Not even the Danes can understand Danish

Danish actors mumble so badly that Danes can't understand what they are saying, forcing movie theatres to run subtitles.

Not even the Danes can understand Danish
Mumbly McGees Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Mads Mikkelsen from the film Mænd og Høns. Photo: Rolf Konow
One thing every foreigner living in Denmark knows to be true is that it’s a lot easier to comprehend written Danish than spoken Danish. That’s why many foreigners, even after years of living in Denmark, have to turn on Danish subtitles in order to follow along with Danish TV shows and films.
But fret not foreigners, you’re not alone. Not even the natives, it seems, can understand mumble-mouthed Danish actors. 
Several movie theaters in Denmark have resorted to turning on the subtitles of domestic films as more and more people report difficulty following what Danish actors are saying on screen. 
The head of Danske Biografer, the national association for Denmark’s movie theaters, said there is a growing trend of using subtitles on Danish films. 
“Many theaters advertise special showings in which Danish films are shown with subtitles. In Grenaa, the owner of the local theatre has chosen to consistently show Danish films with subtitles,” Kim Pedersen told public broadcaster DR. 
Pedersen said that the Danish Film Institute is supporting a fundraising project to ensure that even more Danish films can be shown with Danish texts. 
“There is clearly a market for it and Nordisk Films Biografer has also chosen to hold showings with subtitles for popular Danish films like Stille Hjerte and All Inclusive,” he said. 
Danish actors have defended their mumbling by saying it adds a realistic element to the films – something most non-Danes would probably agree with. 

To get a sense of why Danes need subtitles, here is the trailer for Mænd og Høns, currently playing in theaters. Can you understand it? 

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Why mastering English isn’t all good news for Danish workers and their companies

While learning English is clearly an advantage for Danish workers, mastering the language of Shakespeare isn't enough for companies that export to Germany.

Why mastering English isn't all good news for Danish workers and their companies
English language skills don’t cut it for Danish companies hoping to export to Germany. Photo: Maheshkumar Painam / Unsplash

The Danish business community is facing a major language problem – and it’s not with English.

According to Dansk Industri (DI), an organisation representing approximately 18,500 companies across Denmark, Danish companies are experiencing a shortage of employees with good German skills.

As more Danes opt to master English, fewer are mastering the German language than in the past. This is making it more difficult, DI said, to trade with companies in Germany. 

Although Danes are considered to be the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, DI Deputy Director Mette Fjord Sørensen said speaking English when doing business in Germany isn’t always an option.

“Germany is a big country and not everyone speaks English at a high level, so misunderstandings can occur that could have consequences for a business deal,” Sørensen told The Local. “Speaking in someone’s native tongue, in this case German, can have a positive effect.”

DI said that German skills are in “extremely high demand” in a wide range of professions, from trade graduates to engineers and craftsmen. 

“Our companies demand employees with dual competencies – for example the engineer or electrician who also knows German,” Sørensen said, adding that DI is worried as they see fewer and fewer students choose to study German. 

An analysis by SMV Denmark, an organisation representing small and medium-sized companies in Denmark, shows that the number of high school students graduating German at A-level fell from 11 percent in 2005 to less than 6 percent last year. Additionally, the number of students admitted to a higher German education last year was 30 percent lower than in 2010, according to Avisen Danmark

Sørensen thinks the long term solution is to expand German language studies within Denmark’s education system, but there are several solutions available in the meantime.

This includes language courses for working professionals, specific to the work they do. 

“German expats in Denmark could also play a vital role in the need for German language competence,” Sørensen said. “We have to dig into the possibilities expats can contribute.”