I saw an article in Aftenposten this morning titled ´Nordmenn er verdens mestere i engelsk´(Norwegians are world masters in English), which I thought was quite ironic since I just posted about Språkrådet, the Norwegian Language Council, the main goal of which is to preserve the Norwegian language and not let English take it over. Therefore, I simply had to pick this article out and write a post about it.
It is certainly not just Norwegians who possess excellent English language skills. Other nationalities that have proven their incredible fluency in English include the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. I have heard both that Norwegians are the best and that the Dutch are the best. It doesn´t much matter, but it is certainly interesting to think about and to observe if you are in the vicinity of either Norwegians or Dutch people speaking English. I remember my sophomore year of college, I became good friends with a Norwegian boy (who I am still very good friends with) and I could barely believe he was from Norway. Were it not for his stories and his distinct Scandinavian look, I would have thought he was joking-his English was that good.
Several years later when I was living in Oslo and studying at the University, I became good friends with 2 Dutch girls who also spoke impeccable English. Honestly, I doubted my own English skills (despite the fact that it is my mother tongue…) because they were so good. All of the Norwegian and Dutch people I have met (except for older people who either didn´t learn English in school at all, or learned a very minimal amount) fit this stereotype. They are absolutely incredible!
The question is why? The answer has multiple components/they have several things in common:
-like Denmark, Sweden & Finland, Norway and the Netherlands are small, wealthy, northern European countries. This reason is essentially the major reason that all others stem from.
-students start learning English early and particularly in college, some, if not all classes are taught in English
-TV, music, media, and computer games, to name a few, are heavily influenced by the English language. Movies are subtitled, rather than dubbed, as many other countries do
-no other nationalities speak these languages (except colonies…), so it is imperative for people in these countries to learn English if they want to be part of the global community in any way
-people from these countries typically travel a lot and therefore get to use English more than their less traveled counterparts
Some people think that one of the main reasons that northern Europeans are extremely good at English is because these languages are Germanic and have similarities to each other and to German, for instance. I happen not to subscribe to this philosophy as much as the others for several reasons:
-Finnish is not Germanic or similar to any of the other mentioned northern European nationalities who are proficient in English.
-If this philosophy was true, theoretically Germans should be able to (but doesn’t) speak English just as well as other northern European nationalities like Scandinavians. Also, theoretically Spaniards and Portuguese people should have roughly the same English language skills, but in fact, the Portuguese are known to be more proficient in English than the Spaniards.
I found a pretty funny comment about the Dutch being so good at English: Their own language is not music to their ears. Ha!
What are your thoughts?