Communicating in Scandinavia is easy, as virtually everybody under 65 speaks at least basic English, and younger people tend to be fluent. Most students also study a third major European language, such as German, French and increasingly Spanish. Foreign language television programmes are usually shown in their original language with subtitles, with only children's programmes sometimes being dubbed into the local language, and even then DVDs and cinemas also offer the original language with subtitles, and it is widely believed that this links to the high English proficiency among young children here.
Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are closely related and mutually intelligible to varying degrees, especially in writing, although some spoken dialects can be quite incomprehensible. As these are all Germanic languages, if you speak German or Dutch, you will find many cognates, and even English speakers will be able to recognise the odd word once they get their heads around the phonetic spelling: eg. English school is Swedish skola and Danish/Norwegian skole, while first becomes först/først. Icelandic and Faroese, while also related, have been kept in a linguistic freezer since the 13th century, and are largely unintelligible to other Germanic speakers.
The real outlier is Finnish, which belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is entirely unrelated to the other Nordic languages. Finland, however, maintains a roughly 5% Swedish-speaking minority, and all Finns learn Swedish in school. As Finnish is related to Hungarian and Estonian, speakers of those languages will recognise several cognates. The Saami language also belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is an official language in some municipalities of Lapland.
The Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions about Scandinavia
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