It is beautiful here in the Bergen area! For several weeks now it has felt like spring. And for over a week the sun has been shining and the gentle spring flowers are smiling everywhere. Now the trees are budding, the crocuses are up and opening, and PEOPLE are smiling everywhere.
It is also the start of the traditional Easter holiday, so everyone is REALLY smiling as they anticipate the relaxing week ahead.
I haven’t posted here in almost two months, which disappointed me when I first realized it. But after reflection I think this is a good thing. I have reached that place where I am comfortable and at ease in my new surroundings, new country, new marriage – where I no longer gasp in amazement as I look out my window and see the mountains, nor am I surprised when I talk to my husband and appreciate that he seems to understand me better than I understand myself. I am at a place where I can accept every scene and every moment as part of my everyday existence.
And that is good, as I need the energy I was expending on those “gasp” moments to be directed towards my new venture … learning the Norwegian language!
I have been attending a Norwegian language course for four weeks now. It is run by the Norwegian authorities, and all legal immigrants to Norway are enrolled and receive 300 hours of language and culture instruction. That is offered after a permanent visa and personnel number are given. I applied for those in January and it will take a little while longer before they are issued.
Jan and I decided to follow another option – to pay for and start the classes now. After I am “approved” to stay here I will still receive an additional 300 hours from what I have already learned.
I am in a class that, at one point, had fourteen people. Although for various reasons we have shrunk over the four weeks that we have been a class, the original group came from Bulgaria and Russia and Iran and Turkey and Morocco and Nepal and Pakistan and Nigeria and Germany and Thailand and Chile and Peru, plus another from the USA. Can you imagine the unspoken cultural curiosity as we first got to know each other?? That, plus learning our reasons for living in our new country, has been a benefit I didn’t realize I would enjoy so much … and I have only really gotten to know less than half the class so far.
Our teacher is amazing. Gjertrud is energetic and enthusiastic. The class is taught entirely in Norwegian, and she has taken the three words she said at the very beginning of the first day of class (“Jeg heter Gjertrud” – can you translate that?!) and expanded our understanding with motions, animation, the textbook and workbook, and the very rare use of one or two English words to reinforce our Norwegian understanding.
I was a little nervous about how I would react to classes and how I would do in them. I haven’t been a student since the early 1980’s!!! But aside from a few insecure moments, I think that I am keeping up with everything fairly well.
But of course, in keeping with my love of writing and editing, I tend to “get it” when I can write out and revise and think through my Norwegian words and their sentence placement BEFORE having to speak those sentences aloud – not always practical when in a class based on learning to speak a language spontaneously.
And it is those spontaneous conversations where I feel I really need to work. And since that is the whole idea of learning the language … well, as you can imagine, I am struggling a bit with my self-confidence. But I am working on it! Outside of class, Jan and I talk in simple Norwegian often. And that is really helping me with that “insecure feeling” of my education, as the learning then comes alive. His comments in Norwegian (and then translated into English when I need it) and his patient help if I answer a little “off,” have been the backbone of my comprehension and learning.
Our routine: class four days a week, my individual study alone at night, and then in the morning Jan and I go over my homework and focus on conversations about possible classroom discussions. This routine really has helped my concentration and focus, although I do find I often dream Norwegian words and sentence structure … probably not a BAD thing to my overall learning, but sometimes frustrating when I wake up realizing I was conjugating Norwegian verbs and I could DO IT CORRECTLY in my sleep but I cannot DO IT now when awake!! 🙂
To answer a question I have been asked several times in anticipating this move to Norway and in emails since then: Yes, most Norwegians speak English. In my conversations these past months, whether with cashiers or other dog owners, my tentative “I don’t speak Norwegian yet – do you speak English?” has only been answered with a “No” once. And everyone has been very friendly, very curious, very polite with our conversations and their questions as we enjoy our English language interaction.
But this is Norway. This isn’t Great Britain or Ireland or New Zealand, where English is not only spoken but is THOUGHT. Can you appreciate that reality? It has taken me a while to verbalize it (and I only really started to realize that when I woke up frustrated with my Norwegian-language dreams and wanted familiar and comforting English thoughts to replace them).
Yes most Norwegians can speak English, but it is the NORWEGIAN LANGUAGE that is alive in their thoughts. It is what is in their heads with every waking moment.
There is a rich and varied history and culture and language here, and as an American citizen married to one of theirs, I want – no, I need – to be immersed in it. And, as an American citizen interacting with the people of this country, I don’t want to come across as a self-centered, loud individual – behavior that will reflect negatively on my country. (Yes, I have seen that … yes, sadly, he was an American.)
That’s my drive with learning Norwegian. And even with just the little I have learned so far, I enjoy much more the interaction I have now with the grocery store cashier, or that person walking by me when MacKenzie gets nervous and jumps a bit towards them and I can say “Unnskyld!” (“Sorry/Excuse me!!”), then correct Mac’s behavior in English. They certainly recognize my accent and broken Norwegian as foreign, but I’m trying to communicate with them in their native language and they appreciate that.
I know that is the same in every country!