A reader commented on this blog post asking for advice on learning Norwegian. I’m reposting my response as a separate post, in the hope that some of you (I’m looking at you linguists, language geeks, Norwegian-Americans and people who have taught themselves foreign languages) can give better advice than I can:
I have a limited experience with learning foreign languages on purpose. I learned both English and Norwegian the way native speakers learn these languages as children, without seeking out tutors or language courses. Like you, my "foreign" language is French, which I started studying with after-school classes taught by French teachers in Norway. Intensive classes with native speakers allowed me to pick up the basics of French fairly quickly (the equivalent of three years of high school classes in just eight weeks or so), and I really recommend learning from native speakers in small groups. If that is impossible, I know there are a variety of language computer programmes and internet-based courses, but I have no experience with them myself.
If you have the basics of the Norwegian language down, I suggest you improve your vocabulary the way Norwegians learning English do: read newspaper articles and watch television. The following are two major Norwegian online news sources you could start with:
The Norwegian public television network NRK puts its programming online, but it is only available from Norwegian IP addresses. You could experiment with proxies to trick the system, but you might be better off getting yourself som dvds online. That way, you can add Norwegian subtitles to the Norwegian audio. I find that hearing and seeing the same words at the same time in a foreign language makes it easier to understand them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck finding Norwegian television shows available via Amazon, but there are movies. Have you seen Max Manus, Elling or Buddy? Those are three fairly recent Norwegian titles that had enough international success to make it to Amazon.com. And don’t forget The Troll Hunter, possibly the most Norwegian movie ever, full of cultural references and in-jokes for Norwegians, but hopefully still entertaining for Americans.
Keep in mind when learning Norwegian that while it is a fairly easy language to master the basics of, it is very difficult to pronounce everything like a native. Part of this difficulty comes from the difference between soft American consonants and harsh Norwegians rrr-sounds – not to mention the notorious "kj". And part of the problem is the numerous dialects and the fact that we have two official (very similar) written languages, which means that there are seemingly endless variations of pronunciations and possible spellings. Don’t worry, it confuses me too. But if you can live with that, the good news is that Norwegian grammar and standard spelling is far more logical and predictable than English. You can actually sound words out when reading, without encountering trick words like the English "enough". In fact, one of my American family friends used to read to me in Norwegian, sounding out the words. She had learned the basic pronunciation rules, but she didn’t understand a word she was reading. But I did!
Ultimately though, nothing beats learning through conversations with real Norwegians. If you can seek them out and convince them not to speak English to you, you will learn to communicate in Norwegian.