Do Norwegian People Speak English

Do Norwegian people speak English? 

Scandinavians are known for their high levels of English proficiency, and countries in this corner of the globe regularly rank well in such indexes. But do Norwegian people speak English as well as people think, or is it a huge myth? 

Like Sweden and Denmark, the answer will vary depending on where you go in the country. But modern-day Norway is very international and — for a nation with only 5.4 million people — plays a relatively large role in global affairs. 

In this article, you’ll learn about the extent Norwegians speak English. You will also discover whether you can live in the country without speaking Norwegian or whether you’ll need to know it. 

Do Norwegians speak English? 

Is English spoken in Norway? In short, yes. But if we’re looking at things from a proficiency perspective, the answer is a little more nuanced. 

When identifying how good a country is at speaking a language, the best place to start is the annual EF English Proficiency English Index (also known as EF EPI). At the time of writing in June 2022, the 2021 edition is the most recent one available to the public. 

If we look at the overall table of countries, Norway had the fifth-highest English proficiency in the world; we should note that Iceland wasn’t included in the report. 

Denmark, in third, was considered the best English-speaking Nordic country; the Netherlands (1st), Austria (2nd), and Singapore (4th) were the other three nations in the top five. 

The EF EPI also breaks down English proficiency in different major cities across the globe. And again, Norway did pretty well. Oslo, the country’s capital, finished 10th and in the “very high proficiency” section. 

Copenhagen (2nd) was the highest-ranking Nordic capital, with Helsinki (3rd) and Stockholm (5th) also performing well. Dutch capital Amsterdam finished top. 

Do Norwegian People Speak English

Is English spoken widely in Norway?

We’ve already seen that Oslo ranks well for English proficiency, and you should have no problems getting by without Norwegian in the capital. How many people in Norway speak fluent English elsewhere, though?

You can similarly expect high English proficiency in Stavanger, which is the most important city for the country’s oil industry. Many Brits live in Norway’s south, and you’ll find dozens of weekly flights to and from Aberdeen and other parts of the UK. 

Norway has several excellent universities, many of which attract students from all over the globe. Tromsø, the largest city in the Norwegian Arctic, is one of these; you won’t have issues speaking English here, which is helped even more by its buoyant tourism sector. 

Trondheim, the third-biggest city in Norway, also has a popular university — and many people here speak English. Bergen is another international city with high proficiency levels, so not knowing Norwegian won’t be a problem here. 

If you visit parts of Norway that aren’t frequented by foreigners, you might find it more difficult to get by with English. Similarly, you will probably notice a generational divide. 

Many older Norwegians might not have had much exposure to the English language, but most of the younger generation won’t have a problem communicating in it. 

Do Norwegian People Speak English

Why do Norwegians speak such good English? 

Okay, so you now have a better idea of Norwegians’ English proficiency levels — and where you might stumble into potential problems. Why do people in Norway speak English so well, then? 

Below are some of the main reasons why Norwegians have higher levels of English than most of the world. 

Norwegian is very similar to English 

If you’re considering a gentle introduction to a foreign language, Norwegian isn’t your worst option; it’s one of the most similar languages to English. 

When you learn how to communicate with Norwegians, you will notice several words that are pretty close — if not identical. Examples include: 

  • Stasjon = Station 
  • Kaffe = Coffee 
  • Brød = Bread

Even if Norwegians didn’t learn English at school — more on that in a moment — understanding the language wouldn’t be too difficult with a bit of focused learning. Most Norwegians would probably pick up English to a high enough level within a year or two if they consistently practiced. 

Norwegian is taught at school 

Another reason that Norwegians speak excellent English is that they learn the language at school. The younger generation is particularly good at English because of this.

Norwegians usually start learning English at school from between Grade 2 and Grade 7, and they typically have plenty of years of learning experience. So, when they’re ready to step out into the world, many are already equipped with the necessary skills to communicate with non-Norwegians. 

At university, you’ll find English and Norwegian language courses at universities in the country. Many Norwegian students mix with internationals, meaning that they’re more likely to not use their mother tongue. 

Norway has a huge tourism industry 

Norway is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, and it’s unsurprising that over nine million foreign visitors stayed overnight at a hotel in the country in 2017. The country has a booming tourism sector and has invested heavily in ensuring the infrastructure can deal with the growing number of visitors. 

Naturally, most foreign tourists visiting Norway do not speak Norwegian. As a result, tour guides will typically communicate in other languages — including English. The same goes for hotel staff, restaurant staff, museum personnel, and so on. 

