Norwegian dialect

I am aware of the fact that books and websites that teach Norwegian are actually teaching the written form. However I am also aware of the fact that Norway has a ton of dialects and that they are not the same as the written form of Norwegian. Norwegian is a beautiful language, but what discourages me is that if I buy a book or access a website to learn it, I will only be learning the written language. This means that I will not understand Norwegians when they speak in their own language. I know most of them can speak in English, however I would like to communicate with them in Norwegian without sounding awkward and also I want to be able to understand them. So native speakers and learners of Norwegian what do you advise me? Should I be discouraged or should I continue learning Bokmål? What about the dialects? Is the Oslo dialect really close to Bokmål? I know its long but I would really appreciate it if you help. Thanks a lot

April 28, 2017


The Oslo dialect, and indeed most of the Eastern dialects, are very close to Bokmål.

Some of the Western, Central and Northern dialects are going to be tricky to decipher initially, but become more accessible with exposure. They may use different endings, for example, but there's a pattern to it which you will pick up on. Dialect specific words are always going to be an issue, but they're an issue for natives as well. Generally, people want to be understood, so they will adjust to the listener; if you don't understand the word, they'll supply a synonym (this is a great way of learning too!).

While Norway is very clear on the two writing standards being strictly written, and letting people speak their own dialects, the reality is not at all different to English. The regional variations in spoken English are no less substantial than the regional variations in spoken Norwegian. If you watch "Treme" one evening and "Peaky Blinders" the next, your brain's going to have to adjust - and it does!

What's special about Norwegian is that the dialects are celebrated and used even in the most formal of contexts, and also that there's such a wealth of variation in a rather small geographical area. There's also less of the toxic "My English is the only correct English" attitude which I see plenty of in the sentence discussions.

P.S.: No Norwegian expects you to speak perfectly, or master a specific dialect. As long as you can make yourself understood, you needn't worry too much about sounding awkward.

So if I "speak" Bokmål, I would be really close to speaking the Oslo dialect right? And also you mean that dialects only require "getting used to" and not learning a completely "different language" right? Thanks a lot btw.

Yes. If you "speak" Bokmål, you're actually speaking something called Standard Østnorsk.

Understanding most of any given dialect just takes a bit of exposure, as most of the differences will just be slight variations in pronunciation of what is essentially the same word. It's the truly dialect specific words that will give you trouble. In any case, it's certainly not like learning a completely different language... unless that language is straight-across-the-border Swedish. ;)

Thanks a lot for your great explanations. You gave me motivation to continue learning Norwegian.

Bare hyggelig, and welcome to the course! :)

It can be frustrating for us learners, while Norwegians are of course used to it. There is no going around it, it's an aspect of Norwegian culture that has to be embraced. At least for the foreseeable future. Imho the best approach is to learn Bokmål and then a specific dialect, which will be the one of the capital unless you are particularly interested/live in another Norwegian city.

The linguistic peculiarity of Norway was actually something common in many Countries of Europe some 2 centuries ago or less, without even the standard form

Takk så mye! I am going to do as you said. Once I reach a good level in Bokmål (my goal is B2), I might think of learning a dialect. BTW, What level of proficiency will I reach if I completed the Norwegian course on Duolingo?

I've been learning Norwegain for a while now. We run a northern lights business in the north and have bought a cabin there now too so its really important for me to be able to speak the dialect rather than the "official" language. I've come to the conclusion that whilst in England I should learn the proper way and when out in Norway I will be understood (hopefully). As I spend more and more time out there hopefully I will pick up bits of dialect and then blend in a little more. I don't see any other way around it unless you are living there and can learn purely by listening. Good luck! Its quite disheartening to have so many different accents and dialects in the beginning. I can understand the lovely lady who records all the phrases on Duolingo perfectly. If only all Norwegians had her accent I'd be ace! LOL!

Learn Norwegian (Bokmål) in just 5 minutes a day. For free.