Keeping the Spark

Photo: Valerie Borey. From left: Silje, Anja, Kjersti and Idun, four villagers at CLV’s Norwegian language camp, share their reasons to study Norwegian.

A youth’s perspective on learning Norwegian

To explore the question of why contemporary youth in the United States choose to study Norwegian, four villagers in Skogfjorden’s high school credit program (through Concordia Language Villages) interviewed other participants in this Norwegian immersion summer camp and wrote about their impressions.

Anja (17): Keeping Norwegian in the family

Norwegian heritage being carried down through each generation has made a huge impact on my life. My great grandma and great grandpa came from Trondheim, Norway and moved to a farm in Gibbon, Minnesota. My grandpa was the youngest of 10 children and spoke Norwegian at home until he started school, which is where he started to learn English. My grandpa later married my grandma and they had four kids who all kept the Norwegian heritage in the family by coming to Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Concordia Language Village. Two of my uncles came to love the language and heritage so much that they became counselors at Skogfjorden.

Before I came to the Language Village, my grandpa read me a book in the Norwegian language. Not only can I now understand the book but I understand the similarities between this story and other Norske eventyr (stories).

My example is similar to many of the other villagers here, 3rd or 4th generation Norwegian- speakers in America. But there are also some who got the chance to learn Norwegian from their own parents. Many campers have connections to Norway other than their ancestors. Some have even lived there.

So after me and the other villagers here are grown up and having kids of our own, what will happen? I had some friends say that they were going to move to Norway. I had more say that they were going to be counselors at Skogfjorden and maybe study abroad in Norway when they are in college. But there was one answer that everyone said and that was that they will absolutely be teaching their children about this beautiful heritage. So maybe the small number of around 5 million Norwegian speakers will double or triple because of our love for this language. I know that Norwegian has done powerful, indescribable things for me, so it’s my goal to expand through my family in the future and I hope the same for the other villagers that are here.

Silje (17): Choosing a unique path/identity

Sometimes people with multiple languages have different personalities with each language they use. Someone might be more comfortable with one language, and so tell more jokes while speaking it. Some might have a more private language that no one else or few others they know can understand, so they feel free to say things they wouldn’t otherwise say.
Some people might speak different languages with different people and act a bit different with each group.

Sometimes, people who are looking for a group to belong to will choose to learn a language. A less well known language, not one used all over the world, like Spanish. Something only a select group of people know. Like…Norwegian. They might be introduced to it by a search for their heritage or just looking at beautiful pictures of the fjords, but they know that few others have made the same choice. And, if they are so inclined, they can impress (or maybe confuse) their friends with words no one else understands.

Some people want to take a unique path. Rather than study boring old
Spanish or French, they want to learn something different. To break away from the norm.

As for myself, I have some Norwegian heritage, and my parents have visited Norway a couple times. I saw their pictures and heard their stories and I thought it sounded pretty cool. Also, my mom knows a little bit of Norwegian. In any case, when I was pretty small, I decided that I was going to live in Norway when I grew up or something along those lines. Then being maybe eight years old, I half forgot, and never worked toward it.

Then, this year, my second cousin decided to go to the Russian camp at CLV. My mom told me about this and said something like, “Oh, and they have a Norwegian camp too, if you are interested.” I don’t think she expected me to be interested. But I was. I decided that I would come.
And, what do you know, I was right. I have learned a lot.

Idun (15): Parents take the initiative, and youth keeps on rolling

There are many things parents prompt their children to do: soccer, dance, and countless other activities. Among the many suggested, there is one interesting one: Norwegian. While parents might have many reasons to have children learn Norwegian, it’s more important why children wish to continue learning. Norway is a place rich with culture and beautiful language. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Why would you prompt your child to learn a language? You might want to share your Norwegian heritage with your children. It’s like pushing a stone down a hill and having it keep rolling. Once they see how beautiful the language is they decide to continue on their own accord. Is it the learning process, the friends you make while learning it, or the language itself? Whatever it is, learning Norwegian has an addictive quality.

There are people here at Skogfjorden who went here to learn Norwegian because their parents went here or suggested it. But why did they come back? Was it the friends made through the wild adventure of learning
Norwegian? Was it the language that connects us to the wonderful country known as Norway? Yes. While parents encouraged this, children want to continue; friends and connections made along the way strengthen the bond between the child and the love of language.

My parents speak Norwegian, yet I was never pressured to learn it. My parents felt it should be my choice. I decided I wanted to connect to my Norwegian family and be able to speak to them. That’s how it started, but now I wish to keep learning Norwegian for the same reasons as a child prompted by their parents; it’s just plain fun. Once the hard work is done, and a language is learned, a child can turn and thank their parents for giving them the gift of Norwegian.

Kjersti (14): Bringing it back to the family

Norway is a small country. It is only 148,712 square miles. That may be why Norwegians are so proud of their heritage. It can be hard to hold on to a heritage, though. Families can split, die out, or lose touch with relatives. Many Norwegian Americans are very proud of their heritage, but some might need to be retaught their preconceived notions about Norway. Other families can be aware of their heritage and celebrate it, but lose the beautiful language that is Norwegian. All families and people are different and have different stories to tell. About their lives, about their ancestors, and about their connections to Norway. Anyone can have a reason for learning Norwegian, but one main reason is bringing back a beautiful language and culture to family and friends.

At Skogfjorden, bringing back Norwegian heritage and culture to a family or a community is a main reason for coming. People are curious about their heritage and the people around them may know some things about Norway, but Norwegian culture is very different and interesting. Many are curious about their Norwegian culture but don’t really know how to find out more. If they have no one to ask, learning Norwegian is the next best thing.

I have a large extended family on my mom’s side that is very Norwegian. We make lefse, celebrate Syttende Mai, have rømmegrøt on Christmas and are very proud of our ancestors and heritage in Norway. We still keep in touch with our relatives in Norway. The odd thing about my family is that no one speaks Norwegian. I am the only person in my family learning Norwegian.

Hopefully younger cousins and siblings will see the importance of Norwegian and want to learn as well. I can’t say for sure, though.Everyone thinks differently. For me, Norwegian isn’t something my ancestors were or something my parents tell me you are a percentage of.I am Norwegian. I am every bit as Norwegian as my mom, my grandmom, and my great-great grandfather who came from Norway.

It can be hard to keep a heritage alive when not in the homeland of the culture. Heritage can be forgotten but relearned just as easily. All that is needed is a spark. A spark in the heart of someone willing to learn about another culture and see through another country’s eyes. To see another’s perspective of the world and learn from it. That person can be you.

About the authors
Jackie Kjersti Bellefeuille will be a tenth grader next fall at Eden
Prairie High School. She enjoys Alpine skiing and is on the Eden Prairie track team. She would like to go into Engineering after high school and college. She is in many clubs which include student council, improvisation, and volunteering. She is very interested in her Norwegian heritage and loves to learn more. This is her fourth year at Skogfjorden.

Megan Silje Luick will be a twelfth grader in the fall of 2012. This is her first experience at Skogfjorden and with Norwegian. She loves to play French Horn in the band at her school. In her free time, she reads fantasy books.

Megan Anja Griss was born in Indianapolis but grew up in Arvada,
Colorado. She is going to be a senior at Ralston Valley High School. She has been dancing for a very long time and is on the dance team for her high school. She has been going to Skogfjorden for 9 years because Norwegian is a beautiful language.

Caroline Marie Idun Feyling is a tenth grade student at Horseheads High School. Her interests include playing piano and saxophone and swimming. She wants to learn Norwegian to be able to speak with her Norwegian family.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 22, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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