The Norwegian tourism industry spreads across the length of the country, with many people starting their trips in Oslo before moving on. Areas like Lofoten, Tromsø, and Svalbard — the latter of which is visa-free — have a lot of exposure to foreigners and the English language. 

Norway cooperates with multiple countries 

Norway is increasingly international, and the country plays a significant role in global markets. The UK is one of its most important trading partners, which often requires communication in English. 

The country has a mixed economy, with energy, oil and gas, and tourism all contributing to its modern prosperity. Norway also plays a key role in humanitarian matters abroad, and while not a member of the EU, it is one of NATO’s founding members. 

Many international businesses also have offices in Norway, including IBM and Meta — formerly known as Facebook. English is often the main corporate language in these companies, meaning that Norwegians who work for these typically have significant exposure. 

Norwegians consume a lot of English-language content 

While Norwegian-language TV series like SKAM and Occupied enjoyed success in other countries, Norwegians consume content in English as well as their mother tongue. Perhaps the country’s biggest British import is soccer; the Premier League is hugely popular throughout Norway. 

Many English-language musicians have also built strong fanbases in Norway; British rapper Dave has performed in Oslo, for example. Many Norwegians have also enjoyed significant success from singing in English; examples include Kygo and Astrid S.

Norwegians also watch English-language movies, many of which aren’t dubbed into the local language — and of course, some of the biggest Netflix TV series are popular here. 

Norwegians like to travel

Even if you’ve never visited Norway, you will probably bump into at least one Norwegian when traveling abroad. People from Norway love to visit new places and have had a strong traveler’s gene ever since the Vikings set foot. 

Meanwhile, in the 19th century, many left their homeland for pastures new in the US. 

Today, many Norwegians take a gap year before continuing or beginning their studies. Many visit the likes of Southeast Asia, and Southern Europe is incredibly popular for summer holidays. 

When traveling abroad, most Norwegians will communicate with others in either English or the local language.

Do Norwegian People Speak English

Can you live in Norway only speaking English? 

If you live in one of the larger Norwegian cities, you can very easily get around without speaking Norwegian. And if you only plan to visit for a short period, you similarly can get by with English alone in most places. 

However, not attempting to learn Norwegian will limit you for several reasons; we’ll discuss some of these below. 

You will find it incredibly difficult to make friends 

While many Norwegians are excellent English speakers, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t rather speak Norwegian. Norway is a very tight-knit society, and many people have known their friends — most of whom are probably Norwegian — since childhood. 

If you’re trying to break into a friendship group, you will probably find it a huge challenge if you have no knowledge of Norwegian.

Your job opportunities are limited 

Norway has quite a large middle class, meaning that you’ll find plenty of work for less desirable jobs like cleaning. But if you want a “traditional” career like you’d have in the US, you will almost certainly — unless you have a very in-demand skill — need to speak Norwegian. 

Most professional job opportunities will require candidates to have a good level of Norwegian alongside their English. Ideally, you’ll want to have another language to help you stand out as well — but Norwegian and English are good starting points. 

You won’t fully understand Norwegian culture

Norwegian culture is unique, even if it looks very similar to the other Scandinavian countries. How many places on earth can you go skiing before coming back to a wooden cabin to enjoy waffles with brown cheese? 

To truly understand the Norwegians and their way of life, you need to have a knowledge of the language. Doing so will broaden your cultural horizons much more than only knowing English will. 

You can speak with other Scandinavians if you know Norwegian 

Norwegian is very similar to the other Scandinavian languages, and you can learn one of the other two much easier if you already know Norwegian. Many Norwegians communicate with Swedes in their mother tongue, and Sweden’s West Coast dialect is similar to Norwegian. 

If you know Norwegian, you can also understand written Danish without many problems — though you’ll need a little practice before mastering the spoken version. 

Do Norwegian people speak English?

In short, yes.

So, there you have it. Now you know the answer to “do Norwegian people speak English?”. The short answer is yes — many people in Norway speak excellent English. However, it depends on where you live or visit — and who you’re talking to. 

If you plan to stick around in Norway, we strongly recommend that you learn Norwegian — regardless of the locals’ English proficiency. And even if you’re visiting, knowing the language will enrich your experience significantly. 

When visiting Scandinavia, you might want to start in Copenhagen — arguably its coolest city. Luckily, getting to Oslo from the Danish capital is straightforward — as this article explains

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