BIG, EXCITING (and maybe a little sad) NEWS — a NEW Norwegian blog!

Hei alle!

You’ve probably been wondering why I’ve been absent from my blogging duties here. Ever since I selected Norwegian and went to Norway, I’ve been devoting my free time to studying the language, albeit quietly. In the time I’ve been away, I’ve also thought very carefully about how to advance my next goal: to become fluent in Norwegian. Because I don’t live in Norway and self-learning presents a host of challenges, I decided that I needed a method to immerse myself in the language and track my own progress. Equally as important, there are countless language blogs for popular languages like Spanish, French and so on, but only a handful for the Scandinavian languages. And I can’t be the only one who thinks Norwegian is awesome, can I?

So, after lots of consideration, I’m excited to announce a brand new blog at Tumblr: Pardon My Norwegian! This blog will begin where 37 Languages left off. You’ll get to see my adventures and unconventional approaches to learning norsk, along with fun and quirky tidbits about Scandinavian culture (trust me, there are tons) and even posts from fellow language learners. Get ready to get your Norwegian on — it’s going to be SPENNENDE!

Unfortunately, you might have guessed that this means no more posts from here, at least for a while. I’m not entirely sure about the status of this blog myself but we’ll see what happens as time goes on. There are few words in any language that could describe how amazing this project has been and how sincerely appreciative I am for all of you who have followed, commented or even helped me with 37 Languages. So, I hope you stick around as I roll on over to Norwegian.

Klem,
Keith

Pardon My Norwegian
Pardon My Norwegian on Facebook
Pardon My Norwegian on Twitter

A Kentuckian’s adventure to Norway: Rolling, skål and a little thing called Eurovision

Me at Oslo Sentralstasjon.

It’s been over a month when I revealed Norwegian to be the final choice for the language blog. Since that time, I’ve been a faithful and diligent student to it and I … well. I kinda, sorta went to Norway.

As one would say in Norwegian, uh … hvad?

Let’s do a quick rewind to early 2008, before the language blog began. As I mentioned before, I discovered an intriguing song competition called the Eurovision Song Contest, a highly watched annual series which airs every May (though not broadcast in the United States, unfortunately). Eurovision, as it’s most commonly referred to, would play a huge role in my trip to Norway.

[For the Americans reading, imagine if (almost) every country in Europe had American Idol. Now imagine if all the winners for each contest got together and competed in a "Grand Prix" of sorts, with representatives singing virtually anything from ethno-pop ballads, to heavy metal power anthems, with occasional drag queens and costumed performers. Add a dash of controversy and kitsch and you have a rough image of the 56-year old tradition that's watched by hundreds of millions around the globe annually.] Over the course of that time, I learned more about the contest and followed it heavily the next year, in the midst of stage one of the language blog. I also met other fans virtually who would soon become part of my inner circle of friends, most of them European, all equally if not more so passionate about the competition as I was. In May 2009, Norway won the 54th annual Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Fairytale” by Alexander Rybak, eclipsing the runner-up by a record number of votes. I didn’t have any travel plans set at the time, but coincidentally I had been considering visiting Norway and Sweden by the end of the year. I gave a lot of thought to attending the Eurovision Song Contest. Not only would this be an opportunity to meet my inner circle of friends, but there was a strong possibility that Norwegian would be selected for the blog. It would be the perfect opportunity to have an intimate encounter with the language. By October, I had already booked my plane tickets.

Arriving to Oslo Airport.

A month has almost past since I took off to Norway, but the details line up perfectly in my head, even though they seem innumerable. The plane was small. No televisions in the seat for my third time abroad. I switched places with a young mother and sat by an American. Behind me, I heard snippets of Norwegian spoken by young blond people around my age, which I playfully nickname as “rolling.” Every now and then during the latter half of the flight I would open my eyes, passing snow-capped hills and steep fjords and later fall back asleep.

I got off at Oslo Airport at Gardermoen around middag (noon). The first words I saw were a bright “Hei” with the appropriately-themed “Share the Moment” from a Eurovision advertisement and ankomst (arrivals). Oslo Airport was quiet and impeccably clean. Every other person seemed to be wearing designer clothing. I spotted more blonds, including a young woman cleaning the men’s bathroom. After checking email and my Facebook of course, I bought my ticket to Oslo Sentralstasjon.

Walking down Karl Johans Gate.

