Document Actions

Nordic Welfare language co-operation

About 25 million people live in the Nordic countries. Many of us know, speak or understand at least one of the Scandinavian languages; Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. It is a great advantage when we need to communicate and work with each other. Without much effort, most of the inhabitants in the Nordic countries can learn to understand and communicate between their neighbours' languages, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. This helps us in the labour market and in the educational system, and it gives us access to more cultural experiences.

Johannes Jansson/

Language diversity

The official Nordic languages are Danish in Denmark, Finnish and Swedish in Finland, Faroese in the Faroe Islands, Greenlandic in Greenland, Icelandic in Iceland, Norwegian in Norway and Swedish in Sweden. In the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish territories there is an adjoining area of Sami culture and language.

In Finland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland it is compulsory to learn one of the Scandinavian languages in school.

Other languages have official status as minority languages in parts of the Region. Examples of national minority languages are Meänkieli (Torne Valley Finnish), Romany, Yiddish, the Kven language and German.  The Language Declaration secures a special place for sign language.

About 200 other languages are mother tongue for Nordic citizens as a result of immigration in recent decades which has increased the linguistic diversity.

You can read more about the languages of the Nordic countries in the book Dynamic languages with roots.

How is it going with Nordic language comprehension?

However, maintaining the Nordic language community requires constant development of the possibilities for strengthening language comprehension.

A study from Lund University indicates that Nordic residents have greater and greater difficulty in understanding each other. This applies particularly to young people.

Politicians are aware of this tendency, and the Nordic countries are working together to improve language comprehension.

In 2006 the Nordic ministers of education adopted a Nordic declaration on Language Policy.

The ministers were in agreement that the languages which are essential to society remain so and that they must be strong and alive.

A language is essential to society if it is used in a language community for official purposes, for example education and legislation.

Nordic co-operation will continue to be conducted in the Scandinavian languages in the future.

Agreements in the language sector

Co-operation on languages in the Nordic Region is controlled by the Nordic Language Convention and the Nordic Language Declaration.

The Nordic Language Convention gives Nordic citizens the right, as far as possible, to use their own language, or get interpretation or translation, when they contact the authorities in another Nordic country.

The language convention is the result of a proposal from the Nordic Council to the Nordic governments in 1966. The convention is legally binding, and the Ministers for Nordic Co-operation own the Language Convention. The main responsible authority differs from country to country. The individual Nordic countries are responsible for monitoring the Convention. The Nordic Committee for Co-operation (NSK) decided in 2011 to carry out a revision of the Language Convention.

The Declaration on Nordic Language Policy is not legally binding, but the Nordic ministers of education, who own the Language Declaration, are under an obligation to achieve its long-term goals.

The declaration describes the Nordic citizens' linguistic rights and sets up tangible goals that the Nordic language policy should aim to meet. The intention is that the language policy will ensure cohesion and coherence in the Nordic Council of Ministers' work with language. The responsibility for monitoring the Language Declaration is national. Every two years the countries account for their follow-up at the Nordic Council Session: the first time in 2009, second time in 2011.

The Language Declaration will form the basis for unified, long-range, and effective language policy efforts.

Subsidy schemes for language

Partners in the Nordic and Baltic countries can apply for funding for language projects and mobility from the Nordplus programme: Nordplus Nordic Language, Nordplus Junior and Nordplus Horisontal.

The aim of the Nordplus Nordic Language is to strengthen and stimulate interest for knowledge and understanding of Nordic cultures, languages and living conditions. Through Nordplus Junior and Nordplus Horisontal grants are given, for example, for visits, exchanges, the establishment of networks and conferences.

Grants for language projects can also be applied for through the Nordic Culture Fund.


Bodil Aurstad
Phone: +45 29 69 29 81

Are you interested in Nordic news on culture, leisure and the media?

Subscribe to our Nordic news!