Immigrants struggle with Norwegian

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It’s not easy to learn the Norwegian language, confirm the vast majority of new immigrants. Only 30 percent of those who have arrived in Norway since 2003 and opted to take a test of their language skills have managed to pass it.

Five years after the arrival of nearly 13,000 adult immigrants who were offered 300 hours of Norwegian language classes, only 30.6 percent have passed a test of spoken proficiency. Even less passed a test of written language skills: 23.2 percent, reports newspaper Aftenposten .

Norway’s left-center coalition government has spent more than NOK 5 billion on programs aimed at teaching the Norwegian language and culture to new immigrants. At present it remains voluntary to take the classes, but starting next year, language lessons will be obligatory.

The programs don’t seem to be working, however. “These numbers seem terribly low,” said Helga Arnesen of Vox, which administers Norwegian classes for immigrants. She claims that many of the students take the classes, but don’t take the exam.

From January 1st, new immigrants will be offered 600 hours of Norwegian language classes. Arnesen says she thinks it’s “outstanding and fantastic” that so many immigrants from both North and South America, Asia, Europe and Africa manage to learn Norwegian. Some of them have little or no education when they arrive, and many have lived in refugee camps.

A recent report from the state Auditor General’s office, however, was critical of the government’s language training program. Townships administering the programs, claim state auditors, don’t monitor attendance and don’t follow up on students’ progress. Drop-out rates are high and most students aren’t registered according to their level of proficiency.

Weaknesses in the program, warned the state auditors, can influence the individual’s ability to integrate and take part in Norwegian society. The government minister in charge of the program, Dag Terje Andersen, has since been made president of the Norwegian parliament and integration efforts have been moved from the Labour Ministry to that in charge of family affairs and equality.

Not all immigrants are offered free language classes, however, including those from EU citizens and guest workers. Many others, some language teachers point out, complete language programs but don’t see a need a take any tests. Therefore, they argue, the state auditor’s report can be misleading.