Walking on the street, I continued to hear the rolling, except it was stronger and sometimes faster. I got lost searching for my host’s home, and several times I had to ask “Snakker du engelsk,” sometimes repeating myself. I finally found my destination and met my host, who was more than gracious the week I was there. After helping me understand Oslo’s orientation, I saw my first glimpse of NRK (Norway’s CBS or ABC), this time on an actual TV. Coincidentally, the first-semi final of Eurovision was airing. My host served me some tasty brød and sjokoladepålegg, as I studied the label and pronounced every other word I saw on TV or from books he had on his table.

I met half of my inner circle at the Oslo Opera House, which is adjacent to the Oslo Fjord. Both matched in serenity and impression. I was late and they were inside taking a tour of the building, which partially relieved a few of my nerves I’d been holding onto for nearly a year. I remember the hugs and the smile that never left my face so strongly as I type this, along with all of us taking photos with our cameras.

Me with my international (and awesome) group of friends.

The week was filled with non-stop meetings and activities related to Eurovision particularly with an incredible dress rehearsal of the final, marking this as my first experience of seeing Eurovision in person. Some hours before, we had a detour to Vigeland Park Friday of that week, in which I was honored to participate in my first ever international picnic. Meeting with so many people, most who had traveled from other parts of Europe themselves and exchanging goodies from our native lands was undeniably one of the major climaxes of the trip. The day before, some of us had been interviewed in a Danish newspaper (see pages 60-61) about our special group of 10, with some of us coming from Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and even Luxembourg. I have the newspaper article and I’m happy to say I can read it comfortably (if you remember, Danish is mutually intelligible with Norwegian).

Care for a Norwegian beverage?

The entire time I was there, I was beginning to uncover more and more tidbits of Norwegian culture. Solo soda and flavored seltzer water was something I never passed up at a Narvesen. The people were louder and much more diverse than I imagined. Beer was incredibly overpriced, along with candy. And Norwegian itself continued to sound like it was rolling to me, although I was able to make out signs that had frokt (fruit) or grønt (greens) or the vær (weather) section of a newspaper. One vivid memory I have is being at a 7-11 (which are everywhere in Oslo) with two energized Norwegian middle-aged women, kidnapping my flag and saying “Heia Norge” before jumping into a rolling conversation with me.

The night of the Eurovision final was the last time I saw mostly everyone. After lots of dancing and celebrating Germany’s triumphant win, I said my goodbyes at the prestigious Euroclub, where we tended to meet nearly every night I was there. With an American flag around my neck and German warpaint on my face, I walked the streets of Oslo, draped in an Azerbaijani flag to keep me warm. (I cannot make this up.) It was past 4 AM and the sky was well lit, but the spirit from earlier was far from gone. Many were gathered, either talking or still celebrating, while some were leaving Oslo right away, walking with suitcases in tow or hopping in a taxi. I had even ran into several friends before making it back to my host’s home.

A mother and her daughter at Oslo Fjord.

Sunday, the second to last day I was there, was a great opportunity to observe Norwegian more closely. I went back to Oslo Fjord upon suggestion of my Danish friend Kris and walked around Akershus Fortress, snapping shots along the picturesque pathways. I felt brave enough to practice my norsk, so I made a short video (listen to it here).

When I left on Monday, I ran into my Irish friend and his aunt, who lives in Oslo. They got coffee and we chatted for a bit before he left. After being interrogated for security by a sweet Swedish girl from Småland, I had to get my luggage scanned. After everything went through, the alarm went off again. But the guard had laughed, patted my back and just said “værsågod” followed by a brief bit of rolling. This was the last time I would hear it before getting on the plane. When I landed back home in Kentucky, my voice was gone. My family greeted me and I yelled a loud, “Hey, hvordan går det,” incredibly happy to see them while forgetting where I was. It was around midnight and SDF was as quiet as OSL when we left.

Norway from the plane.

There were many things I acquired from my short trip. Apart from the ones related to learning Norwegian, I can certainly say life-long friendships were formed, along with an experience that can only be described as an adventure. But my feelings for Norwegian, however, have changed. It’s hard to explain, but listening to it after learning it for several weeks I was a bit frustrated I didn’t understand more of it than I did when I was there. It was harder to pick up on words, listening and speaking, than I assumed. I do think this has solidified my determination to become fluent in it (if only to understand my Scandinavian friends I met in Oslo).

