My Adventures With the Norwegian Language

Mike Whitehead

Norwegian Society of Texas Althing Secretary and Viking Chapter Secretary

My first contact with Norwegian people, language and culture was back in the winter of 1981. I had moved from Olathe, Kansas to Dallas, Texas in August of that year. Later that same year, I was introduced to a small group of foreign students, Norwegian nationals, who were planning to stay in the U.S. for about two years. During those two years, I was happy to become acquainted with those friendly and intelligent people. Driven by a desire to get to know and enjoy them on their own terms, I bought a small paperback book titled ‘Teach Yourself Norwegian’. I applied myself to the lessons in that book diligently (“obsessively” would be a more accurate adverb here!) and sought out the company of my new Norwegian friends daily, insisting that they help me acquire their language—which must have taxed their patience to the max, bless their hearts! Within about three months, I was able to converse with them comfortably, to read articles in several issues of some Norwegian publication they supplied for me, and to write a simple journal as a practice assignment that one of the ladies gave me.

It is important to clarify, at this point, that I do not consider language as an end in itself, as a mere academic, intellectual exercise. The reason I was so eager to learn Norwegian was because I strongly desired to know and enjoy my new Norwegian friends in a more ample dimension than would have been possible had I expected them to meet me on my own linguistic terms. Language is the most important tool we humans have for connecting with one another on a substantive, meaningful, comprehensive level. Many anthropologists and sociologists would say that the strongest barrier against entering a society is its language; they would also say, conversely, that the best way to enter a society, to get your foot in the door, is to learn its language.

So, how is my Norwegian these day? Frankly, not so good! During the past 39 years, it has degenerated shamefully. However, I am not dismayed over that loss, thanks to the Norwegian Society of Texas which makes it possible for me to meet and enjoy many people of Norwegian cultural heritage—and many Norwegian nationals—with or without a good command of the language.

Nevertheless, I still do what I can to avoid losing my Norwegian altogether. I encourage our readers to take advantage of the tools that we NST members have at our disposal for improving our Norwegian, as I do. For example, try conversing with any native speakers who may attend your chapter’s functions. Read a Bible in Norwegian. Find a web site in Norwegian and read it at your own pace. Subscribe to a publication such as “The Norwegian American” which always runs a few brief and interesting articles in Norwegian on the second page, and features some humorous comic strips, both in modern Norwegian and older dialects. You can also find articles in that publication that explain Norwegian vocabulary and syntax to the interested learner and even include interlinear translations to help the beginner.

The only way to acquire, hone and preserve a language is to use it. The only way to maintain your zeal for it is to use it to connect with people who interest you and who are interested in you.

Til alle mine norske venner, ha det bra!