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How to break the Nordic language barriers from an online marketing perspective3 min read

3 min read

The Nordic countries is a desirable market to enter for many companies due to their good economic positions. However, entering these countries can seem a little daunting at first, and if it doesn’t you’ve probably overseen some details about the languages in the Nordic countries. It is not impossible though, there are just a few things you need to bear in mind.

More local languages than you’d think

First of all, we have two divisions in the North. Scandinavia is typically including Sweden, Norway and Denmark whereas the Nordics also include Finland, Iceland and the smaller autonomous regions of Åland, Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are related and can be understood by people from the other Scandinavian countries.They are however very different when written and confusing them will put Scandinavians off. Finnish is completely different from the Scandinavian languages and Icelandic is rather isolated. To straighten this out, here is a breakdown of the countries and their languages:

Sweden is the largest of the Nordic countries. Swedish, a Germanic language (related to German and English), is spoken by pretty much everyone who has lived in the country for a while. The northern part of Sweden has more to it, but that deserves its own section.

Finland used to be ruled by Sweden. This led to a rather large Swedish-speaking population and to this day, 5% of Finns have Swedish as their native language. And to be clear. Finnish and Swedish are completely unrelated as languages. Whereas Swedish is Germanic, Finnish is Uralic and related to Estonian and Hungarian.

Norway has historically been part of both Sweden and Denmark and has linguistic streaks from both. Norwegian is actually two different languages; Bokmål (Book Language) and Nynorsk (New Norwegian). Bokmål is the older formal kind of Norwegian heavily influenced by Danish, whereas Nynorsk is an artificial construction of lots of different rural dialects in Norway. Both are official and widely used and people who speak one will understand the other. In addition, there are loads of rural dialects, some very peculiar, that people occasionally write in.

Denmark is geographically closer to Germany which is evident both from grammar and pronunciation. Danish is also a Germanic language, like Swedish and Norwegian, and like those, it also has plenty of dialects. This is however affecting spoken language more than written and causes less of a problem for our purposes than the two Norwegian languages.

Iceland is also a Germanic language and is the closest to what the Scandinavian languages started out as, seeing that it was isolated for a very long time. Icelandic is not generally understood by people from the rest of Scandinavia, but there are still similarities.

Sami is an indigenous people who live across northern Norway, Sweden and Finland; and into Russia. They have a number of regional languages that are closer to Finnish than any of the other Nordic languages. Even though Sami languages are official languages in all the Nordic countries where they exist, their speakers also typically speak the other language of that country. Therefore, unless specifically targeting Sami people, using Sami languages will most likely be more difficult and costly than necessary.

The easiest way to get this right is of course to make sure you have people from the Nordic countries on your team. Regardless, it’s worth keeping in mind that when using Nordic languages, don’t forget the Swedish-speakers in Finland and the fact that Norway has two languages. And most importantly, be aware that even though they have (mainly) similar languages, they are different enough to be easily distinguishable by those who speak them.

And, as always, just give us a shout and we’ll be happy to help.