Norway is a lesser known but still popular tourist destination, with a wealthy, vibrant economy and friendly people, but just how widely is English spoken there? Can a tourist passing through Norway use English to get by there?
Almost all Norwegians, around 85-90%, can speak English to either a basic or good level. with many of them very fluent and proficient. This is characteristic of most of the Scandinavian countries.
You will have no problems using English in all areas of Norway. A 2016 Study placed Norway as the fourth best country in the world in terms of the English speaking proficiency of the general population, behind only Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. In other words, English is very widely spoken there, and fluently spoken as well, much more so than in Southern Europe for example.
All schoolchildren are taught English from around the age of 6 right through the rest of their schooling years, and so are very competent and fluent when they reach adulthood. Many of them also learn second foreign languages such as German, French and Spanish.
English Speaking Tourists in Norway
A good rule of thumb for all the Scandinavian countries is if you walk down the street and stop ten people, eight or nine of them are going to be able to converse with you in good English. In other words, English speaking tourists have nothing to worry about visiting Norway or any other country in the region.
You will be perfectly fine in any hotel, restaurant or bar using English, and even anywhere else in the country, such is the widespread prevalence of English speakers. Unlike so many other countries we cover on this site, almost anyone you meet in Norway, younger or older, is going to be at least OK and probably fluent in English. Very few cannot speak any at all.
Similarly, tourist info at all the major attractions and help centers is printed in several languages, including English. Norwegians will not be offended if you try to initiate conversations in English, though it does always help to have some basic introductory phrases – see our section further below.
In other words, English speaking tourists have nothing to worry about when visiting Norway or any other Scandinavian country for that matter. You will always be able to converse in English whenever you need to do.
Why Are Scandinavians So Good at English?
This is a very interesting question, since it is very clear that all the Scandinavian/Nordic countries are very fluent in English, more so than say other countries in Europe or Asia. The obvious answer as to why is teaching the children English from an early age, but many other countries like Japan and South Korea also do this and still have very poor spoken English proficiency.
So what is the difference then that makes Norway and other Scandinavian countries stand out for English fluency? In addition, Norwegians are taught very rigorous English but actually rarely practice it, don’t speak it in their everyday lives, yet are still very fluent when approached by a tourist.
This is in contrast to countries like Japan which put a huge amount of money into teaching English at school, yet the population is still very poor at spoken English. One could argue that is because they don’t get chance to practice it in spoken form but neither do the Norwegians that much, yet they are still very proficient. What’s the difference there that explains this discrepancy?
The main reason is probably that the Nordic languages are actually quite similar to English in many ways, so there is actually not much of a leap there to learn it, since many words and pronunciations are either the same or quite similar.
By contrast the Asian languages are totally different in style, structure, alphabets and pronunciation, and therefore without constant verbal practice it is just too much of a leap to be competent at English just learning it on paper. The languages are formed and spoken so differently whereas English is closely related to the Nordic languages.
Another reason is that there is far more immersion in English language culture in Norway and other Scandinavian countries than in other parts of the world. They are constantly exposed to films and TV shows in English for example, which over time helps them to pick up the language much more than just learning in a stale classroom environment.
A third reason is also that Scandinavians tend to be well aware of the importance of speaking English in terms of career prospects and therefore actively want to learn it as opposed to being forced to by compulsory education. They see the obvious benefits of being able to speak it in terms of travel and work opportunities and therefore are more motivated to learn good English.
The main emphasis here that other countries could learn from in their teaching of English and other foreign languages is that learning has be practical and not just theoretical learn-a-set-words-on-a-page style learning. It has to be based on regular verbal practice and also it helps enormously if youngsters can be exposed to the language in wider culture (TV and films) so they constantly have a chance to get better at understanding it.
Some Basic Norwegian Phrases
In Norway and the other Scandinavian countries, you are far less likely to need the local language than elsewhere in the world, but it always helps to learn some basic local phrases regardless and natives in all countries always appreciate it.
Norwegian is closely related to the other Scandinavian languages as well as to English, so many of the words are quite close translations are not too difficult to learn or pronounce. Here are some of the more common words you might use.
|Please||Vær så snill||Vaar sho schnill
|I'm sorry||Jeg beklager||Ya bek-lah-geh
|You're welcome||Vær så god||Va sha goh|
|Excuse me||Unnskyld meg||Unshun my|
|Good morning||God morgen||Goo morn|
|Good afternoon||God ettermiddag||Goo ettermiddag|
|Good night||God natt||Goo natt|
|See you later||Ser seg senere||Ser-deh senerah|
|Nice to meet you||Hyggelig å møte deg||Higglier a mer-te dye
|How are you?||Hvordan går det med deg?||Voordan gor de-meh- dye-g
|How much is this?||Hvor mye koster denne?||Voor meer koste den-neh?|
|Can I get the check/bill please?||Kan jeg få regningen er du snill||Kon-e-fa ryeningen ah du snill?
If you’re looking for a language learning app, Mondly offers 41 languages (including Norwegian) for you to learn on any device, with plans starting from $4/month, and a free version also accessible with no signup required. It is used by over 100 million people worldwide and has excellent overall reviews with it’s easy user interface and emphasis on quick learning and progress. See our overview of the platform here.
Norwegian, Danish and Swedish are very closely related, especially in written form, so to learn one is to learn all three for practical tourist purposes, though there are some minor differences.
If you want to learn Norwegian in a little more detail then check out this Pimsleur introductory Norwegian audiobook course on Amazon, available for free with a trial of the Audible service.
Alternatively, see here for a travel guide which covers Scandinavia in general if you are passing through several countries in the region.
You can get a Nordic phrasebook here.
If you are looking for cheaper accommodation, click here to check out the excellent Hostelworld booking tool, with thousands of budget accommodation options (hostels, B&Bs, budget hotels, guesthouses) in over 170 countries.
Countries are slowly starting to open back up to international travel. See here for a guide on which countries are currently open to tourists with little or no entry restrictions. Norway was one of the first countries to open in March 2022.