So, will the Kentuckian meet his goal? Jeg håper. If not, I can always brag that I’ve been to Norway. I still have a bunch of kroner in my wallet if people don’t believe me.

And the language is …

… NORWEGIAN!!!!

This was NOT an easy decision to make! I was completely torn between all of the ones from Part Two, especially Turkish. However, I think I made the right decision and am very excited about learning the language.

You can listen to me talk about this in my interview with Patrick Cox from “The World in Words” podcast here. Also, feel free to subscribe to the RSS if you enjoy languages — it’s a really awesome show!

I cannot thank you all enough, from those who helped me in this project to those who read the blog and even all who participated in this virtual event. You are truly amazing and this could not have happened without you.

There’s more to come, including why I chose Norwegian and a video of me speaking it! Stay tuned!

Ha det bra og klem!

37 Languages: A brief look back

From the beginning, I never would have guessed that this project would take over a year. I had expected to be complete within five months time, choosing the language with little fan fare and studying it privately.

After being prodded by my friend Dana, I decided to publish the blog. I chose a bunch of languages randomly, with 37 being the amount selected. I picked them based on areas I could see myself living in, along with how many speakers each language had and how accessible they were. I left out languages I learned about before and/or just didn’t like, such as German and Italian, but added a few that I knew a great deal about but stopped learning, such as Spanish and Japanese.

Romanian was the first one. It almost seems like yesterday when I first  remember listening to the words of “Ghita” and trying to figure out if it was a weird progeny of Latin or something else. My interest grew when I got to Macedonian, a language I had really never heard before in my life.

Norwegian, the language that really prompted me to do the blog, was an early favorite and was one of the first on the list. It was fun to pronounce and it seemed familiar to me, as if I had heard it when I was a kid. My feelings about it were so strong that I wondered if any upcoming language would be able to compete.

It didn’t happen for a while. I flew past Slovenian and hated its case system. I Malagasy because I could never find any resources for it. And I dismissed Hindi, frustrated with trying to understand the Devanagari script.

Then came the interview with Patrick Cox and the World in Words. Overnight, my readership went from 10-20 per day to hundreds. I began to receive more and more feedback about the languages I selected, which only proved to be helpful.

Such was the case with Finnish and Czech. I initially passed on them for their many noun cases, but was challenged by readers who tried to explain how logical their declensions were. I didn’t see it at first, but when I got to Serbian, I had an “aha” moment. I started to appreciate them and when I became acquainted with Croatian, which is nearly identical to Serbian, I was swooned.

I continued down the list, mastering the tones of Chinese and Xhosa’s click sounds but was left underwhelmed. Right after them came Portuguese, which I thought would be a duplicate of Spanish and thus, leave me with even more ennui. But once I learned how to pronounce its nasal vowels and heard its Ds and Ts, we hit it off instantly.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all in the blog was Turkish. A non-Indo-European language with lots of declensions and an agglutinative nature, I was sure to ditch it right from the start. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was easily swayed and it stayed on my mind, along with early favorite Norwegian and new favorites Serbian, Croatian and Portuguese. It easily made it to Part Two, along with Albanian and Swedish, which were both surprises.

Part Two, despite being the most brief , was the most fun because I had a chance to speak the languages with native speakers. The feedback I received was invaluable and amazing, but it also gave me a chance to imagine if I were actually a native speaker. A kind of surreal moment happened when I was speaking with my friend Ethan in Swedish. When he spoke, I noticed I kept saying ja (yes) a lot, sometimes out of habit. I realized I was able to understand some of what he had said, even though I had only looked at the language for a total of two weeks. I was inching close to the same familiarity with the languages from Part Two as with Spanish and French, languages I had learned for years. I some cases I may have exceed it. I even started forgetting Spanish phrases and grammar throughout the midst of this project.

If I could rewind to Part One, I would ditch the evaluation scale I used. Out of all the languages I’ve looked at, I’ve realized that each one has a feature or je ne se quoi that makes it stand out, that makes it its own. The evaluations were meant to be a quick way for people to grasp my reviews, but they were based on my first impressions as an American English speaker. I have my preferences (for example, I prefer the Roman alphabet as opposed to Cyrillic and don’t like languages that tend to be monosyllabic), but these were my preferences alone.  It seems rather silly now, trying to “rank” a language based on them.

