I strongly believe that learning to speak the language of the country you are living in is one of the best things you can do. I understand that not everyone has the time or ability to intensively learn but there are so many options available either online or in person to at least be able to pick up the basics.
Here are the reasons why I believe you should learn Danish.
1. It is free
In a country where so many things are very expensive it is always good to find something that is free. Once you have a CPR number you are entitled to take Danish lessons at one of a number of excellent language schools across the country and these days many of then offer blended learning so you can study at times that suit you. Even if you only take the first few modules, it is really worth it.
2. It helps you get a job
Whilst English is widely spoken in Denmark, it can still be tough to get a job without having Danish language skills. The reality is that if it's a choice between a Danish speaker and a non Danish speaker, the former will usually get the job.
3. It makes bureaucracy easier
Bureaucracy in a new country is hard enough without a significant language barrier. You will receive so many letters, emails and other official correspondence in Danish that translation tools will only get you so far.
4. It helps you build a network and make friends
Denmark is very much a ‘who you know’ culture and Danes already have strong networks based on years of education and work. This can be easier to penetrate if you can speak Danish. You can join more local Facebook groups, and link up with people who can help you out both socially and professionally more than other expats can.
5. It helps you feel less isolated
The biggest reason I found living in Berlin so isolating was the limited amount of German language I knew (even though I was learning). Understanding even the basics of a language means that you can enter into small talk, you can read news headlines, understand the adverts you see and start to understand a little more about local and popular culture. This in turn helps you feel more integrated and less isolated and let’s you focus less on ‘us and them’ and more on getting on with your new life.
6. It gives you more places to go and things to do
If you understand Danish you can go to more events, exhibitions and social happenings. Learning Danish will make you aware they are happening in the first place and will also allow you to get more out of them once you are there. There were tons of times I saw events I would have loved to have joined in Berlin but my lack of confidence in my language skills stopped me going.
7. It’s the polite thing to do
It just seems kind of rude to me not to at least try to speak some of the local language, however badly, when you have settled in a country, even if it is for a short time. Danes will appreciate the attempt even if they swiftly swap into English and you will find you get a better reception for your conversation or request if you have tried to meet them half way.
Also work colleagues may want to relax at lunch and break times and not have to make a big effort to speak in a language that isn't theirs.
8. Just because people can speak English doesn't always mean it's easy for them
It is easy to assume that because most Danes understand a lot of English that they can express themselves as easily in English as they can in Danish. I have fallen into the trap of asking if I can speak English as its is easier for me, without thinking that it isn’t necessarily as easy for the person I am speaking to.
Instead of asking if a person speaks English, say you can’t speak very good Danish. This puts the fault on you and not them and is a more positive way of approaching asking for help.
Melanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at expats called Dejlige Days Welcome and works with Copenhagen Housing to offer an integrated settling-in and home search service. Her ebook, 'Dejlige Days: A Guide to Relocation', will be published soon.