[Eye on English] Europe’s little country that could

By Korea Herald

English as a nation’s competitive advantage

  • Published : Feb 19, 2014 - 19:58
  • Updated : Feb 19, 2014 - 19:58

Outside of our country, few know much about Norway, and we are a nation with few inhabitants compared to other nations (barely 5 million). From a Scandinavian perspective we have always been considered the little brother of our neighbor Sweden, with twice as many inhabitants and international dominance with brands such as H&M, Ikea, ABB and Volvo, to name a few. Lacking such clout, Norway has always had to look to the international community to be able to sustain a prosperous economy, but also to survive in the continuously globalizing economy.

As we are all aware, the global society is now more than ever interconnected through media, Internet, trade and tourism. Economies are now more globalized than localized, which has made having a shared language more necessary than ever. English is today the dominant business language, and over 2 billion people will be studying English by 2022. That tells us that a high English proficiency is a requirement for individuals, but should also be taken seriously by nations if they want to stay competitive in a globalized economy.

In Norway, a little brother forgotten in the Far North, the need to be able to communicate with the global society has been apparent for many decades. In order to sustain economic growth, Norway saw early the importance of strong relationships with major markets, such as Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. As early as 1869, English was a part of the curriculum in higher education in Norway. Therefore the English language has since been regarded as part of the pathway to a general basic education.

The oil adventure in the 1960s led Norway into the globalized economy with accelerated speed, and it became even more obvious that if Norwegian companies wanted to compete on equal terms with other major intercontinental companies, to be able to communicate accurately was a key to success. As a result, major Norwegian companies such as Aker and Statoil have chosen English as their business language, not only to be able to communicate in the global market, but to attract foreign labor. At the end of the day, having the smartest heads working for them is a goal for any company with a vision of growth and success in the globalized economy we live in.

Furthermore, the importance of English as an educational language has increased over the last several decades as important scientific papers, books and other research materials for the higher educational sector are published in English. This has resulted in English becoming the written and spoken language for many masters, graduate and MBA programs in Norway. This has set precedence for what is expected of young professionals starting their career. Today, it is a given that all young people coming out of university possess a high level of English proficiency. For young professionals, the result is being able to speak English at a high level, C1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference; still, they need to invest more in their English education.

Many Norwegian universities have foreseen this trend, and encourage students to travel abroad for at least two semesters during their studies. The semesters are often spent in English-speaking countries, which strengthens the learning of English as the students are immersed in the language, and are forced to speak English outside the classroom. And as major Norwegian companies use English as their business language, the Norwegians students are no longer competing only with Norwegians but with young professionals from all over the world when applying for a job.

Studies are also showing that English is today considered by the majority in Norway to be of equal stature to Norwegian, and this is reflected not only in the school curriculum (students begin learning English in primary school), but in society in general. The reasons for this can be traced back throughout the last century, when Norway’s close relationship with the U.S. and Great Britain after World War II influenced the society (through the Marshal Plan, the pop culture revolutions in the ’60s led by Elvis Presley, etc.). English movies, TV series, plays and music have never been dubbed in Norwegian, but have always been subtitled.

Hence, English has been a natural part of the cultural scene as well as the educational sector. This has led to a higher level of English fluency and it has influenced Norwegian pop culture in many ways. In K-pop you can hear a mixture of Korean and English, though Korean is the dominant language. In Norway, popular domestic artists all sing in English, and the blockbuster movies have always been in English. The Norwegians have been “living the language,” as EF Education First has been encouraging people to do for decades, hence their overall high level of English.

But like any skill, you need to practice and study to be good or at least to become competitive with your peers. In Norway over the last five years, there has been a steady growth of people going abroad to study and learn a language, and over 70 percent of the destinations are English-speaking countries. To keep a competitive advantage, young students see the importance of having a high level of English proficiency. As EF has proven for almost 50 years, a language is learned fastest where it is spoken as a native language. Therefore, combining your academic studies with learning a language outside of Norway has become more popular. Studying a language is like studying any field of interest; it takes great teachers, a great curriculum, great classmates and excellent facilities to succeed

I would boldly state that in Norway, English has become as natural to learn and speak as a first language as Norwegian. This is backed by the EF English Proficiency Index (, on which Norway has consistently ranked among the top three globally. Not only has this made Norway a more competitive country, but it has also expanded its possibilities for economic growth and given opportunities for young people outside of Norway’s borders. In economically difficult times, the domestic market will never provide for the masses. Having the world as an arena of opportunities makes it easier for people to compete on a broader scale and succeed in their professional life.

Morten Davidsen
By Morten Davidsen

Morten Davidsen lives in Hong Kong and works as regional sales manager for EF Education First, an international education company. ― Ed.