The foursome agreed they weren’t fans of økonomi (economics), but were into TV (take a wild guess) as they sat around a small table discussing somebody’s else’s weekly schedule planner. But they weren’t nosey, just following the latest textbook exercise in an impromptu Norwegian class that started a month ago to remedy the absence of any such offering for Longyearbyen’s booming population of foreigners.
“The foreigners have many different challenges to solve,” said Zdenka Sokolickova, a Czech native who in February started a two-year fieldwork project in Svalbard for University of Oslo, and initiated the class. “But one thing I think can be improved is the language. And I hope to help at least a few of them with that.”
The classes are generally 60 to 90 minutes long at locations and on days determined by participants ahead of each week’s gathering.
“It has to be free, and flexible in terms of date and time because of work schedules,” Sokolickova said.
On Friday the group met at Longyearbyen Hospital where Kristin Furu Grøtting, the hospital’s physical therapist and a member of the Longyearbyen Community Council, served as a guest teacher offering her native-tongue expertise to students for things such as their pronunciation and grammar nuisances. The discussion was almost entirely in (fairly simple) Norwegian with a few brief interruptions for explanations in English.
Grøtting, a Longyearbyen resident since 1996, was here when Norwegian classes were offered during the academic year at Longyearbyen School on a more formal basis at a cost, complete with four levels of year-long instruction and preparation for the national competency exam. She said there was no attempt by the council to preserve the program after it ended a few years ago because the council felt it shouldn’t be in competition with other individuals or entities wanting to offer such a course. She said one person has expressed interest in teaching such a class for a fee this fall.
The recently launched course currently has beginner and intermediate students, and they use the “På Vei” textbook featured during the school’s courses (online versions are available for those unable to purchase them). She said the differences in abilities isn’t a problem so far.
“It’s very improvised, but I think on the human level it works perfectly,” she said.
Sokolickova said she plans to coordinate more groups in the fall and launch a Facebook page titled “Lære norsk i Longyearbyen” at the end of August.
“The challenge will be to motivate people to invest time and energy, and also to find native speakers to help with grammar and pronunciation,” she said. “Kristin’s help is immense and I think each group will need such a Norwegian volunteer.”
Because Longyearbyen is populated by people from all over Norway as well as other countries, many forms of Norwegian dialect are spoken and Sokolickova agreed that might make learning the language more difficult just by trying to talk with locals.
“People tell me so,” she said. But “it can also be an opportunity because you’re learning from people all over Norway.”