The state of English in Norway: How widely is it spoken?

One of the most common difficulties you encounter when visiting a foreign country is not being able to communicate. Whether you are considering visiting or moving to Norway, you might wonder if and how well they speak English in Norway.

If you are an English speaker, you will do fine in Norway. English is the most widely spoken second language in Norway and it ranks among the top countries in the world in terms of English proficiency among non-native speaking countries.

In this article, we dive into English proficiency among Norwegians as well as answer the question of whether you can live and work in Norway as an English speaker.

English proficiency in Norway

English is the most widely spoken second language in Norway. In fact, around 90% of Norwegians speak English as their second language.

According to EF Educations English Proficiency Index, Norway ranks among the top 5 countries in terms of English proficiency among non-native-speaking countries, just behind its Scandinavian neighbors and the Netherlands. 

While you tend to find higher English proficiency in cities, English is so widely spoken in Norway that you will have no problem communicating with Norwegians in English, even in the countryside.

To illustrate, you can watch the video below where random Norwegians are asked about which countries they like the most.

Why is English so common in Norway?

With a high English proficiency and as many as 90% of Norwegians having it as a second language, you might ask yourself why English is so common among Norwegians?

It is Taught in school

One of the most important reasons English proficiency is so high in Norway is that it is taught in schools from an early age.

English courses are a part of the mandatory curriculum from the 3rd grade of primary school when students are between 8-9 years of age.

As a consequence, every single Norwegian student that has gone through Norwegian primary school is familiar with English to a certain extent. 

Norwegians are exposed to English through popular culture

Many of the most popular movies, television series, and music have been released in English. As a consequence, Norwegians have been exposed to English through popular culture for many years. 

In addition, apart from many other countries, television series and movies released in English, or any other language are not dubbed into Norwegian. Instead, Norwegian subtitles are added, with the only exception being children’s movies.

This continuous exposure to English has most definitely contributed to Norwegians maintaining their English language skills, even after leaving school.

Through business and tourism

English is the language of business and it’s no different in Norway. Although Norwegian is frequently used within any company with offices in Norway, any communication with customers and/or partners outside Norway will be conducted in English

While Norway is not the country that springs to mind when considering popular tourist destinations, the stunning nature and Fjord do attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. 

As a consequence, Norway has a substantial tourism industry, especially along the western coast where the use of English is required to communicate with and host visiting tourists.

Can you live in Norway speaking English only?

Due to the high percentage of Norwegians who speak, or at least understand English, it is most definitely possible for English speakers to live in Norway without speaking Norwegian 

Cultural activities like socializing, job hunting, and conducting business can be done in English in addition to Norwegian.

However, one might experience some limitations by only speaking English.

Although they understand and speak English, some Norwegians feel insecure when not using their native tongue. 

As a consequence, they might shy away from approaching someone who can’t speak Norwegian. In addition, they might shy away from bonding with a non-Norwegian speaker due to the feeling of not being able to correctly express themselves in English.

Can you get a job in Norway without learning Norwegian?

There are lots of jobs available for English speakers in Norway. High English proficiency ensures that there are no language barriers in the workplace. 

At the same time, your native English skills don’t really give you an advantage either. Therefore You’ll need to impress your potential employer with other skills if you want to land a job.

While it is generally not a hindrance to only speak English, there are some jobs that will be harder to get.

There are certain jobs that you won’t be able to get without speaking Norwegian. This includes any job where you are expected to speak to the young or the old. This will include jobs within the following;

  • Nursing
  • Healthcare
  • Teaching

For most healthcare positions, a documented level of Norwegian will be required, with tests taken at an approved location.

For a lot of government positions, Norwegian would be expected, and again with documented tests to prove your level.

This will also be the case in any job where understanding Norwegian is necessary, such as the law or teaching.

You can read more about this in our article on jobs in Norway for English speakers.


Which Countries Have the Most English Speakers? – K-International

EF English proficiency index – EF Education

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Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.