Friday, March 14, 2008

Man in Mosjøen

Last night I flew to Mosjøen (pronounced like "motion") a small and pretty town (population 11,500) one hour's flight to the north of Trondheim. The surroundings are just gorgeous!

The town is situated on an inland fjord with a striking 800m mountain rising dramatically upwards from the town’s edge. This afternoon I will be the plenary speaker at a math teacher conference. I flew in with Anne-Gunn and Svein, two folks from the senteret, and they are quite fun. We stayed in a historic hotel last night, and today the conference is being held in the town’s movie theater.

Norsk, norsk, norsk. Everywhere I go, everything I hear is norsk. I go to math talks, I try to listen in on conversations around me, I read signs, watch television i norsk, listen to Norwegian radio. I speak no English in shops preferring instead to struggle with the language and make the merchants guess at my native tongue. The exposure is constant and my effort is unceasing. I must learn! I find I can read many things quite well, understanding normal conversation is still difficult, there are too many words I don’t know, or words that I do know but don’t hear them correctly.

Two days ago my brain snapped. For mye norsk! Too much Norwegian. I thought of my French friends whom I lived with 20 years ago, the days they felt so frustrated with trying to understand English all the time. I gave Emanuel a call yesterday – he’s living in London now and we haven’t talked for many years. It would be nice to comiserate. I tried to remember French so I could speak a little with him, but it was gone. Completely gone. I couldn’t even remember how to say “Hello, how are you?” Any phrase I tried to make in French came out Norwegian instead. Je suis... bra? Nei, det er ikke riktig. Je suis... je suis... how can I forget how to say “good”!?

So last night I took a break. Kept my norskbok closed. Watched a movie in English, no Norwegian subtitles.

I met my friends at breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and some of their acquaintances were there. Svein tells them, “Hun kann snakker norsk!” (“He can speak Norwegian.”) Turns out he’s been doing that all day, setting me up! However – and this is the cool part – I just had two lengthy conversations with strangers, entirely in Norwegian. I’m quite sure I slaughtered the language, but I was understood and I understood what they were saying as well. The topics were expected of course (How long have you been here, is your family here, what does your wife do, etc...) but it felt really good.

OK, time to get my overheads in order.

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