How to sound like a Norwegian?

Norwegian girl with a Norwegian book

When learning a new language, the ultimate goal, beside fluency of course, is to be able to sound as much like a native speaker as possible, to not be immediately singled out as the foreigner in a conversation. To help you achieve your goal, we have put together a list of tips and tricks that will help you speak Norwegian better and make it easier for you to blend in with the natives – linguistically speaking.

The bane of any Norwegian learner’s existence – dialects, dialects, dialects

As you might already know, Norwegian poses a small problem for non-native speakers – it has an incredibly varied range of dialects. Since you decided to learn the language, you are probably aware of this. If you are already living in the country, you are likely frustrated by it. When it comes to pronunciation, it’s kind of both, the good news and the bad wrapped up in one. Since there’s almost as many dialects as there are places in Norway, chances are there is someone somewhere that pronounces a word or phrase the same way as you do and chalks it up to it being a dialectal variant. But it makes it somewhat difficult to understand what people around you are saying, let alone to try and adapt their way of speaking to yours.

The easiest variant to comprehend is Urban East Norwegian (standard østnorsk), the standardized spoken language based on the written language bokmål. Though strictly speaking not a dialect, it is the easiest to learn as it most often used on TV, radio and other media outlets. It is also closest to the dialect of the Oslo-region and the East.

Now that we have scared the bejesus out of you, what tips do we have to help you understand the dialects and improve your own accent? Meet your new best friend – NRK Radio. Here you can listen to local news and all sorts of other programmes from all the regions of the country. As we have mentioned in our previous blog post, watching series and movies with subtitles, listening to audiobooks, radio programmes and podcasts is one of the best ways for you to improve your skills. Repeating what you hear, especially more difficult words and phrases, recording yourself and correcting your mistakes is a form of active learning that few other things can top.

Sounds in different contexts

Girl teaching pronunciation

In a previous post we have already talked about the Norwegian alphabet, but to help you speak Norwegian more like a native, we must discuss how different sounds behave in certain contexts.

  1. The sj (English /ʃ/ or SH) sound – there are several clusters of letters that together produce the SH sound. The three most common ones are sj (sjakk, sjimpanse), skj (skje, skjorte) and sk (ski, skøyte).
  2. When /s/ follows /r/, the S sound becomes SH, even when the two are in separate words. For example: Det er så mange ting jeg har lyst til å gjøre. – here you pronounce ‘er så’ as ‘er shå’.
  3. /g/ is pronounced /j/ before –y, –i and –j – gift, gjøre, begynne
  4. The /h/ before /v/ and /j/ is silent – hva, hvem, hjelp, hjemme, hvit
  5. /o/ is often pronounced /å/ when it precedes two consonants – kommer, godt, også
  6. The /g/ at the end of words ending in -ig is silent – hyggelig, veldig, koselig
  7. After a long vowel the /d/ is usually silent – god, brød
  8. The /d/ in -ld and -nd is usually silent – kald, kaldt, vind, vinden
  9. Retroflex consonants (mostly in the Eastern dialects): this is one phenomenon that might seem a bit daunting, but once you’ve mastered it, you will sound so much more like a native. When pronouncing retroflex consonants, the tongue is curled bit upwards and backwards on the roof of the mouth.
    1. rt (kort, bart, erter)
    1. rd (ferdig, verdi)
    1. rl (særlig, ærlig)
    1. rn (barn, garn)
  10. The word ikke often gets contracted to ‘kke in fast-paced speech. ‘Får ikke’ turns into få’kke, ‘vil ikke’ to vi’kke, ‘har ikke’ to ha’kke and so forth.
  11. If you’ve had the chance to meet and talk to Norwegians in person, you might have noticed a strange sound they make that seems like a breathing problem. This phenomenon is by no means a medical issue, but a linguistic phenomenon called a pulmonic ingressive – a sound created by an inhaled breath. Sometimes when saying ja or nei, Norwegians make this sound mostly to show that they agree with a statement and to encourage you to continue.

Use idioms and expressions

As with any language, the use of idioms is a great sign of fluency. And Norwegians love their turns of phrase, proverbs and different phrasal verbs. So, if you want to blend in with the crowd, try and learn as many of these as you can and include them in your day-to-day vocabulary. Write them down on sticky notes and create sentences with them as often as you can, that way using them will become a habit.

Are there any sounds or words or even dialects you are struggling with on your language learning journey? Let us know in the comments below.

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300 most frequently used words in the Norwegian language

300 most used words in Norwegian
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