‘Danish is probably harder than Chinese’

30-year-old Hong Kong native Sau Wai Ng shares her experiences as a Chinese teacher and says that language is key to settling into a good career in Denmark.

'Danish is probably harder than Chinese'
Not only can she teach you Chinese, Sau Wai Ng can also help you learn to tickle the ivory. Photo: Submitted

Danes are infamously good English speakers. From school-age children to beggars on the streets and nearly everyone in between, most Danes have little problem holding a conversation in English. But with China’s emergence as a superpower, English may no longer be enough. 

Hong Kong native Sau Wai Ng has spent the last three years helping Danes prepare for a potentially not too distant future in which Mandarin Chinese – the most widely-spoken language in the world – may well be the lingua franca of the business world.

Ng, 30, has taught Mandarin Chinese to Danish adults and children for three years. Until recently, she taught children aged 6-12 at a private school in the southern Copenhagen suburb of Køge. She now gives private Chinese lessons to adults. 

How are the Danes’ Chinese skills?

The Danish school children learned very quickly and were happy to speak Chinese often. Teaching Danish adults was very inspiring because they asked questions on another level. They were interested in historical, cultural and political aspects of China on top of the language. I had some deep and fruitful discussions with my adult students. A real cultural exchange, I would say.

So, what’s a harder language to learn: Danish or Mandarin Chinese?

Given a short period of time, I would think learning Danish as a foreigner is harder. The Danish pronunciation is hard to catch from the beginning. But once you get used to it, it gets much easier, especially if you speak English too. It is relatively easy to pronounce Chinese words from the beginning, but in the long run, you'd need to expand your vocabulary and that may be difficult. 

How did you end up in Denmark? 

I first came to Denmark for the first time as an exchange student at Aalborg University in 2006. It was great! I really thought Denmark was beautiful and the people were very nice. I went back to Hong Kong to finish my bachelor’s and then returned to Denmark in 2008 to get my Master’s in Development and International Relations from Aalborg University. I really liked Aalborg, it was hyggeligt. In 2010, I moved to Copenhagen to take a job at Copenhagen Business School as an international academic coordinator. 

What should job-seekers in Denmark be aware of?

A network is one of the most important parts of finding a good job in Denmark. You have to be very outgoing and try to meet as many different people as possible, including other internationals and expats. Tell others what you can do and what you are looking for in a job. It is a good way of advertising yourself. It also helps to take part in other activities, such as volunteer work and meeting with as many different groups as possible. 

What about the language – is speaking Danish a must?

I think learning to speak Danish is one of the absolutely most important things in starting a career here. The Danes are very good at speaking English and very willing to do so, but if you really want to get close to the Danes and understand their culture, then I think it is necessary to speak Danish. Then you can really feel like you are a part of them. 

What is the best thing about working in Denmark? 

There is a very healthy work-life balance here that gives you plenty of time for to develop as an individual. There is also a very high level of trust in the Danish society in general. People trust each other very much from the very start. 

What do you do with all of that extra free time?

Well, one thing is that I have recently started offering private piano lessons for adults. I play at the Ballerup Library, every Wednesday from 3-4pm. All are welcome to join! I wanted to share music with others and it turns out that people really like it. I also started playing chess a year ago and I'm very interested in getting to know the Danish chess community. 

What has been the most challenging thing about living in Denmark?

The most difficult thing is that you really have to master the Danish language. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you really have to work on the language a lot in order to use the Danish on a high level. 

Do you intend to stay in Denmark?

I really like the lifestyle in Denmark, but of course, working and seeing other cities is very exciting so I guess you never know!

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‘We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark’s seasons’

Stuart Eve moved to Denmark with his family after his wife, an archaeologist, was offered a job at Aarhus University. Nearly four years later, he is the co-founder of a fair trade chocolate business in the Scandinavian city.

'We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark's seasons'
A chance meeting at their children's daycare resulted in the Ørbæk and Eve families starting their Danish business. Photo: Stuart Eve

Eve still works full time at his day job, also in archaeology. But the sweet-toothed entrepreneur told The Local that Denmark provided him with inspiration to try something out of his comfort zone – starting his own business in a foreign country.

After meeting business partner Anders Ørbæk at the daycare centre attended by their children, the two began the project, initially producing the chocolate out of their own kitchens.

“That has now moved to the renting of a professional space, so that we can scale up production and also get all the relevant food hygiene certificates and so on,” Eve said.

The archaeologist said having Danish partners had been beneficial in the course of setting up a business in the Scandinavian country, even though the process itself was straightforward.

“Actually starting the business was a matter of filling in a few forms online and showing we had 100 kroner [13 euros] in the bank. However, I think without our Danish partners, it would have been quite hard – mainly because of the technical Danish required. My Danish is pretty awful – and there are a lot of financial terms that are difficult to translate,” Eve said.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

“So I think for us it was essential to have Danish partners. Also, the food hygiene rules and health and safety, while similar to the UK, are quite onerous – and again very technical.

“I run my own archaeology business in the UK, so that has set me in great stead for the financial and business side,” he added.

The startup currently sources some of its supplies from Eve’s native UK – one aspect that may be complicated by Brexit, he said.

“My secret dream is that the chocolate business will enable us to beat Brexit and stay in Denmark for a lot longer — but we'll have to see how it pans out,” he said.


Packaged up and ready to go #somerferie #chokolade #beantobar #chocolate

A post shared by Ørbæk & Eve (@oerbaekandeve) on Jul 3, 2017 at 2:40pm PDT

It was not just the administrative side that Eve had to learn on the hoof for his Danish-based business, though – the process of producing the chocolate itself is also new.

“I was eating some Ritter Sport one evening and wondered to myself how chocolate was made, thinking it must be some incredibly complicated industrial process. So I checked out a few YouTube videos and it turns out you can make chocolate in a coffee grinder – it tastes awful because it is so crunchy, but it shows the process. From there it was a matter of buying a bigger grinder and starting to experiment. We have so much to learn still, but people seem to like what we are producing so far,” he said.

The chocolate produced by the startup – which is both fairtrade and organic – is heavily influenced by Denmark’s nature and seasonal variations, including a quarterly subscription service which can be signed up for via a crowdfunding campaign.

“We have been trying to find a way to really represent the beauty and abundance of the Danish countryside and combine it with something that Danes really love – chocolate,” he said.

“Strawberries from Samsø for summer, hazelnuts foraged from the woods for autumn, etc. Between us we have six kids so the family always come in and help during the production days,” he added.

A longer term aim is to consolidate the new company – named Ørbæk & Eve after its co-founders – as a well-known ‘bean to bar’ company in Aarhus.

“Our main reasons for doing this are two-fold. First, we eat a lot of chocolate and have become increasingly concerned by the human and environmental costs of industrialised chocolate production – there are new reports about destruction of rainforest for cocoa plantations and slave labour in West Africa, for example. In order to not be complicit with this, I wanted to figure out how it was made – and to do it myself.

“Second, we have really noticed the differences in the seasons since we moved to Denmark, so we wanted to make chocolate that reflected and celebrated the different qualities of the changing seasons,” he said.

Eve, Ørbæk and their partners are currently spending evenings and weekends on the chocolate production runs.

“As things pick up, I suspect I will move to one dedicated day a week, but we have four of us working on it, so we can usually juggle the time,” he said.

READ MORE: The Local's 'My Danish Career' series