In general, there was never one factor that made me like or dislike a language, either. It was rather a weird mix of factors, such as the vocabulary, how it sounds, how it sounds when I speak it, grammar, orthography, etc. My inferences about these things also gave way to a heap of mistakes (e.g., posting a video in Russian for a Moldovan post!), but I was thankful for any comments or tips I received, from people correcting me, giving me links to resources or just telling me how much they enjoyed reading the blog. There’s little I would change, if given the chance. (Maybe the project could have been a little shorter, but eh.)

This could not have happened without you. I honestly don’t have any words for how much this project means to me and getting to share it with others. Regardless of the language I select, this project’s vitality and meaningfulness has yet to fade away.

Stay tuned tomorrow, as I reveal the final language and plans after the 37 Language project.

Part Two: Albanian Recap

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to speak Albanian with anyone this time around, but that didn’t deter me from learning more about it in Part Two. I got a lot of help from Albanian World, which is an excellent guide to those learning about the language for the first time.

My feelings about Albanian are sort of the same. It’s a language isolate and it sounds way different than any of the languages I’ve listened to in the blog. It’s vocabulary is pretty distinct, but there are a few notable exceptions. For example, the word yellow in Albanian is verdhë, while in Spanish, a similar word, verde, means green. I noticed some similarities with other words and it makes me wonder more about Albanian’s composition and if it’s a sort of hodgepodge of other languages.

Overall, the hardest part was pronouncing it, which was simultaneously the most fun. The letter “q”, which sounds like a “tch” sound and ë, which is like the schwa sound, tripped me up the most. I also noticed that ë tends to be omitted (especially at the end of words) and several other sounds too. Not sure if I missed a general rule about that.

Grammar wasn’t to bad though — one big thing is that adjectives come after nouns, with a particle placed between them (i, e or ). I cover this and more (awkwardly) in my recap. The language itself is pretty much SVO, and the order seems to be the same when asking questions.

37 Languages – Albanian Recap from Keith Brooks on Vimeo.

And with this, Part Two of the blog is complete. I will select the final language from the project, Part Three, THIS FRIDAY, May 7! Please continue to follow the blog for a look back at all the languages and the project itself and also on Friday, when the final language is revealed!

Part Two: Swedish Recap

Not really a whole lot to say about Swedish this time around. While I did enjoy speaking it (especially with a couple of friends), I wasn’t left with the same impression I had with Norwegian, the other Scandinavian language I picked for part two. If anything, it just reminded me of a stronger version of Norwegian.

One thing I do go over in the recap (and I was exhausted while making it, so my apologies) is that the pronunciation is a bit harder. The k and g sounds change depending on whether hard vowels (a, o, u, å) or soft ones (e, i, ä, ö and also y, which sounds like the German ü) come after them. That tripped me up quite a bit, along with pronouncing the “sj” sound, which roughly sounds like someone clearing his or her throat. Also, wondering if I got the pitch right in words was minor worry. But everything else was a basically breeze.

37 Languages – Swedish Recap from Keith Brooks on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for a recap of the last language in part two, Albanian! And, in preparation for the selection (it’s almost, almost here!), a look back at all the languages I’ve done and why I did and didn’t choose them.

Part Two: Turkish Recap

Wow, what a doozy Turkish was! I had a lot of mistakes with it the second time around, but it was such a blast learning more about it! I want to give a HUGE thank you to my friends Ertuğ, Gökçe and Umut for practicing Turkish with me and giving me lots of helpful feedback!

As I try to explain in the video, I think the biggest barriers for people learning Turkish are the vowel harmony system and learning how to conjugate verbs. For vowel harmony, Turkish words can either have front vowels (e, i, ö, ü) or back vowels (a, o, ı and u), but never both. If you compare öğretmen (teacher) and akıllı (wise), you’ll notice they have the same type of vowels.

Learning to conjugate verbs is actually simpler than I originally thought as well. Turkish verbs have a root and then a -mak or -mek ending, which indicates that it’s an infinitive (e.g., sevmek, to love). To alter the verb to reflect person and tense, you simply add stems. So, to say, “I love” we would add -yor to the root sev- for present continuous tense and -um after that to show first person, making the verb seviyorum. One thing I did leave out is that a buffer letter is sometimes added after the root (in this case, it’s “i” since the word has front vowels). This is pretty much how verb formation works in general.

Make sense? Well, maybe not at first. But I think I got the hang of it at least!

37 Languages – Turkish Recap from Keith Brooks on Vimeo.


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