- Boy oh boy aren't roller coasters fun.
I'm ashamed to say that after living in Bergen for over three years, I still conduct most of my interactions with Norwegians in English. The thing is, Norwegians tend to be really good at English and I tend to butcher their language with the grace of a toddler trying to wrangle a loose swarm of Vaseline-covered eels (don't know how the eels got covered in Vaseline, ain't gonna ask). So I just assume speaking English is the best method for reducing my embarrassment and retaining my will to face the outside world.
But I can speak some Norwegian, technically. Up until early January of this year, I was taking Norwegian classes in order to fulfill the requirements for applying for permanent residency and to take advantage of the free tuition I was granted. That means somewhere in my brain I have the knowledge to go about Bergen with semi-comprehensible Norwegian. All I have to do to unlock this knowledge is
believe in myself get really drunk.
While I was taking classes, I wasn't 100% sure what requirements I was fulfilling. I had a general idea, but not the nitty gritty details. "Shouldn't you have figured all that stuff out before you started classes?" you may ask. Yeeeaaah. But judging from how often people in my classes asked our teachers about our requirements, I'd say a lot of people were confused about our requirements while we were in the process of fulfilling them.
That's why I wrote this FAQ-style post for anyone who's thinking of moving to Norway and wants to know more about the procedure for learning Norwegian that's available to and/or required for immigrants. (If you want to read about the procedure I went through to get my residence permit in Norway, head here!) The info in this post is based on whatever I could find through Google, as well as my experience taking classes in Bergen. What this post doesn't do is delve into the pitfalls and quirks of Norwegian grammar or pronunciation, nor give tips about how to learn Norwegian, because, in case I didn't make it clear, I kind of suck at Norwegian. I still constantly mess up subject and object pronouns, as well as placement of adverbs in subordinate clauses, and verb placement with inversion, and a bajillion other things. If you're learning Norwegian and don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry, you'll suffer at some point. In the meantime, newcomers to Norway should read A Frog in the Fjord, the best blog for learning about Norwegian culture and the variety of ways you can look like a dumbass while living here.
Although I've tried make the info in this post as accurate as possible, as well as clearly state when I'm unsure about something, keep in mind that I'm not an expert about the rules governing immigrants' rights and requirements. These rules can change at any time, sometimes in huge ways. (For example, when I moved to Norway in 2015, there was no income requirement to apply for permanent residency. Less than two years later in July 2017, UDI announced a new rule requiring most applicants to have a minimum yearly income of 242,966 NOK, about US$28,500. This rule is why I have yet to apply for permanent residency.) Check udi.no/en for the latest info. Any info I include here is based on my experience and what I know to the best of my knowledge.
Here's a rundown of the questions I try to answer in this post:
- Am I required to learn Norwegian to apply for permanent residency?
- What the heck is a timer?
- What's this required 50-timer social studies class?
- What if I reach the A2 level before reaching 550 timer?
- Why would I bother taking 550 timer of classes if I can finish the requirement earlier?
- How do I qualify for free tuition?
- Do I have to take all my required timer uninterrupted or can I break it up?
- How long would it take to reach my timer requirement if I attend classes continuously?
- Do the free classes run out when I reach the timer requirement?
- What level will I reach if I fulfill the 550 timer requirement?
- How high is the A2 level?
- Which school will I attend?
- How soon can I start taking classes after I register?
- How difficult are the classes?
- Do all the classes move at the same pace?
- What textbooks did you use?
- What was your work load like?
- Did you get grades?
- What were your classmates like?
Am I required to learn Norwegian to apply for permanent residency?
Probably. Most people between the ages of 16 and 67 have the obligation to take a certain number of hours of Norwegian classes and/or reach the A1 or A2 level of Norwegian, as well as take a Norwegian social studies class and test. (But those between the ages of 55 and 66 years old who got their first residence permit before January 1, 2017 are exempt. See what I mean about these rules changing at any time?) There are exemptions from these requirements, but if you have little to no knowledge of Norwegian language or culture, you probably won't qualify for them. Fill in your info at udi.no to find your requirements.
