Language studies vary by region

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A new survey of which foreign languages Norwegian students choose to study reveals marked differences depending on where in the country they live. Students in Oslo seem to favour French, while those in the county of Sogn og Fjordane sign up for German classes and those in Rogaland are keen on Spanish.

The findings in the study by Norway’s foreign language center (Fremmedspråksenteret) surprised the language center’s senior adviser, Gerard Doetjes. He told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that the regional differences regarding foreign language electives are striking.

“I have stared for a long time at the numbers,” Doetjes said. “I can’t see any real correlation between outward factors and the percentages the various languages have in the various counties.”

English for all
Foreign language electives in Norway are viewed as language classes in addition to English and Norwegian. English classes are compulsory for all Norwegian students from primary school and onwards. When students in Norwegian schools reach the eighth grade, they can also choose another language to study, with most all schools offering French, Spanish and German. Many schools, from the equivalent of junior high through high school, also offer Russian or Chinese.

All students from the eighth grade must either take a foreign language, more intense instruction in English or Norwegian, or opt for a vocational “work life” course instead. In Rogaland, where the county seat is the oil capital of Stavanger, fully 85 percent of all students opted for classes in another foreign language, followed by 84 percent in Akershus (the county surrounding Oslo), 80 percent in Hordaland (where Bergen is located) and 80 percent in Oslo. Around 74 percent of students in the Trøndelag counties, where Trondheim is located, opted for a second foreign language after English.

That compares to only 48 percent in the northernmost county of Finnmark and 61 percent in Nordland and Troms.

“We see an urban element in this,” said Rita Gjørven of an institute for teachers and school development at the University of Oslo. “It’s the schools in the cities where students go for French and Spanish.”

German most popular in Sogn og Fjordane
German language studies, for example, were preferred by fully 45 percent of the students in Sogn og Fjordane, a mountainous county in western Norway. German was also preferred by 36 percent in Oppland and 33 percent in Østfold counties. In Oslo and Troms, however, only 20 percent of the students chose German as their foreign language elective, as did just 21 percent in Vestfold.

Instead, French claimed the most interest in Oslo, where it was the choice of 25 percent of foreign language students. That was followed by 23 percent in Vestfold and 22 percent in Akershus. French was least popular in Norway’s northern counties of Finnmark and Nordland, where only 6 percent of students opted for French classes.

Spanish attracted fully 43 percent of the students in Rogaland and 39 percent of students in Hordaland. Spanish was least popular in Finnmark, where only 13 percent of students opted for Spanish classes, and in Sogn og Fjordane, where Spanish attracted just 18 percent.

German most recommended, and Chinese
The business and employers’ organization NHO, meanwhile, has clearly recommended that students choose German and Chinese classes. Since Germany is one of Norway’s largest trading partners, business leaders have been worried that not enough Norwegian students are choosing German.

“Spanish is fine, but business has more need for persons with German language skills,” Are Turmo of NHO told Aftenposten. “And Chinese will have greater importance in the future.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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