‘Test two-year-olds’ Danish skills’: minister

Danish social and children’s minister Mai Mercado wants children with bilingual backgrounds to be given Danish language tests at the age of two.

'Test two-year-olds’ Danish skills': minister
Social and children's minister Mai Mercado. Photo: Asger Ladefoged/Scanpix

The Conservative party MP says that children who speak other languages at home risk being left behind in Danish at school, so should be helped from an early age.

“It is very sad when we see many children with insufficient Danish vocabulary and language skills,” Mercado said, according to a report by news agency Ritzau.

A recent report by Copenhagen Municipality showed that 44 per cent of school children with non-Western backgrounds that started in kindergarten classes in 2015 required extra help with their Danish.

Mercado said she wanted to propose a bill that would enable local municipalities to assess Danish language skills amongst children as young as two.

“It is simply clear to us that some children need an earlier intervention,” Mercado told Ritzau.

The bill would allow children from non-Danish speaking homes to attend kindergartens as a way of improving their language skills, should this be considered necessary.

Education Minister Merete Riisager of the libertarian Liberal Alliance party said that, while she supports the suggestion, parents must also bear responsibility for children’s Danish abilities.

“The is a large statistical difference between children with Danish and non-Western backgrounds. The home environment is crucial for the ability of children to learn and take part at school,” Riisager said to Ritzau.

Parents must take an “active” role in ensuring that the statistical difference is evened out, the minister said.

Nationwide association Kommunernes Landsforening (Local Government Denmark) also recently called for early language testing to be introduced in the form of screening, arguing that it would help prevent social inequality.

According to the Copenhagen Municipality figures, only 11.7 per cent of ethnic Danish children starting kindergarten in 2015 needed “special or focused help” with their Danish. 

The numbers for both groups fell slightly on 2014, when they were 47 and 12.3 per cent for the non-Western and Danish classifications respectively.



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.”