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OPINION: Why PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s error-strewn English is fine by us

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen had his say in the American gun control debate on Wednesday, but ended up facing ridicule for his written English.

OPINION: Why PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen's error-strewn English is fine by us
Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen sent a tweet with a few English errors. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Scanpix Denmark

Rasmussen's tweet was described as 'sub-standard' by a communications expert on Thursday, after the PM made two attempts at addressing US president Donald Trump on Twitter on Wednesday night – both with a number of English spelling and grammar errors.

“Do not intend to interfere, but allow me to give a danish perspective: please, respond to the request of your youngsters who demands gun control. Don't accept the world record in school shoutings. Make America great and safe again!” read Rasmussen's original tweet, which was sent at 10:05pm on Wednesday local time.

Just under 25 minutes later, a second tweet was sent by the PM, in which the mis-spelled 'shoutings' was corrected to shootings.

Despite the correction, several other examples of sloppy written English remained: the lack of a capital 'D' in 'Danish'; verb non-agreement between 'demands' and 'youngsters'; and if we're being really picky, poor choice of preposition – world records are given 'for' something, not 'in' something.

The missing subject at the beginning of Rasmussen's first sentence also changes the sentiment of the diplomatic 'I don't mean to interfere', which we can reasonably assume was the PM's intention to convey, to the imperative: 'Do not interfere!'

Digital political communication expert Benjamin Rud Elberth told news agency Ritzau that Rasmussen's linguistic errors place his tweet in the same category as many of the social media messages Trump himself receives so much criticism for.

“It's completely normal to use Twitter for diplomacy and to state one's position.

“But Løkke's tweet is a bit embarrassing, because there are spelling mistakes and verb agreement errors,” Elberth said.

“It seems as though Løkke is 'doing a Trump' – coming out impulsively with something that seems ill-considered and has spelling mistakes. That adds up to make the tweet seem comical,” he added.

Here at The Local – where we have a bit of experience with seeing Danish sentiments expressed in English – we feel inclined to respectfully disagree with the communications expert.

It's not because we don't care about spelling and grammar. On the contrary, we found writing down all the things that were wrong (linguistically) with the PM's tweet rather therapeutic.

It's important to write correctly. As Elberth points out, the astonishingly poor articulacy shown by Trump himself is a contributory factor to the inflammatory effect many of his tweets have.

An important difference should be noted, however: Lars Løkke Rasmussen was not writing in his mother tongue.

What's more, the Danish PM was expressing a sentiment that is hard to disagree with: something must be done to make children's lives safer.

Having been one of the first European premiers to meet Trump after his inauguration last year, Rasmussen has sought to maintain a good relationship with the US president, perhaps seeing positive dialogue as the best way to protect Danish and European interests.

Perhaps politicians and citizens in the United States who are opposed to better gun control in that country would be tempted to throw Rasmussen's literally-interpreted, erroneously-written order back at him: 'do not interfere'.

We think the prime minister's intentions are so laudable that a few spelling mistakes can be forgiven.

READ ALSO: 'Listen to America's young people': Danish PM to Trump


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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Danes are ‘world’s second-best’ speakers of English as a foreign language

A new annual ranking has judged Danes to be the world’s second-best speakers of English as a second language.

Danes are 'world’s second-best' speakers of English as a foreign language
Photo: ActionVance on Unsplash

The newest edition of the annual English Proficiency Index (EPI) from global language training company Education First (EF) ranked Denmark second out of 100 countries that don't have English as a national language. 

That’s an improvement from last year, when Denmark was fourth, and means it has overtaken Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway (now fourth and fifth respectively) on the list. Finland is ranked third, but Iceland, another Nordic country known for its natives’ high standard of English, is not included in the analysis.

“The countries with the highest English proficiency in Europe are clustered in Scandinavia. School systems in these countries employ several key strategies, including an early focus on communication skills, daily exposure to English both in and outside the classroom, and career-specific language instruction in the final years of study, whether that is vocational school or university,” the report states.

This year's index was again topped by The Netherlands.

READ ALSO: 

It appears Denmark has done well to slightly improve its position on the list, as the index authors found that the rest of the world is slowing catching up with those countries who have the highest proficiency levels.

“The worldwide, population-weighted average English proficiency score remained stable, but 26 countries’ scores improved significantly (meaning they gained more than 20 points), while only seven experienced significant declines,” the report summary notes.

The high scores of Denmark and the other countries near the top of the list are also a good reflection on those societies, EF writes.

“There is an increasingly clear relationship between a society’s connectedness to the world and the level of social and political equality experienced by its citizens,” the summary states.

“Closed societies turn inwards and nurture rigid hierarchies. Open societies look outwards. They are flatter, fairer places. English, as a medium of international connectivity, correlates well with measures of both equality and engagement with the outside world,” it continues.

A total of twelve countries were ranked in the ‘very high proficiency’ category, the highest level. Ten of the 12 are in Europe. The full top 12 is as follows:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Austria
  7. Portugal
  8. Germany
  9. Belgium
  10. Singapore
  11. Luxembourg
  12. South Africa

'Very high' proficiency is defined by EF as the ability to carry out complex, nuanced tasks in English, such as negotiating a contract with a native English-speaker, reading advanced texts with ease, and using nuanced and appropriate language in social situations.

The report is based on a comparison of English skills measured by testing 2.2 million people who took EF’s English tests in 2019. The full EPI report can be read here

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