What Language Do People Speak in Norway?

Scandinavian languages fall under the broader classification of Germanic languages. Languages spoken in Scandinavia are close enough that Danish people could converse with Norwegian people without knowing each other’s language. [1] 

People speak Norwegian as well as Sami in Norway, though Norwegian is the most commonly spoken.

Sami is a Uralic language spoken by the Sami people, the indigenous people of Scandinavia. Most Norwegian people also speak English. 

There are many dialects of Norwegian and two written variations – Bokmål, used in the cities and mainland Norway, and Nynorsk, used in the interiors and more isolated areas of the country.

This article will explore Norwegian and Sami and the difficulties of learning Norwegian. 

Also, see Who Was the First King of Norway? to learn more.

What Are Norway’s Two Official Languages?

The origins of Norway’s languages vary as one is Germanic, while the other is broadly understood to be Uralic in origin. 

Norway’s two official languages are Norwegian and Sami, and these have their own dialects. Norwegian also has two written forms, Bokmål and Nynorsk. Sami is Finno-Ugric.

The ones spoken in Norway include Southern Sami and Northern Sami, which are Western Sami languages. 

All dialects of Norwegian are mutually intelligible, and their usage varies from region to region. 

Since people in Norway traditionally lived in small, isolated communities, a lot of different dialects developed.

However, these dialects are similar enough that most Norwegians can understand each other easily. 

When it comes to written Norwegian, Bokmål is more commonly used. Norwegian is also used in the Nordic Council as a working language. [2]

Sami is the official language of several municipalities, depending on the population.

Sami is spoken by the Sami people, who are spread across the Scandinavian and Nordic regions. 

Bokmål and Nynorsk 

Bokmål literally translates to “book tongue” and is used as one of the official written forms of Norwegian. 

Bokmål is extremely close to Danish, as it was adapted from the official Danish forms.

The language is a throwback to the time when the Norwegian and Danish crowns formed the Kalmar Union. [3]

When the language was first adopted, it was called Riksmål, meaning “National Language.” With time Riksmål has submerged into Bokmål, with very few differences between the two.

Nynorsk means “New Norwegian” and is the second official written standard for the Norwegian language.

It was assembled from several different Norwegian dialects by the philologist Ivar Aasen. 

Nynorsk is closer to spoken Norwegian, especially when compared to Bokmål, which is essentially an adaptation of Danish.

However, the reach of Nynorsk is limited, as only a small percentage of the population has it as their written standard. [4]

These written standards spill over into spoken Norwegian, but it is far more common for people to speak in their respective dialects or a Bokmål influenced Norwegian. 

Sami Language and Culture

Sami is spoken by the indigenous people of Northern Europe that spans across the Scandinavian and Nordic regions and Russia. [5]

Very few people speak Sami today, but as the Sami people are indigenous to Norway, their language has official status.

The Sami language is an important aspect of the traditions and heritage of the Sami people, and Norway has been working conscientiously to ensure that the language is preserved. 

Like Norwegian, Sami also has its own variations, with Northern Sami being the most commonly spoken.

Several variations of the Sami language are now extinct or believed to be extinct as the number of people speaking the language dies out. 

Today, only about 30,000 people speak Sami, though many more identify as Sami, which means that preservation efforts need to be more robust. 

How Much of Norway Speaks English?

English is often a common second language for many people in the Scandinavian region, who are able to speak the language well enough to communicate. 

Nearly 90% of Norway speaks English fluently as a second language. All Norwegians learn English in school as a second language and use it primarily in professional spaces.

Norway is among the top ten countries where English is spoken well despite being a non-native language. 

Norwegians tend to use their native language for most of their day-to-day communication and interactions with family, friends, and colleagues.

For the average Norwegian, English is a convenient language to be used when on vacation.

For working professionals and business people, especially those who work globally beyond the Scandinavian region, English has a more important role.

Nevertheless, the use of English is functional rather than casual. 

While most people are comfortable using English and happy to do so when necessary, there is prevalent negativity towards the increasing use of English in education and business. [6] 

There is growing concern that overusing English could lead to Norwegian becoming obsolete, especially since English loan words have slowly become prevalent in Norwegian. [7]

If people start using English exclusively, that would mean a loss of the Norwegian language and culture. 

Is Norwegian Easy to Learn?

Whether Norwegian is easy or difficult depends on the native language of the individual who wants to learn. For instance, Russian speakers may find Norwegian extremely difficult. 

Norwegian is easy to learn if your native language is English. Since Norwegian is a Germanic language like English, there are enough similarities to make picking up the basics easy.

However, developing fluency takes a bit more effort and time. 

Norwegian isn’t as difficult as Japanese would be for an English speaker, but not as easy as Spanish, either.

There are enough differences that make it slightly difficult to become a fluent Norwegian speaker, especially considering the wide range of dialects spoken in Norway. 

However, learning Norwegian is usually a rewarding experience for expats, as it makes assimilation into the culture much easier. 

While Norwegians do speak excellent English, they stick to Norwegian for the most part. Making friends and developing a social circle is much easier when you speak the language. 

People learning Norwegian are typically advised to start with Bokmål as it’s the most commonly used written form and has spoken variations as well. 

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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