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Norwegian leaders speak poor English – it is very embarassing

Posted by African Press International on June 25, 2008

Poor English skills plague politicians, and their listeners

Some top Norwegian politicians speak such poor English that they risk losing influence as they stumble through prepared speeches or try to express themselves to foreigners, claims a professor at the University of Oslo. He thinks it’s downright embarrassing.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is clearly more comfortable speaking his native Norwegian than he is speaking English.


Erik Solheim, shown here with Sudan’s foreign minister last week, is among those needing to polish their English skills, according to a Norwegian professor.


Former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s “day book” flub is a classic example of politicians’ halting English.


Bernt Hagtvedt, a professor of political science at the University of Oslo, is tired of listening to Norwegian politicians speak broken English when addressing foreign audiences.

Hagtvedt is convinced that their lack of English proficiency damages Norway’s effectiveness in putting forth its positions on important international issues.

“When their grammar, nuances and vocabulary are so deficient that it adversely affects understanding, we have a problem,” Hagtvedt told NRK on its national morning radio broadcast.

He claimed that even though children in Norway are taught English in the schools, it’s “a problem that many Norwegians think they are fluent in English,” when they’re not.

“We speak a simple English, with 700-800 words we know,” Hagtvedt said. “And we don’t even try to pronounce them correctly.”

He called Norwegians’ lack of English proficiency “an illustration of a general laziness in Norway. We’re not concerned with standards, and have no interest in striving for anything beyond what we already know.”

Asked whether he gets embarrassed when he hears Norwegian politicians speak, he responded with an immediate “Yes!”

Hagtvedt said it’s “abundantly clear that we must improve knowledge of English in the schools. And we should expect that broadcasters, politicians and other top government officials work on their English.”

Some have. Many, including former cabinet minister Anne Enger Lahnstein when she was in office, have attended language schools in England. And several politicians over the years have exhibited an impressive command of English (former foreign aid minister Hilde Frafjord Johnsen comes to mind) and several other languages as well. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stre, for example, can move seemingly effortlessly from Norwegian to English to French.

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was thoroughly embarrassed after he spoke of writing in his “day book” (a literal translation of the Norwegian word for diary, dagbok) after meeting former US President Bill Clinton.

“It’s clear that language is power,” said Hagtvedt. “My simple point is, work on it!”

To listen to some Norwegian politicians’ broken English, go to NRK, scroll down the page and click on the links for:

Torbjrn Berntsen, when he was Minister for the Environment:
Helen Bjrny, a later minister speaking on the Kyoto Agreement;
Former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, speaking during a trip to Washington DC:
Former Prime Minister Kre Willoch;
Current Cabinet Minister Erik Solheim, a former UN Envoy
and current Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.



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