The Silence in Bilingual Families


I haven’t written much on living as a bilingual family.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to but I have been scared to expose my failures.  My own Norwegian language inadequacies have made the subject a little painful for me.  I have lived in Norway now for eight years.  I have earnt the standard language hours that fulfill my residency status, I’ve had countless study hours and social interactions, I even work and interact with hundreds of Norwegians weekly, but still, I struggle with the language.  I would certainly not be able to pass the Bergen’s test (a standard Norwegian language test that confirms ability, required for university entry and some workplaces).  I am still a basic speaker of Norwegian.  This makes me feel guilty.  I have worked really hard to learn the language but there is just something that doesn’t click.  I’m slowly coming to a realization that I need to be OK (and so does everyone else) with making a life in Norway without Norwegian.

Language has become an obstacle for my young family.  I speak English to my two small children, Lilu and Lil’Red.  I want them to learn English and have a native understanding.  I feel this is something very valuable that I can give to my children.  Moose speaks Norwegian to them and sometimes English so I can be included.  I often use Norwegian to confirm simple commands and ideas from English but I do not use Norwegian when I’m talking creatively or from my heart.  Norwegian kills my personality, my humour and my confidence.  Moose speaks English as if it was his native language so it is difficult for us to speak Norwegian all the time – we just forget, we are too tired, and most often communication between husband and wife is more important than teaching opportunities.

My kids understand basic English but still need Moose to translate me at times.  They speak a little English back to me, with an accent, but mostly Norwegian.  They are very curious and active in learning English words, (it has become a magic trick for them pulling out English words here and there to get a delighted reaction from me), and they are very keen to also translate me into Norwegian.  I often catch the kids discussing between themselves, figuring out what I just said.  Their Norwegian is OK, but not as clear as other Norwegian kids.  They also have a slight ‘immigrant’ accent (not that I can tell).  The kids went to kindergarten (barnehagen) from three years so they could learn Norwegian more thoroughly to prepare for school.  There was a kerfuffle for a little while as the barnehagen put Lilu into a Sami speaking group.  Lilu would often speak Sami, English and Norwegian in the same sentence.  (No wonder I couldn’t understand her!)  Lilu, who is now five and has started school, can read Norwegian well.  Even still, at school she is put into an ‘immigrant’ reading group simply because she has an immigrant mother and at home we speak English.

Our unique bilingual language environment certainly has its challenges.  Much of the time I don’t understand my kids and they don’t understand me.  This limits my ability as a parent.  I cannot properly use teaching opportunities to explain to my children why we do or don’t do things.  I cannot tell them stories about my own life and childhood.  I don’t know when they are speaking Norwegian inappropriately, and even if I did pick up on it, I wouldn’t be able to appropriately teach them to stop or do things another way.  My children cannot tell me about the intricate things of their lives, why they dislike an activity or how a sibling fight got started.  They can’t relay to me the five-point set of instructions that their teacher gave them for their homework and they can’t explain why they were left out of an activity at school.  Language just gets in the way.

Our lives are centered around misunderstandings.  However, everything that is said is forgiven.  No one gets offended at a wrong word or meaning, there is no point.  So we live our lives without the trickiness of words.  We know that there are things more important than language – like, our hearts.  Even though our life is language-challenged, that we cannot really say what we mean, there is no doubt that we love each other.  Love is certainly more than just words.  I can express more love by sitting next to Lilu, my arms around her as we look at pictures in a book, or laying next to Lil’Red watching the snow fall in the window or even making warm chocolate for everyone after a play outside in the cold snow.  Touch and action has been my language of love.  Looking at them with beaming eyes as they beam back at me, speaks all the words I need to feel loved.  There will be a time when my kids and I will understand each other completely and we will be able to talk about normal things taken for granted by most parents, but until then, I will cherish our silent love.

Sled Rack



The secret life of a bike rack.  When summer is at a close a bike rack has nowhere else to go but serve as a rack for sleds!

Building a Snow Cave


Usually you build snow caves on the side of hills or in snow drifts (created by the wind blowing the snow, which makes it hard but not icy).  We had another idea – build our own!  Every Sunday over the last month we have had a mini snow storm.  And every Sunday we have got out the snow shovels to pile up the snow into a small mountain in the front yard.  We initially did this for just pure exercise – moving snow around the yard is great for building upper-body strength.  Last Sunday we realised we had enough mountain to make a snow cave.


Digging is out was very easy as every week the snow had compacted on top of itself making for an excellent snow-digging cave.  All you need is a shovel and ‘Stig’s your uncle’.  It wasn’t long before we reached the other side.



It was a little squishy but from that point it was a piece of cake to carve out a bigger hole.


Snow-caving was a fun activity for the afternoon.  The snow even tasted good.


Preparing the House for Advent


Advent in Norway is the time to prepare for Christmas.  It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas day, just after the last sunrise in the North.  At this time Norwegians bring out their lights to hang in the windows for the dark season.  Some lights are small triangle lamps that hang down, or large paper stars (below), others are five or seven stick candelabras that sit on the sill.  We quite like our snow stars, a new addition for our home this year (above).

The lovely and decadent things start appearing in the stores in November for Advent.  Purple is the colour of the season and it is usual for Norwegians to dress their homes with purple things – curtains, tablecloths and cushions.  Silver, gold and white always accompany the dressing of a house.


With only a week left until Advent starts, we have already put up the kid’s Advent calendars.  There are many types of Advent calendars but we have the most typical ones – wall hangers with pockets.  They aren’t filled yet as this year is taking longer than normal to find little cheap surprises.  We have decided not to give our kids sweets or chocolates as presents, so have had to extend our small gift search.  It is tricky to find cheap gifts in Norway.  On average we spend kr30 on each item (about US$6).  Traditionally, calendars were filled with baked goods and hand-made crafts.  Today some of the most common non-food calendar gifts are pens, matchbox cars, bubbles, trolls, chap sticks, jewelry, ornaments, lego figures and cookie cutters.


Advent season is traditionally celebrated with candles.  It is normal to have a few candle settings in different places in the house.  Our dining table setting is a four stick circular candelabra.  We place it inside a wreath that is decorated with tinsel, ornaments and pinecones.  We also have another candelabra, a row setting made of cast iron, in the TV-room.  Some Norwegians have extra settings in windows or a welcome set in the entry hall.  We light the first candle on Advent Sunday, two candles on the second Sunday, and so forth.  Some Norwegians use just one candle and burn it down to a marker on each Sunday.



Advent Sunday marks the start of the Christmas concert season.  A lot of towns have their first Christmas concerts on this day.  Christmas concerts can happen as late as the 1st of January (because remember that the first day of Christmas in Norway starts on the 25th of December.  Traditionally Christmas lasts for 20 days (song) after, ending on the 13th of January.)

Advent Sunday is also the traditional day for Lighting the Christmas tree (video) in the town square.  This is a big event in many cities around the country as the community celebrates together the coming of Christmas.

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