speak English? / Columns / The Foreigner

Do you speak English?. “Snakke du engelsk?” A phrase I have feebly uttered many times. The response has varied. Each has been a variation of one extreme to the other; from the friendly and slightly patronising “yes, of course”, to the abrupt, straight to the point “no” – not even that, at times. Scandinavia is well known for its excellent education of the English language. There appears to be a number of English-based influences from news media, music, food, literature, film and television within the culture. This had made the idea of moving to another country slightly less scary as a foreign student. There was a harsh realisation that being from the UK meant that I had very little ability when it came to learning another language. In school, we had started learning French by age 7, yet, to at the age of 25, I could not tell you a single useful phrase.

language, norwegian, english, culture, society, expat, paywall



The Foreigner Logo

The Foreigner is an online publication for English speakers living or who have an interest in Norway. Whether it’s a glimpse of news or entertainment you’re after, there’s no need to leave your linguistic armchair. You don’t need to cry over the demise of the English pages of Aftenposten.no, The Foreigner is here!

Norske nyheter på engelsk fra Norge. The Foreigner er en engelskspråklig internett avis for de som bor eller som er interessert i Norge.

Google+ Google+ Twitter Facebook RSS RSS



Columns Article

LATEST:

Do you speak English?

Published on Saturday, 15th October, 2016 at 12:28 under the columns category, by Charlotte Bryan.

“Snakke du engelsk?” A phrase I have feebly uttered many times.

Norwegian-English dictionary
Norwegian-English dictionary
Photo: ©2011 Michael Sandelson/The Foreigner


The response has varied. Each has been a variation of one extreme to the other; from the friendly and slightly patronising “yes, of course”, to the abrupt, straight to the point “no” – not even that, at times.

Scandinavia is well known for its excellent education of the English language. There appears to be a number of English-based influences from news media, music, food, literature, film and television within the culture. This had made the idea of moving to another country slightly less scary as a foreign student. There was a harsh realisation that being from the UK meant that I had very little ability when it came to learning another language. In school, we had started learning French by age 7, yet, to at the age of 25, I could not tell you a single useful phrase.

This became my incentive. I wanted to escape the role of the ignorant Brit who thought that if they spoke louder and slower in English, they would eventually be understood. This stereotype does not represent all Brits, of course, but I was anxiously aware of it – perhaps too much. I had also hoped that I would have stood a chance at getting by until I had a better grasp of Norwegian in a country where English was so well-incorporated in to the culture. From the Norwegians I conversed with, I came to understand that Norway is a society that promotes humble beginnings, has an open minded attitude, and that Norwegians are surprisingly passionate about enjoying the comforts of home.

Yet there were moments where I did not find open-mindedness; I found outright dismissal and abrupt manners offending my fiercely polite British self. This feeling particularly resonated with me when I heard the phrase “when you are in Norway, you must speak Norwegian”. I would ask myself in a panic “How? I’ve just arrived!” On other occasions, I noticed that one difference between British and Norwegian cultures can be highlighted by the approach to queuing and the inability to respect one. There are also the countless times I have been pushed aside in the shopping market, or before I can take a step on a bus. If only I could write a letter of complaint!

My Norwegian improved over the following year. I could get by in shops and could read the majority of printed text. I would attempt Norwegian in social situations, but found that both Norwegians and I relaxed a lot more when we spoke in English. If I met someone like myself, who could speak English better than Norwegian, there would be an overwhelming sense of relief – at least on my part.

It was during my first week in Norway that I had my first awkward encounter which abruptly confronted my lack of Norwegian. I was invited to a wedding (weddings are typically awkward events if you are the distant friend of the party in the UK too). Within the first 15 minutes, I was introduced to the only person who could not speak a word of English. He was an elderly man – later in the evening, I learned that he had lived in a rural part of Norway all of his life; that in his youth, he had lived before English had been so heavily incorporated in to the culture. I greeted him with a smile, shook his hand, blubbered out a “nice to meet you” in a panicked sweat, suspecting that he could not understand, yet unable to stop. He smiled and shook my hand back.

And there we stood; in a deafening silence, watching the rest of the party.

A friend of mine eventually came to our rescue, and we three then engaged in what felt like a long-winded and unfunny comedy sketch. I would speak to my friend in English, who then repeated what I had said in Norwegian. The elderly man would reply in Norwegian, and my friend would repeat his words in English. It quickly became apparent that I would need lessons – which I was lucky enough to find in my neighbourhood. Through these lessons, and as a student at the University of Stavanger, I’ve come to realise that myself and the man are a minority. Most people speak a minimum of two languages.

Apparently I speak English-Norwegian. A notion which most Norwegians I have encountered find highly amusing.




Published on Saturday, 15th October, 2016 at 12:28 under the columns category, by Charlotte Bryan.

This post has the following tags: language, norwegian, english, culture, society, expat, paywall.





  
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!