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Norwegian: hard time understanding when they talk


I live in Norway, been here for some time, I did courses up to level A2, now here. Planning to get in B1 course after summer.

I don't know if normal but I , having a hard time to understand, I can't follow any conversation.

I could understand quite well to my teached, out of there I am lost. Is that normal? Any tips on how to improve on this?


July 16, 2015



I would think that is normal.

Sadly there's not really any language courses that prepare foreigners for the many different dialects you will encounter in Norway. There's not really a good way of teaching people these dialects, even if you reduced it down to the 4 main groups.

Can you at least make yourself understood when you speak Norwegian? that alone should be a way to get into conversations with people. And once you manage that, and show interest in learning. Then I am sure people would love to help you understand dialects.


Well I dont use to speak must norwegian yet, at shops only, and if things get complicated I change to english, everybody speaks english here......which make easier to live but not good for being force to speak the langues.


I know, a lot of us are not very patient, and switch to English too fast. You gotta insist on them speaking Norwegian to you, it's the only way you can get any practice.


I think the best way is to not switch to English if you struggle, just ask them to repeat something if you didn't understand what was said. Most people will understand you're learning the language and start to talk slower and pronounce words better when they repeat them.

It's of course easier said than done. The times I've visited Norway I also noticed how literally everybody speaks fluent English. Only met 1 really old lady in a shop in a remote place who didn't speak it. So I can understand it's really tempting to just switch to English if you're struggling. It's kinda a poisoned gift if you try to learn the language.

Since you live there for a while now didn't you make Norwegian friends yet? In the beginning it's probably a bit more comforting to have conversations in Norwegian with people you know.


I live in Norway and have the same problem. My partner speaks very slowly and clearly when talking directly to me but when there is a group conversation and the speed picks up I'm lost. On top of that, I live up North so the dialect is different from the Norwegian I learn here. Anyone from Finnmark I can't understand at all! The only thing I found that helps is when I'm learning a phrase to force myself to say it as quickly as I can. It's natural to want to be careful and slow down every syllable when I repeat it but if I get used to hearing myself saying it at a faster pace I can recognise it more readily when it crops up in conversation. Hope that helps a bit.

Good luck.


If you haven't already, you should watch Norwegian TV, movies, etc with English subs. You might even be able to get English subtitles on your TV by playing around with some settings. It probably won't work for all shows, and that feature might not even be available in Norway, but if it works you should be able to get subs for many popular shows (I do this in the US, but with Spanish audio subs for practice).

Also, you could try NTNU's "Computer-Assisted Listening and Speaking Tutor" (CALST) program, which is free and has a lot of listening and writing exercises. The vocabulary is fairly basic, but it could help you "get an ear for the language," as they say.

I'm interested to know if the subs will work on your TV, so please share your findings once you try it. :-)

Link to CALST: http://www.ntnu.edu/isl/calst-for-learners


Also I just looked at your profile and saw that you're Spanish, so here is a link to another one of NTNU's free online Norwegian programs, en Español: http://www.ntnu.edu/learnnow-es

That way you won't have to translate Norwegian - English - Spanish.

Hope I helped! :-)


Thank you for your tips. I was trying the subtitles at tv but I have not been lucky so far. I will need to give it a try. I also checked on Nextflix. All I have been able to get it english audio with norwegian subs, that's kind of the normal thing here.

If I managed to get norwegian shows with english subs that would be great, I will let you know if I manage.


I've never found English subs, but I know at the very least NRK has an option for Norwegian subs. My mother in law turns them on for me when I'm visiting because I can read fairly well, but have a hard time following quickly spoken Norwegian. If your reading is okay you could try that; it's helped me a lot with listening to the language. It may be bad, but I get a lot of my language practice from listening to commercials and sports. Some people say to watch kids shows (simple language, usually simple plot), but I find them annoying to watch and so don't really commit to them.

That being said, I've found having the context of the conversation has helped immensely when trying to follow a conversation between native speakers (esp up in Trøndelag where the dialect gets hard to follow). I think this is why commercials and sports helps -- I already have the context.


Personally I think if you're not yet fluent in English, you should spend more time learning English than Norwegian. Even when living in Norway. It's more useful.

I think the "understanding" part has to come with time. your brain has to physically adapt to a language, which will take months or years. And then suddenly everything seems easy.

What helps though is getting a good "formal" grip on the language, like vocabulary and grammar, and I think Duolingo is best for that. Never seen a better word and grammar coach.


I have to disagree with Andreas83, if your job or social life depend on Norwegian (which living in Oslo I assume must be the case) then make that your priority. The less stressful and lonely you can make your move to a new country the easier the transition is.


I have my family with me, so loneliness not a problem....but interacting with norwegian is sometimes. I would feel better if not asking them to speak english to me all the time. Like when talking to my daugters teachers, neighbors, etc....


I am fluent in English...I work for an international company where Norwegian is not requiered. But obviously I work with many norwegians and live here, so learning Norwegian is one my priorities.

I agree Duolingo best tool I have seen so far.


The only thing I can think of is to ask people to speak slower to you. Your brain will begin to work with the language quicker. Just be aware that people generally do not speak in the same way as the language is written, so sentence structure and pronunciation may be different than anticipated.


It's very normal to have a hard time following conversations between native speakers, especially when people speak quickly, use slang terms or cultural references, and have differing dialects. It gets much easier over time with lots of exposure to the spoken language. I also live abroad and I watch more television than I did in my home country, just to hear different variations of the language everyday.

This website has many listening exercises with transcripts. I'm using it to help me get a better feeling for spoken Norwegian. It might be of use to you as well. http://www.learnnorwegiannaturally.com


Thanks for the link!! I will try it!


I'm struggling with this, as well. I am learning several languages through Duo (was already fluent in French since childhood) and I have major difficulty understanding the spoken Norwegian and Russian. I see what the words are, and then the sounds coming from the speaker sound nothing like it. Being a native English speaker, I realize that we do the same thing. When we are speaking in most situations, the pronunciation of words is "lazy" and things run together. But when you listen to, for example, Google translate, the computer voice pronounces the words clearly. I listen to GT sentences in other languages and they sound clear. But just as in Duo, Google sentences spoken in Norwegian and Russian sound unintelligible to me. I am wondering if this is a matter of these languages being so different from my own and from the language I learned (French) at an optimal point in neurodevelopment. Or if I'm not understanding the way that proper pronunciation works in these languages.


Where do you live / what dialect are you having trouble understanding? Do you understand østlandsk without great difficulties?


I leave in Oslo area...it's like I can'get words but not meaning of full sentences


I have been trying to train my ears (and my tongue) to the language by listening to Karin's videos. She is from Oslo area which should help you. I like the way she says things first slow and then normal speed. https://www.youtube.com/user/Crienexzy


I second that. Karin has been a great help to me.



I guess you are :) because I've got the same problem. I'm even very good in understanding speakers at NRK (Norwegian radio) but everyday conversations especially via telephone are very difficult to me.. I guess it is because teachers, radio&tv speakers basically use Oslo dialect without slang. Also people on the street are talking too fast often with their own dialect that can be very very difficult.... So you're normal :)


Thanks you the advice! :)

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