The easier and the harder aspects of learning Norwegian

Is Norwegian hard to learn? Or, to rephrase this question in Norwegian: “Er norsk vanskelig å lære?”

As this example sentence shows, Norwegian uses a version of the same Latin alphabet used in English, so learning Norwegian does not require memorizing an entirely new alphabet, in contrast to some of the other foreign languages like Korean, Thai, or Hebrew.

The Norwegian alphabet is simple

The Norwegian alphabet contains only three extra letters. Two appear in the example sentence (‘å’ and ‘æ’), and there is also the letter (‘ø’). Some examples of Norwegian words with these letters are in the table below:

Norwegian English
båt boat
språk language
lærer teacher
vær weather
dør door
øye eye

Those three additional letters bring the size of the Norwegian alphabet to 29. But five of these (c, q, w, x, and z) rarely appear in Norwegian words, which explains some spelling differences between Norwegian and English, as illustrated in the table below.

Norwegian English
musikk music
kvalitet quality
vinter winter
eksempel example
organisasjon organization

Basic Norwegian vocabulary is not too hard

So, is Norwegian an easy language? Or as one would ask in Norwegian: “Er norsk et lett språk?”

The first step to learning a new language is memorizing some vocabulary words, which, in the case of Norwegian, is not too difficult because many of the thousand most frequently used Norwegian words resemble their English translations.

In most cases, these vocabulary similarities are not random occurrences; instead, these pairs of similar words are cognates, meaning they have a common origin. In many cases, that common origin is a Latin term.

Norwegian English
artikkel article
aksjon action
kontroll control
skole school
minutt minute

Of course, not all Norwegian words are similar to their English counterparts. That would be too easy. And if that were the case, then Norwegian and English would probably be classified as dialects of each other rather than separate languages.

Here are some examples of Norwegian words that are very different from their English versions:

Norwegian English
virksomhet business
dyr animal
seier victory
spørsmål question
kveld evening

Norwegian and English are related languages

Norwegian and English belong to the same language family; both are Germanic languages. As a result, common patterns between the two languages make Norwegian easier to learn.

Not all Germanic languages, however, are easy to learn. Icelandic, for instance, has preserved complicated grammatical features from Old Norse (the language spoken in Scandinavia during the Viking era), and even German has some complex grammar rules.

But Norwegian, Swedish, and Dutch are Germanic languages that are relatively easy for English speakers to learn.

Norwegian verbs are particularly easy

In contrast to English, Norwegian does not conjugate verbs according to the subject pronoun.

For example, below are the conjugation tables for the verb “to be” in Norwegian and English:

In English:
you (pl.)
In Norwegian:

Norwegian grammar is relatively simple

Norwegian evolved from Old Norse, just like Spanish evolved from Latin.

Old Norse and Latin have complicated features (grammatical cases in particular). But just as grammatical cases disappeared as Spanish evolved from Latin, they also disappeared as Norwegian evolved from Old Norse.

Icelandic has preserved these grammatical cases. That’s one of the reasons why Norwegian is much easier to learn than Icelandic.

Knowing German makes learning Norwegian easier

If you already know German, then learning Norwegian will be easier.

During the Middle Ages, the German language influenced Norwegian. At the time, a German-speaking organization of merchants called the Hanseatic League had trading posts in several northern European cities, including Bergen in Norway.

During that period, the German and Norwegian languages were in contact, which led to the inclusion of German loanwords into Norwegian. Here are examples of similar words in both languages:

English German Norwegian
art Kunst kunst
work Arbeit arbeid
teacher Lehrer lærer
peace Frieden fred
freedom Freiheit frihet
necessary notwendig nødvendig
famous berühmt berømt
important wichtig viktig
careful vorsichtig forsiktig
language Sprache Språk
rare selten sjelden


Norwegian is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.