Lost and Found in Translation

It’s difficult to find words to explain the past three days in Oslo. Everything that I’ve witnessed (and eaten for that matter) has exceeded my expectations. At this point, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact day that we visited a specific exhibit or indulged ourselves with a multi-course meal at our daily 3-hour dinners, unless I look at the itinerary or through my hundreds of photos. Another aspect that caught my interest was nothing visual; rather, it was the many languages one could hear as they walked the streets and saw the sights.


Panseared salmon with lemon wedges, a cauliflower purée and white beets


I tend to describe myself as an observer. I tried to listen as the locals engaged in conversation with each other, paying extra attention to the speed at which the language is spoken, when there are vocal inflections, and if there are any words that resembled English vocabulary. For instance, if the locals are speaking to one another, they engage in Norwegian. However, upon realizing that they are speaking with tourists, they automatically switch to English.


Holmenkollen ski jump tower which is open during the summer as a zip-line

Upon talking to a worker atop Holmenkollen, a menacingly steep ski jump tower, I asked one of the workers how she spoke English so well. She mentioned that aside from living in Minnesota for the past year, it was required by Norwegian law that students learn Norwegian and English, as well as another language such as Spanish, German, French, Swedish, Danish, or Italian, all of which are increasingly difficult in their own right. I am amazed, not only by the degree of his many languages Norwegians know, but also the education system and this distinct difference with Americans, most of whom speak only one language.

I have spent a decent amount of time in the past few days trying to mimic the sounds and pronounce the words. As I mentioned in my introductory post, I attempted to learn Norwegian on Duolingo, but only managed to string together paltry sentences while butchering the pronunciation. There are a few letters in the Norwegian alphabet such as ø, which is produced kind of like the ‘u’ in burn, but more similar to an eu sound, that forces native English-speakers to contour their mouths in weird shapes. Yet, a few of us have done our research into the Norwegian pronunciations of the more basic phrases such as unnskyld and tussen takk (“excuse me” and “thank you,” respectively), which we used during mealtimes and tours. They would promptly respond in Norwegian and then correct our pronunciations. I noticed that they were grateful that we took the time to try learning their language, given that they speak ours better than we do.


Emergency assistance sign in both Norwegian and English on the train

The aforementioned instances have been a few of my experiences of being lost in translation. It wasn’t until our final full day in Oslo (yesterday, I think) that I found myself in translation. While on the train to dinner last night, I once again listened to a variety of languages being spoken. What particularly caught my eye was a woman trying to speak to two Spanish-speaking women. There was clearly a language barrier as the first women asked the Spanish-speakers if they spoke English or French, but to no avail. That’s where I stepped in. I excused myself in Spanish and began conversing between the ladies, serving as a translator between English and Spanish to ensure the continuation of their conversation. Speaking with the Hispanohablantes, I learned that they were visiting Norway from Costa Rica. We spoke briefly about our experiences thus far and wished each other a great remainder of their travels.

Having had this opportunity to use my knowledge of Spanish in a country where I never would have guessed I could implement it is incredibly satisfying. I am grateful for my nine years of Spanish classes and this opportunity to explore and analyze the Scandinavian culture, even if it might not be through an English-speaking mindset.


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