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Editorial: Language - a source for joint understanding

| Berit Kvam

"Have you heard your employer use the word 'safety' and do you know what that word means?" asks the language teacher at Vestegnen's Language and Competence Centre south of Copenhagen. The quote touches on the depth of the challenges posed by not understanding a language.

There is great agreement in the Nordic region that investing in language skills is necessary for integration. Still there is a considerable gap between words and reality. Different countries are willing to provide and demand different levels of language skills. Denmark provides the most with 2,000 hours of Danish language training, while Norway and Sweden offer no more than 5 - 600 hours. 

Language has become a source for joint understanding. In Denmark they reckon English will become the language of consensus in the long run, but for now workers and businesses are willing to invest heavily in using the national language. 

Coca-Cola Norway is one company which has made an effort to adapt to multinationalism. They provide prayer rooms, special foods and working hours to fit different religious holidays. But when Coca-Cola representatives visited Norwegian dairy company Tine and realised everyone was talking Norwegian in the canteen, they decided to focus on language training in the work place. It has become their most important tool in the work for good integration. Language - the key to working life, is this month's theme in focus.

Increasing globalisation also changes Nordic cooperation and gives life to new Nordic stories. The Nordic prime ministers have started a process which should strengthen Nordic competetiveness. A recent Copenhagen conference heard many ideas for how this will work. 

Language plays an important role in the Nordic cooperation too. Norway's Cooperation Minister puts it bluntly in the Portrait: "If we in the Nordic Region one day no longer can speak Scandinavian languages to each other I believe the cooperation will be lost." Cooperation Minister Rigmor Aasrud wants to engage the grass roots and improve the understanding of Scandinavian languages. She feels this is a prerequisite for the free movement of labour, which helps dampen the swings in the labour market and gives each citizen the opportunity to work in a different Nordic country with greater ease. Norway and Denmark are currently profiting from the labour of young Swedes. In addition we need to give more people a better chance in future:

"Danish pronunciation is difficult but I want to fully master it so I can train to be a health and social care assistant. I want to care for older people,"  says Juan Chen who arrived to Denmark from China three years ago.


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