Answer: I'm not sure I completely agree with the premise of your question. I know a lot of Norwegians who speak English very well and I am immodest enough to include myself in that group. Compared to our European cousins farther south, we're practically native speakers. Countless times I have wondered at the complete and utter ignorance the
I agree though that the level should be a helluva lot better than it is, both written and spoken. Norwegians are literally surrounded by English all day, all our lives, and the only acceptable excuse someone under 40-50 years of age has for not speaking and writing it well, is some degree of retardation. Possibly a Swede somewhere in the family tree, which amounts to the same.
One reason is simply shyness. Norwegians tend to need a couple of drinks before mustering up the courage to speak to a foreigner - so by the time we're ready to speak, we're no longer able to account for ourselves coherently. Another aspect of this (which is so, so embarrassing), is that many Norwegians seem to vastly overestimate their own skills in speaking English. We've been told all our lives that we're soooo good at speaking English, we simply can't grasp that this is a general statement about average skills, and should not be interpreted as a declaration that we're linguistic geniuses by birthright.
Another reason is sheer laziness. Speaking as a high school teacher, I can attest to the fact that young Norwegians in general understand spoken English better than my generation did. But they don't read, write and speak it as well, because those skills demand that you actually make an effort, and that is something the young generation can't be bothered to do (I'm generalizing for entertainment purposes here). One demand in the English curriculum is that the pupils read a novel in English and write a report on it. To my horror this is an insurmountable task for many - they haven't even read a novel in Norwegian, so no way are they going to read one in furrin'.
Personally, I think we should