As a US citizen married to a Norwegian citizen, these are my tuition requirements to qualify for permanent residency:
- Language tuition requirement: Pass level A2 (minimum) in oral and written Norwegian or complete 550 timer of Norwegian classes.
- Social studies tuition requirement: Complete 50 timer of social studies class and pass the social studies test.
- Oral requirement: Pass level A1 (minimum) in oral Norwegian.
Other people with different permits might only have to take 250 timer of Norwegian classes (or reach the A2 level) without any oral test requirement. The 600 cumulative timer of language and social studies classes is the maximum, as far as I know.
What the heck is a timer?
Timer is the plural form of time (pronounced like tee-meh), which means "hour", "period", or "appointment" depending on context. In the case of these tuition requirements, it means "period" even though it's translated on udi.no and other websites as "hour", a mistranslation I find super irritating because Norwegians know better than that, but whatever. In Norway, a period is a standardized 45 minutes. So 550 timer is really 412.5 hours and 50 timer is 37.5 hours.
For more about the use of time, watch the above video, "En time på norsk", from Norsklærer Karense on Youtube. In the video, Norwegian teacher Karense Foslien explains the different kinds of timer you may encounter in Norway and how long each time actually lasts.
What's this required 50-timer social studies class?
It's the government's attempt to teach immigrants about Norwegian culture, social norms, laws, and rights, an attempt that succeeds in some parts and not so much in others. You can get an idea of the syllabus at samfunnskunnskap.no. The quality of your class depends largely on your teacher and classmates. I'm not going to say much about this class besides recommend that you ask your school about enrolling in it as soon as you can. You might have to wait a long time before there's an open spot. The school I attended only offered this class a few times a year, mostly during vacation weeks, which is why availability was sparse compared to Norwegian classes.
What if I reach the A2 level before reaching 550 timer?
Then you don't have to complete the 550 timer. I guess the government had to come up with a reasonable number of hours of tuition they thought immigrants should take. I think most people can reach A2 in far less than 550 timer.
Why would I bother taking 550 timer of classes if I can finish the requirement earlier?
Because you might qualify for free classes, something you should take advantage of if you can. Also, the A2 level isn't that high—you should aim for B1 or higher. Of course, if you have better things to do with your time than go to class, you should prioritize reaching the level you want instead of taking 550 timer of class.
How do I qualify for free tuition?
I qualified because I'm the family member of a Norwegian citizen (my husband), but there are other ways. Refugees and asylum seekers qualify for free tuition, as well as their family members. Being a family member of someone with permanent residency is also a qualifier, with some exceptions. Read more about tuition rights and requirements at IMDi (the Directorate of Integration and Diversity) in English or Norwegian.
(If you're looking at the Norwegian page, I'll give you a tiny Norwegian lesson. Rett og plikt means "rights and obligations". If you have rett og plikt to Norwegian tuition, that means you can get it for free and you have to fulfill a requirement. If you have plikt but not rett, you have to fulfill the requirement but you can't get free tuition.)
Most of my classmates had free tuition for the same reason I did: We were married to Norwegians. I also had a bunch of classmates who paid for their tuition, but they were outnumbered by those of us sucking up taxpayers' money (sorry, Norwegians, but hey, I'm a taxpayer too). As far as I know, those who don't qualify for free tuition at least have a lower class time requirement.
The free tuition comes with one free norskprøve, the test that determines which level you're at in the eyes of the Norwegian government. Most of my classmates took the B1-B2 norskprøve, as did I because I didn't want to waste my free test on an easy level.
Do I have to take all my required timer uninterrupted or can I break it up?
You can break it up, but if you qualify for free tuition you have to use it within three years of when you got your temporary residence permit. I think this also applies to the norskprøve—you have to take it within three years to get it for free.
How long would it take to reach my timer requirement if I attend classes continuously?
It depends on your school and your attendance. At my school, Nygård skole, most people take evening classes twice a week from 5 p.m. until 8:20 p.m., for a total of eight timer each week, aka six hours (there's a 20 minute break during each class). There's also a morning class that I've heard lasts something like seven hours and meets more days a week, but considering the school's website doesn't give many details about it, I'm guessing the class is mostly reserved for certain types of non-paying students.
