Learning a Language in a Foreign Land

Learning a language is not that easy…particularly when have you no Germanic language background (ok, aside from English) and live in a country where virtually everyone speaks English, sometimes better than I do.  My writing and reading is quite good while my speaking and understanding kind of sucks.  I get a lot of questions about how I learned to read/write so well and I thought I’d take the time to answer them in this post and hopefully, can help give someone ideas in case they have hit a creative roadblock on the language they are trying to learn.

I began learning Norwegian prior to moving here.  Here I am still unable to speak confidently, but I get by nowadays with no problem. There are many great platforms to learn languages in addition to the tips I mentioned below.  I have personally used Preply for language learning and loved it!

I began tackling the language through blogs.  Before becoming a poor expat, I was very into fashion and makeup and would read fashion blogs in Norwegian daily.  The good thing is that these blogs are large for Norway, but not large on an American scale, so you feel more close to the bloggers anyways and it keeps you more interested in my opinion.  Anyways, I would read about 7-8 Norwegian fashion blogs per day and it was probably the key to my reading success.  After attempting to read them on my own, I would Google translate them and scroll over every word so it would show the original with what it translated.  That helped me realize if I was correct or not on a word.  I hate Google translate, but it helped me out during that time so I’m quite thankful really.

When I travel, I love grabbing fashion magazines from the countries I travel to, and I always save them.  Well, when I traveled to Norway before, that was no exception.  I’m a person who does not ever like to be bored, so when I’d be somewhere waiting in line, I would just grab the magazine out of my purse and translate and read.  Nothing is better than reading something you’re interested in (fashion) while learning something you’re interested in learning (Norwegian).


Scattergories and Scrabble are EXCELLENT tools to help one learn a language.  Granted, my Scattergories game was English, but I would only allow myself to answer the questions in Norwegian.  This made me rack my brain for Norwegian words to answer each category with.  It helps build your vocabulary for sure!  I always had to play by myself, which kind of sucked, but it was super useful and an idea I recommend to everyone.  Scrabble is no exception.  Probably better to play Scrabble with someone, however.


Listening to music in the language you are trying to learn is super crucial, I believe.  It is clearly one of the cheapest and easiest ways to learn some words/sentences.  Print out the lyrics and sing to them.  Just do it alone or you will be laughed at (guaranteed…only speaking from experience!)

The Internet
Thank freaking gosh for the internet I swear.  Without it, learning a language is so much more difficult.  There are such great sites or tools like LiveMocha and Byki which help you learn seriously any language.  The more common or spoken the language you are trying to learn, the more tools you’ll find online.  Norwegian sites are difficult to come across, but they are there.  Some sites (for Norwegian) I have used to help at one point or another are: Norwegian Language Info, Transparent’s Norwegian Language Blog, and My Little Norway.  Also, if you’re not familiar with Couchsurfing, you should be.  While the website prides itself on being a site to connect people to travel cheaply, it is also a great resource to meet locals in your own area that can help you with the language you are setting out to learn.

In Norway, you are unable to volunteer or work in barnehage (more or less a daycare even though some people argue it is kindergarten) unless you have permission or reference from the police, but that does not prohibit you from volunteering with other organizations in the area.  If you’re interested in sports, see if you can volunteer at a local recreation center or facility in order to be around children a bit more.  They are such a great resource when learning a language because they WANT to talk to you.  And they won’t give up.  They will keep trying to get you to speak regardless of whether or not something is coming out of your mouth.  I’m not much of a kid person myself, but if being around young ones helps me learn Norwegian better (which it DOES), I’m sold.  Right now I am volunteering at a local vintage shop beside where I live two days a week to help me with the language.  It is helpful because during our downtime I can just converse with the shop owner and she helps me and is super patient.  I also get to look at vintage clothes all day…which doesn’t hurt.

