Learning Norwegian With SKAM

I first started learning Norwegian ar the end of January (55 days ago, according to my Duolingo streak!). At this point, I had not yet heard of the Norwegian highschool drama that had swept the world, SKAM.

If you also haven’t heard of SKAM, it is a webseries-cum-television sensation set in a Norwegian highschool, and following the daily lives of a group of students. While it is somewhat dramatic, the series isn’t quite as on-the-nose with its themes as other, similar programs. Instead of Very Special Episodes devoted to “teen issues” such as eating disorders, sexual assault, drinking too much or bullying, these ideas are woven into the narrative naturally. The realism is striking, and allows the viewer to identify so much with the characters.

There are also a lot of modern twists here – show producers set up social media accounts for characters that are active while the series is airing. Want to know what your favorite character had for lunch that day? Check their instagram. The show also uses text messages between characters as another way to demonstrate what’s going on. Entire subplots take place through text alone. Another unique aspect of the show is that the episodes are titatrated out on the web throughout the week. A new clip might be posted on a Thursday night, where the characters are out at a party. The next clip might be released Friday morning, as the friends sort through the aftermath in school.

The series is interesting, and different, and so I thought I’d give it a try to help learn Norwegian – and was that ever a good decision!

For starters, the kids on the show speak like real, live teenagers. This is neat, because you quickly become exposed to slang, curses and other colloquialisms not taught in traditional Norwegian courses. You also get a variety of examples of the cadence of Norwegian. With such a musicial language, it’s nice to have many points of reference for how it is actually spoken. This is something that was certainly missing from the online newspaper and podcast, Klare Tale (still an awesome resource!).

SKAM is also a good introduction to other dialects of Norwegian. Norway has quite a few different dialects, which can seem overwhelming on paper. Listening to one of the other characters who speaks the dialect from Bergen, you get a better understand of how these dialects work.

SKAM also provides a good sense of how people text, and the abbreviations which have become present in all languages in written digital communication. There are likely not going to be many opportunities for me to actually utilize this, but who knows! Maybe someday…

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously not using only SKAM to learn, but this series certainly provides some new material, and a pretty fun plot. I’m definitely a fan, and can’t wait for the next season!

Duolingo Norwegian: 60 Days In

I’ve officially been studying Norwegian with Duolingo for 60 days now, with the intention to finish the tree in 90. I’m right on track, and possibly even a little ahead in that I’ve got just 28 of the tree’s 117 skills left to complete.

The Norwegian tree in Duolingo (I’m on tree 3.0) is longer and more in-depth than the trees for many of the other languages. The Polish tree (which I was working on a little while back, but have since slowed down on) has only 68 skills. Because of the depth of the Norwegian skill tree, I feel as though it may better prepare learners for actual use of the language.

The course teaches well over 3,000 words, which is around a B1 level of proficiency according to the CEFR scale. Granted, just using vocabulary size is a poor indicator, as this does not take into account either knowledge of grammar or the ability to string these words together. It is a decent starting place, though.

So, 60 days into studying Norwgian with the Duolingo tree, I actually feel pretty well-equipped, gramatically. Because Norwegian and English use tenses in a very similar manner, the grammar has thus far been pretty straightforward. The course has already gone over the past tense, past and future perfect tenses, we’ve discussed the passive voice and also conditional statements. This far exceeds what I learned in my University German course (Level 1, whatever that means), and is actually pretty on par with what I learned in my AP Spanish class. Granted, I had a far broader vocabulary in Spanish back in the day, but this had been acquired over three years of institional learning. I don’t know whether this speaks to the inefficacy of the American school system, or how fabulous this Duolingo course is, but either way – I’m learning a lot!

I am still watching random Norwegian programming, and listening to podcasts and reading newspaper articles online, and this has all been rather helpful. I find myself looking up fewer and fewer words every day.

I’ve also managed to keep up with doing at least 5 “strengthen skills” sessions, most days completing more than that. So, these practice lessons combined with the new skill give me between 120 and 300XP per day. There have been a few days when I’ve done tons of practicing and gotten upwards of 500XP. At this point, I’m at level 16 on Duolingo, because of all this practicing.

For me, it’s not about the XP so much as seeing the information as much as possible. I think one place where people can go wrong with Duolingo is just doing the lessons and a little practice and assuming that’s enough. I like seeing all the words used in a variety of ways, and seeing the fun sentences that the course creators came up with. It’s also nice to see different contexts for certain words, as they can have multiple meanings.

I often see Duolingo criticized for not fully demonstrating the nuances between the usage of certain words. But (at least for the Norwegian course) between the course notes, the comments on sentences and the variety of sentences available, the shades of meaning become more clear. It really does just come down to doing tons of practice sessions, on both the mobile and desktop platform (this might be in my head, but I swear I get different sentences doing this!).

Basically, I’m going to keep plugging along with lots of practice and see where things go! I’m feeling really good about finishing this course on time, and retaining the information.