English is widely spoken in Norway, and virtually every Norwegian can speak fluent (or understand a minimum of, this is mostly the elder people) English.Tourist information is usually printed in several languages. Information in museums, restaurants, hotels and public transport is often printed in English and other major languages such German and French. Many Norwegians also speak or understand a second foreign language, often German, French or Spanish. In the main cities (Oslo in particular) there are several ethnic minorities with Spanish, Arab, Tamil or Urdu as the first language. There is also a large number of recent imigrants from Sweden, Poland and other Baltic-area countries. In the Eastern corner of Finnmark county, Russian is also common.

Norwegian is closely related to Danish and Swedish, written Norwegian is virtually identical to Danish, whereas Swedes and Norwegians understand each other very easy. Norwegian is also related to Icelandic, German, Dutch and English. Some knowledge of a Scandinavian language is useful, knowledge of German or Dutch is helpful in understanding written Norwegian. 

Because English and Norwegian are closely related, a large number of  basic and everyday words can be well understood if some creativity is added, examples:

English - Norwegian (with alternate spelling)

bread - brød
milk - melk/mjølk
coffee - kaffe/kaffi
tea - te
open - åpen/open
door - dør
house - hus
rain - regn
car (automobil) - bil
bicycle - sykkel
window - vindu

Although Norwegian is the national language, the Sami language is also regarded as an official language and several municipalities in Finnmark and Troms counties use Sami along with Norwegian. Public information as well as place names (on road signs) in these areas are printed in both  Sami and Norwegian. Note that Norwegian and Sami place names may differ, maps will typically use the Norwegian name. Sami is a language (or rather a group of languages) in the larger Finnish family of languages, and in fact more related to Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian than to Norwegian. Sami is written with a variant of the Latin alphabet, but is otherwise unrelated to Norwegian.

There is no standard spoken Norwegian and a wide range of dialects is used even in public broadcasting. Written Norwegian is virtually identical to Danish and phrasebooks for the two languages can for most purposes be used interchangeably. Norwegian is written with the latin alphabet and three additional vowels (ø, æ, å). 

Additional important characteristics:

  • Unlike some Germanic neighbors, in Norwegian the definite article is postfixed (a suffix) while the indefinite article is a separate word like in english (a house = et hus; the house = huset).
  • Verbs are not conjugated according to the person.
  • Capital letters are used for names of persons or places as well as beginning of sentences.
  • Norwegian has three unique vowels: æ, ø, å 
  • Norwegian has less french/latin words than English, but plenty  "international" words (adopted from English, French or Latin) that are understandable for most visitors. For instance: information = informasjon, telephone = telefon, post = post, tourist = turist, police = politi.
  • Unlike English, Norwegian words are compounded to form new nouns (as in German). There is in principle no limit to the number of new nouns that can be created, unless these are "decomposed" some of these may not be found in dictionaries or phrasebooks, and can cause confusion.

Pronunciation

Norwegian vowels are pronounced in almost the same way as in German. The Norwegian alphabet has three letters more than the English alphabet, vowels æ (Æ), ø (Ø), and å (Å):

  • æ - like 'a' in "hat"
  • ø  - like 'u' in  "burn" , not to be confused with English 'o'
  • å - like 'o' in "lord" (not the be confused with 'a')

Note also the following difficult vowels:

  • u - like "too" or "soothing" in English
  • y - no corresponding sound in English, but similar to German ü or French u
  • o - similar to u in German

w, x and z has no real function in Norwegian.

j is pronunced like "y" in yes.

While understanding basic words is fairly easy for English, German or Dutch speakers, perfect pronunciation si notoriously difficult to learn because Norwegian is a pitch accent or tonal language - unlike most European languages, except Swedish, Latvian and Serbo-Croat, but similar to Chinese languages or Japanese. This gives Norwegian (and Swedish) a "singing" appearance that is easily recognized, this "singing" characteristic also vaguely resembles East Asian languages.

"False friends" - Norwegian words (left hand side) that can be confused, English translation shown right-hand

rar = strange, unusual
sjelden = rare
gate = street
port = gate
havn = port, harbour
morgen = early morning 
fabrikk = factory
fly = airplane
dress = suit (men's)
kjole = dress (women's)
smoking = black tie, tuxedo/dinner jacket
prikk = dot
butikk = shop, store (like grocery store)
matbutikk = food store
korn = seeds/grain/cereal from wheat, barely, rye, oats
mais = corn ( US), maize
time = hour
tid = time
tidevann = tide
storm = strong wind (below hurricane on the scale)
sky = cloud
himmel = sky