Kid’s Books
Blahh I know, who wants to read these books??  Well, it is actually a great way to help teach yourself grammar from the ground up… just as a child learns.  I refuse to purchase any of these books (they are expensive here), but my local library is ALWAYS giving away free books.  They keep a rack of books at the entrance that they are getting rid of.  I always rummage through them to find new ones and take them home to read.  While reading them is not my issue, I make sure I read them aloud, which helps me with the speaking.  If your local library does not have a rack out like mine does, try asking the librarians.  I bet they can tell you where to obtain some…or just check some out and return them.  Very simple!  Also, if you’re with another person who already knows the language, have them read the kid’s book to you aloud and you write what they say on paper.  This can definitely help with your listening/understanding skills.


Keep a Journal
I feel as though I write so much via email, Facebook, or this blog that I don’t have the time to write more elsewhere.  But, I know my Norwegian writing skills will blow if I don’t get my practice somewhere.  Therefore, I keep a journal on paper, but all in Norwegian.  I have found that writing can be the least used of the “reading, writing, speaking, understanding” parts to learning a language if not done…so I make sure I do my fair share of it.

Disney Movies
Most likely, every Disney movie worth watching is dubbed in the language you’re trying to learn.  I mean, watching The Lion King in Norwegian without Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ voice is kind of harsh, but I definitely think it is super helpful.  Disney movies don’t use words that are hard to understand and most likely, you already know the plot to the movie (pending you’ve watched it before), so you can use it as a learning tool and not becoming so engrossed in the story.


This is a pretty common method for most people, but it helps to put a post-it note on everything around your home or flat with the “new word”.  For example, the Norwegian word for ‘mirror’ is ‘speil’.  I could easily just place a sticky note on the mirror with that word so I am being exposed to the word often.  I am beyond this right now, but it is a good thing for beginners of a language to do.  And if there is an article before the word, don’t forget it!  No sense in learning a word without the article.


Well, that about concludes the ways I have come to learn Norwegian even though I have yearrrs to go to actually feel confident in this language, or even just to speak it!

Do you know a language other than your native tongue?  If so, what did you do to learn or master that language that is unique to others? 

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Comments (32)

i am pretty good with language but i am so lazy :(

i want to learn spanish for a long time and i really have to start soon!

for me music and movies are really good to learn it!

I was lucky that I picked up Polish naturally when I was growing up, thanks to my parents speaking it at home I was able to speak and understand it fluently. Until a year or so ago, I couldn’t read or write it though. I taught myself to read (which I’m pretty proud of!), knowing the vocabulary really helped. I still struggle with writing through, but 3 out of 4 aspects aren’t bad! ha ha
When I was learning German throughout high school and Uni, I found flash cards really helpful. Old school method but it worked for me! :)

Hi! I’m a recent follower, an American who is living in your neighboring country of Sweden at the moment:) Great tips and I have to agree with all of them! I taught myself some German a few years ago on my own just doing a lot of reading, listening to music (yes I love reading the lyrics and singing along, hehe), and watching videos online (I watched something called Fokus Deutsch but not sure if it’s still online). Sometimes I don’t know what we would ever do without the Internet, so many resources there. Now in Sweden I am luckily able to take a language course but still using the same methods in my spare time. For me it’s all about repetition using different, real world methods (not just reading a grammar book all the time) and having fun while you learn. My Swedish is still at a beginner level, but like you I feel okay with reading and writing, and I feel like I’ve come so far since moving here. Good luck with your Norwegian!

Maybe I should start reading French blogs….I don’t have so much trouble with reading it though. Or listening and understanding it. Lol my issue is spitting it back out.

These tips are amazing! I already do most of them, I am definitely thinking I should be keeping a journal and checking out some Danish blogs. Although, lately I have been quite a slacker at checking out blogs I already love, like yours for example. I missed it! I find it helpful to watch TV shows/movies with Danish subtitles, because I can read better than I can understand. I definitely have to start watching Disney movies though, since I know all the words to them in English, it would be super helpful to listen to it in Danish. PS: You are very inspirational, and make me want to work harder at learning Danish!

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