Sunday, January 21, 2007

Profile: Nicole's kids learning English and Norwegian in Norway

In Bringing up Baby Bilingual's first profile from Scandinavia, Nicole tells us about her two children's acquisition of their parents' mother tongues. She also points out that in Norway, her children will have to learn English in school regardless, so she's giving them a leg up. She concurs with many of the other families I've profiled that contact with native speakers of the minority language is important, but that books are an equally valuable resource. And, again like many of my profilees, she admits that consistently using the minority language is sometimes difficult. Thanks for sharing, Nicole!

What is your language background and history?
I am a native American English speaker. I learned Spanish as an exchange student in Honduras and promptly forgot most of it when I moved to Oslo, Norway in 1998. I am now fluent in Norwegian

What languages are you exposing your child to, and how?
Our children (7 years and 2 ½) are exposed to Norwegian and English. The seven-year-old is completely fluent in both, but living in Norway gives Norwegian an advantage in the reading/writing department, which is starting now that she is in the first grade. The two-and-a-half-year-old speaks a mixture, just as his sister did at that age. I try to speak mostly English, but slip into Norwegian. My husband tries to speak mostly Norwegian but slips into English….We have three-week-visits twice a year from my parents who only speak English, we travel to the US once a year, and I have two other bilingual families who meet at least twice a month for dinner and play group. I only read English books to my kids and we have three times as many English children’s books as we do Norwegian.

Why do you want your children to learn a second language?
My parents would kill me if they couldn’t communicate with their grandchildren! And they will learn English in school regardless…what a gift to speak it as a native.

How well do your children understand and speak the second language? What do they think about it?
My daughter loves that she knows English. She helps the teacher in school. She has never refused to speak a language or to only speak a specific language with specific individuals. My son is still too young.

How have you been able to expose your children to the culture(s) where the second language is spoken?
My daughter has had several extended stays (4-6 weeks) in the US. She has friends there with whom she communicates through telephone calls and cards in the mail. We travel home at least once a year and she is very comfortable in that culture. We also have children’s videos that she watches in English that provide cultural information without her realizing it!

What challenges have occurred as you teach your child a second language?
I am not diligent enough in sticking to English, especially with my second child. I need to work on not using Norwegian with them.

What resources have been most useful to you?
Friends, family, videos, DVDs, and books.

What do you think parents, caretakers, teachers, and/or researchers need to know about teaching a second language to children?
I don’t believe that there are any negatives. Children have no limits to what they can learn when it comes to language. There is no filter in their minds that tells them there is only one word for every object. It makes it incredibly easy to teach them multiple languages. Learning several doesn’t mean the child will speak later or be confused and unable to express herself. Children will always learn to speak at different ages. The key is to not compare, try not to be competitive and to stick to whatever program you have set up for language exposure.


  1. I've had the pleasure of meeting both of Nicole's kids, and have always been incredibly impressed with her daughter's language skills. She's done an excellent job!

  2. Wouldn't it be cool if we could get all these bilingual kids together--because everyone I've profiled on my blog is learning English, so they'd have that as a common tongue--and have a party and see how they interact? Just imagine the chaos and the fun of all the different accents and backgrounds and knowledge and cultures! Hmmm....if everyone had webcams there might be a way to do so virtually--but it wouldn't be the same as putting all the kids in one brick-and-mortar room at the same time.

  3. Hi
    I am from Lithuania and live with my German boyfriend here in Norway. We are thinking to have baby next year - so bilingualism (in our case, possible trilingualism) is and will be a big part of our lifes. So blogs like this and possibility to relate to other families that deals with issues related to bilingual family, childrearing are quite important to me, us.

    I am also student in Oslo Universitet. I am writting my Master Thesis about bilingualism in family. So I would like to ask all the mothers and fathers who have bilingual family (English- Norwegian, preferable) would they like to participate in my research. If you are interested - I invite you to send me e-mail to

    - so I could send you further information about research.

    Thank you in advance :)

  4. I'm trying to teach my baby norwegian as I am norwegian. Does anyone know if there are any Norwegian dvds out there?

  5. Hello everyone! Here are some children books, Audiobooks and DVDs (including Disney) at an ebay store. Very reasonable shipping costs:

  6. Great Blog! I am a Norwegian/Canadian living in Canada with my Canadian husband and two children who I regret are only learning English. They are 3 and 1 1/2 and have both been to Norway twice but as my family members are all fluently bilingual (Canadian mother/Norwegian father) we all tend to speak English when we are together so we can communicate with the English speaking spouses. Any suggestions as to how I can break the habit? I do read Norwegian books and have purchased dvds but feel I need more help....HELP! :)

  7. Hi Anonymous! I am a filologist myself and here is what I can suggest.
    All you need is routines as you already started to speak English to your children. Let your Canadian husband continue speaking only English to the kids. And you should slowly switch only to using Norwegian when communicating with them. You could start with reading Norwegian story books to them, watching Norwegian DVDs (cartoons) with the kids and discussing what the film was about in the Norwegian language. As the children are very young, it will be very easy for them to switch to another language when communicating to you. Audiobooks and DVDs are needed in order to create the environment of the Norwegian language. Hoping this will help you! :-) Good luck!

  8. Hello, I am an American that is trying to learn the norwegian and will later learn spanish to teach it to my child to be tri-lingual with her.

    I read someone was asking for norwegian DVD's.

    This link is to a online book store in norway. It has books, DVDs Cds etc.. like Barns and Noble.

    I have a website that has spanish and norwegian resources if anyone is interested?

  9. @Anonymous from Lithuania--I hope you got lots of responses for your research! Do you have a bilingual baby yourself now?

    @kovrehus--While I have no ideas to share about Norwegian, it looks like several readers do! I hope their resources are useful (if you ever see these comments--it's been a while).

    @Anonymous Norwegian/Canadian--I agree with mbrun. Here's what I would add about beginning to speak to them in Norwegian instead of English: find ways to make "Norwegian time" consistent in your home. For example, speak only Norwegian during breakfast, or listen only to Norwegian music and audio books in the car, or designate one couch or area of your home as Norwegian only.

    Could you ask relatives in Norway to Skype with you, read to the kids, even play games? That could help motivate them.

    @Erin--Thanks for the suggestion!

    Good luck, everyone. Keep in touch!

  10. To Erin I am interested in the website that has spanish and norwegian resources, thanks. I am living in Spain and raising my son billingually norwegian/spanish

  11. Erin's website is here:

  12. Great website. My husband and I are learning Norwegian as well as two other languages. so far my daughter, she's nine months, has caught on to Spanish and Chinese. I do slip and teach her English as it is my native language. Thank you for the links to purchase books and DVDs

  13. My relative have been shifted in Norway from last month now they are looking for Barneprodukter at Oslo any suggestion and recommendation from you guys thanks in advance.