Swedish or Norwegian?

It is often said that you only need to learn one of these, and you’ll get a reading knowledge of the other one for free.

Furthermore you can (so it is said) go to Sweden and speak Norwegian, or vice versa, and everyone will understand 100% and nobody will even be bothered by it. (It is true of written Danish too - but alas the pronunciation of spoken Danish is like something else entirely.)

This raises the obvious question: which of these languages should foreigners focus on learning?

Of course, if you are based in Norway it would be kind of nutty to learn Swedish. Likewise if you are based in Sweden, Norwegian would be a wacky choice.

But all things being equal, there must be a pretty good argument for learning Swedish, on the grounds that it has more native speakers than both Danish and Norwegian combined, right?

Yet it is sometimes argued that Norwegian is actually the smart choice, because it will make Danish a little bit more comprehensible - i.e. Norwegian “sits between” Swedish and Danish. (There is a video about this somewhere on Richard Simcott’s Youtube channel.)

What do you guys think? Is the smart money on Swedish or Norwegian?

Which Scandinavian language to study? - http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=17671

Some highlights:
Speak “standard” Swedish or Norwegian and you will be understood in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Swedish-speaking parts of Finland, and possible the Faroe islands and Iceland too.

Nobody will be bothered if you speak any of the languages in any of the other countries, as long as you speak clearly.

Swedish/Norwegian/Danish are very close, probably a lot closer than Spanish/Portuguese. You just have to tune you ears to the sound of the other language in order to understand it.

Note that they all are quite similar in writing (Danish and Norwegian VERY similar), but have quite different pronunciation (Norwegian and Swedish share some features, though). If you don’t grasp the pronunciation of any of the three, you might end up speaking some kind of (broken) “Scandinavian” (not that it’s a bad thing), and nobody will know which language you (are hoping to) speak.

For what it’s worth, I read somewhere that there are more resources for learning Swedish.

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I think Jeff’s final point is particularly important here. If you have no other way to choose between the two languages, going for the one with the most resources is probably the best idea.

@Jeff: “…If you don’t grasp the pronunciation of any of the three, you might end up speaking some kind of (broken) “Scandinavian” (not that it’s a bad thing), and nobody will know which language you (are hoping to) speak…”

Thanks for the link :wink:

Actually I can see the advantage in speaking a kind of “internordic”. (I was surprised to see this in a Wikipedia entry recently, but apparently there is a well established trend in border regions to speak a dialect known as “Svorsk” - a kind of blend between Swedish and Norwegian!?)

@Colin: “…I think Jeff’s final point is particularly important here. If you have no other way to choose between the two languages, going for the one with the most resources is probably the best idea…”

In the context of LingQ I guess that would imply Swedish? (Having said that, though, there is a surprisingly decent amount of resources for Norwegian out there beyond the shores of LingQ…)

I have long felt that I should go for one or other of these languages. I’m a VERY lazy learner these days, and if I ever get stuck into another language, it’ll probably be something which has high transparency for a guy with English and German.

I dunno…I’m genuinely torn between the two.

(BTW I’d also quite like to learn Icelandic, but comparing the grammar of Swedish/Danish/Norwegian to Icelandic is like comparing simple arithmetic to differential equations! :-0)

Sure, go for Norwegian if you have enough resources! Just don’t get stuck on the Bokmål/Nynorsk issue, or the presumed dialect issue for that matter. (Even natives find both exaggerated, as do I)

Svorsk isn’t necessarily “border Swedish-Norwegian”, but rather Swedish accented Norwegian (at least, that’s what I’ve heard). I don’t hear people saying that Norwegians in Sweden speak Svorsk, only Swedes in Norway do, but the term might be OK for both situations.

On reflection, I think it wouldn’t be bad to listen to audio resources for all three languages (I have German Assimil editions for Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and English Linguaphone editions for Danish, Swedish, Norwegian - plus one or two other things besides.)

But as regards the written form and grammar, I reckon one has to focus on either Bokmål-Norsk or Swedish. One has to build some kind of formal “base”, I think.

I have the impression that the plurals are easier in Bokmål? On the other hand there are one or two things I like about Swedish…so…hmm…

I have lived in Norway for five years so there was no choice for me. I have little difficulties understanding spoken Swedish and I kinda like the sound of it even though to me Norwegian sounds best. Danish I have to admit I find not pleasing at all sonically.

There is beautiful content available for Norwegian, for example Dagsnytt Atten, a daily current affairs program available as mp3 download on iTunes, and there is Søndagsavisen and Verden på Lørdag, both weekly shows also available on iTunes. Both is authentic media content and I don’t think they have transcripts. But I think for Norwegian there is not much need for graded content, I was basically fluent after 3 months (no pun intended).

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@Friedemann: “…I was basically fluent after 3 months (no pun intended)…”

Hey, you should start a travel blog! :smiley:

Seriously, though, I’m sure you’re right - I reckon these would be the easiest of all target languages for folks who have a good knowledge of English and German vocabulary. I could see myself getting a pretty good passive understanding in three months. (I doubt that I would be able to speak so soon, however…)

How do you manage your wordlists, Friedemann? Do you use this method from the start? How exactly does it work?

J_4_J - first of all, I think it’s a great idea to listen to audio in the three languages, especially basic material. Even if the actual sentences aren’t the same, I think you’ll cover more or less the same “content”.

Bokmål might be a good choice, especially if your resources use it (you have to start somewhere), but one can’t deduce prosody etc. from spelling alone. Even natives say that the Bokmål vs. Nynorsk issue is exaggerated, e.g. “there are so many allowed forms that it is hard to go wrong” - http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=34530&PN=1&TPN=36

Your question about plurals isn’t something that you should need to worry about. I know there is strange idea that Norwegian is the most difficult language in the world because there are so many dialects… What if someone says something in a different way than you expected? Whaddyathink?

Jeff, I actually thought that Norwegian plurals were EASIER than Swedish? (i.e. I thought that Swedish has more ways of forming plurals?)

Maybe I’m totally wrong on that?

But I guess you’re right - it’s not a huge issue :wink:

The Bokmål vs. Nynorsk issue is a bit confusing at first for people who want to learn Norwegian but it really is a non-issue. The reason why the issue exists at all is only because of typical Norwegian political correctness and regional interests in some rural areas in Norway especially in Western Norway. If you want to learn Norwegian, simply stick to Bokmål, which is the equivalent of German Hochdeutsch.

Norway is not a country with two distinct languages. Nynorsk as I understand it is simply an artificial synthesis or weighted average of several regional accents with its own writing rules. But if you know Bokmal you can read and understand it without problems. From a Bokmal basis it is much easier to understand Nynorsk, I think, than to understand Danish or Swedish. So the Bokmål-Nynorsk dichotomy does not really exist. Most people especially from the Oslo region will speak a standard Bokmål accent and than you have a variety of different regional accents like you have in the UK as well. I cannot remember a single case where I could not understand a Norwegian because of his accent, so don’t fret!


I use all 3 on a semi-regular basis with the occasional mixing of the two languages when speaking to a good Norwegian friend of mine or “Bergensk” with another Norwegian friend. Danish is most definitely the most difficult pronunciation wise but nonetheless I still find Danish quite pleasant and “laid back” sounding to my ears but then again I’m a Danish-Swede I’ve noticed that most dialects tend to have a mixture of bokmål and nynorsk. The problem with Norwegian though is that it seems like it is much more difficult to find music that is actually in Norwegian than it is with Danish or Swedish but I still manage to find some and in dialect too mind you.

J4J: Just choose the one that appeals to you most and go from there. It’s good to see that more people are learning Scandinavian languages!