As part of my plan for international relocation, I have started taking Norwegian language lessons. I have currently completed 3 weeks of a 10 week course in basic Norwegian at a University in London.
Getting to the classes in the first place is an adventure in its own right, because I don’t actually live in London. London just happens to be the closest place that offered classroom-based lessons. I had initially looked at tutors, but at the time I thought that the cost was prohibitive – I reckon my opinion about that will have changed dramatically by the end of the first term.
I take a train direct into London, and then it’s a hop, skip and a jump on the Underground to Regent Street. All told, it takes me at least an hour and a half to get there; the journey back home is another matter entirely, but I will leave that for what I suspect will be a venomous rant about the state of public transport in the UK by the time the 10 weeks are over.As for the lessons themselves, I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I am never happier than when I am learning something…actually, that’s a lie; I am also really happy when I am drinking beer. But I digress! Learning is something I find really fulfilling, especially when it is something I am interested in to start with.
The language itself is surprisingly easy. Once you know how to pronounce it, a lot of it is similar enough to English and German that you can pick it apart and work out what it means. Being able to hear what is being said is still nigh on impossible, but I am finding that my ear is slowly starting to be able to separate out words and syllables, and I expect that is going to improve in increments as I learn more words and know what I am actually listening for.
Pronunciation started out being difficult, and still is – but for different reasons. I am aware that English is very different to most European languages in that we pronounce our vowels differently, but in addition to that, Norwegian has three vowels that simply don’t exist in English. Luckily enough, all the vowel sounds DO exist, you just have to remember to substitute the correct noises in.The thing that has come up recently, and has really surprised me, is a rather inoffensive consonant. I am currently being undone by the letter ‘r‘.
I had never really thought about it before, but we don’t really pronounce hard ‘r‘ sounds in English. At the start of a word, let’s say “roger” for example, ‘r‘ is simply a modified ‘w‘. Anywhere else in a word and it’s just an ‘ah‘ sound.
Prior to Norwegian, the last language I studied was Spanish, where the ‘r‘ tends to be an over-exaggerated rolling sound. A lot of British people can’t even do it; I’m OK because I’ve spent a lot of my life practising by talking to cats. It’s better if you don’t look too closely into that one.
So, I am struggling at the moment, because my points of reference for the letter ‘r‘ are extreme opposites; none at all, and a full-on purr. This presents a problem with Norwegian, because the difference between the infinitive of a verb and the present tense is an ‘r‘ on the end, e.g. “å snakke” and “jeg snakker”.
As with anything else, practise will make perfect; muscle memory and all that. Eventually it will just become a shape my tongue makes normally, but right now it is surprisingly difficult.
And I thought I had learned to say my letters 30-odd years ago with Sesame Street…