This "long-ass morning class or shorter evening class" schedule was only implemented in August of 2017. Before then, there was also an afternoon class that met for 12 timer a week, spread over three to four days. That's the class I took from April 2016 to June 2017. It was a convenient time for me as it made me feel like I was doing something with my life between lunch and dinner and not just digesting my life away, but it must've been inconvenient for all the people who spent that time at work, contributing to society.
This class schedule is just one example. I have no idea if my school's class schedule is similar to other schools around the country.
Oh, uh, I didn't even answer the question. It took me a little over one and a half years to reach my 550 timer requirement (keeping in mind there are many weeks of vacation and other days off in between). I started in April 2016 and I reached 550 timer around October / November of 2017.
Do the free classes run out when I reach the timer requirement?
Nope! If I'm reading this correctly, the limit is 3000 timer, which is basically unlimited considering how much class time actually exists within a three-year period.
BUUUUT, and this is a big but, taking the norskprøve will likely place you out of your free tuition. Simply being in a B1-B2 class doesn't mean you've reached that level. You have to take the norskprøve to show what level you've reached. At my school, if you take the norskprøve and pass A2, then you no longer qualify for free tuition (I THINK, I'm not 100% positive). I guess this makes sense because you only need the level for permanent residency, not the hours. So don't take the norskprøve until you want to relinquish your right to your free tuition.
Another "but" for fast learners: If after self-studying Norwegian for a while you decide to register at your school to take advantage of your free classes, you may not qualify if the school finds your Norwegian level is already at A2 or above.
I purposely planned to take the norskprøve at around the same time that I'd meet my 550 timer requirement. I could've planned to take the norskprøve later and continued taking classes for free, but I got tired of going to class, besides that I wanted to use my time on other activities. As much as I liked my teacher and classmates, I did not want to deal with the evening schedule longer than I had to. I used 550 timer as my guideline for how long I'd attend class.
What level will I reach if I fulfill the 550 timer requirement?
As someone who took a little over 550 timer of classes, I reached B1 in speaking and B2 in reading, writing, and listening on the norskprøve. You could definitely reach B1 in everything after 550 timer, if not B2. I didn't practice speaking that much—my classes focused more on reading and writing. And now that I'm not in class, I practice speaking even less. Hahahahaha fail.
How high is the A2 level?
Not high. I wouldn't be satisfied just passing the A2 level to fulfill my requirement. This is the breakdown of levels you can test into:
- A1: Beginner
- A2: Elementary
- B1: Intermediate
- B2: Upper intermediate
- C1: Advanced / near-fluent / YOU DID IT, WOO [cue fireworks]
If you know some Norwegian, this Q&A may help give you an idea of which level you're in.
You should aim higher than A2, not just because A2 is too low to be that useful but because if you need to find a job, reaching B1 or higher will look better on your resume. (I will note that I have a friend from Japan who found an office job fairly quickly after moving here because the position required a Japanese speaker. She was also diligent with her job search. So if you have a skill that's in short supply, maybe you'll get lucky and find a good job that doesn't require Norwegian. Most immigrants aren't that lucky.) Many of my classmates' goals were to reach B2 for the purpose of attending university—B2 is the minimum for applying—or finding a better job. A few others were aiming for C1. To test for C1, you have to take the Bergenstest. I haven't taken the Bergenstest, so I can't say much about it.
Of course, only passing A2 doesn't mean you're not good at Norwegian. It might mean you're not good at taking tests, while "real world" you is good at Norwegian and can learn quickly on the job. It could also be the opposite, where reaching B1/B2 doesn't mean you're as good at Norwegian as you look on paper (this is my situation). I recommend most people to test at a higher level than A2 because, as far as I can tell, certifications carry a lot of weight in Norway, especially if you're not Norwegian and don't have anyone Norwegians to vouch for you.
Which school will I attend?
It depends where you live. Ask the office where you're applying for temporary residency and they'll tell you.
People in Bergen who don't qualify for free tuition may also choose Folkeuniversitet. I've also met people who took free classes through the University of Bergen because their spouse worked there.
For a list of approved Norwegian schools around the country and on the internet, head to kompetansenorge.no.
The rest of my answers about classes apply to my experience at Nygård skole. I have no idea what schools in other cities are like, but I'd be curious to know more if you have experience at them.
How soon can I start taking classes after I register?
It depends. If you're a paying student, I'm guessing you'd start soon after. In my case, I didn't start for a few months, but it wasn't due to a lack of classroom space. Since I registered as a non-paying student, I had to wait for my "free tuition" status to turn up in whatever database the school was looking at to check my background. Even though I got approved for temporary residency at the end of December 2015, when I went to my school to register early in the next year and received my class placement, the school said I wasn't listed as qualifying for free tuition and they didn't know when I would be. I spent a day going to a few offices—UDI, IMDi, and the immigration office at the police station—to see if anyone could figure out what was up with my status, but everyone was like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The school said there wasn't anything I could do besides wait, suggesting I check in with them after a month or so. I don't know if that's how long it took for me to get qualified for free tuition, but I did wait. And that's why I didn't start classes until April 2016, even though I got my residency approved about four months earlier. (I'm not saying this is a normal waiting time, but it's something that could happen. I was pretty lax about the whole situation, probably more than I should've been.)
How difficult are the classes?
At Nygård skole, not that difficult. These aren't university-level classes. Considering the wide range of students in the class—people from all over the world with different backgrounds, levels of education, and responsibilities outside of school—it makes sense that the classes aren't that intense.
But if you think the class is too easy, ask your teacher about switching to a higher level class, even if you're a total beginner. The higher level might only be mildly higher—a classmate and I switched out of our first class just to skip ahead by a few chapters—but small jumps can build up over a few semesters.
Do all the classes move at the same pace?
Not necessarily. There isn't a set number of chapters a teacher has to get you through in one semester, like, say, being required to finish a textbook by the time summer break begins. They go at the pace that they think the class is at. If you're faster or slower, they might recommend you for another class. But if one class moves faster or slower than another, I can't imagine the difference would be that big.
What textbooks did you use?
We used På Vei in my first class and part of the second (level A1-A2), then Stein på stein for the rest of the second class (A2-B1). There was no book for my third class (B1-B2). By that point our teacher used a variety of writing, reading, listening, and video materials taken from different textbooks and websites. My previous teachers also used non-book material in class.
If you qualify for free classes, the school will lend you the textbooks you need and give you the accompanying workbooks for you to keep. If you're a paying student, you'll have to buy these materials.
What was your work load like?
Pretty low. Considering that many students probably had families and/or jobs to attend to, teachers didn't pile on homework. That doesn't mean all the homework assignments were easy—I spent a lot of time on writing assignments as they got more difficult—but since my teachers usually assigned homework just once a week, it evened out to a low amount of work.
Did you get grades?
No. The closest grades we got were the scores on our infrequent (one every three chapters) tests. There wouldn't be much point to grading assignments. You and your teacher can tell how well you're doing based on in-class assignments and homework and how much you engage in the class. The only "grade" that matters is the level you reach on the norskprøve.
What were your classmates like?
My classmates were great! Taking Norwegian classes was valuable not just for learning Norwegian but for meeting other people I could relate to. We may all come from different countries and speak different languages, but we can all share in the delight of bitching about Bergen (umm just some light bitching! Bergen is great! ALT FOR NORGE, WEEWOO!!!). I'm not drowning in new friends like some other people, but I'm comfortably lounging in a shallow kiddie pool of friends. Compared to the experience of some of my other immigrant friends here, that's not too bad.
I'd like to believe my experience is the norm, but some of my immigrant friends who took classes elsewhere didn't have as much classroom camaraderie as I experienced. Because it's in Bergen, Nygård skole probably has a more diverse student body than schools in other parts of the country.
If anyone has more questions, leave a comment below!