Government proposals to introduce fees of up to 12,000 kroner for Danish language lessons for ‘self-sufficient’ newcomers to Denmark, including those in work, students and EU citizens, are likely to be passed by parliament.
The move has drawn criticism from the Confederation of Danish Industry, which has said it could cause vital foreign workers to struggle to settle and ultimately leave Denmark. Trade union 3F has said that foreign workers should be helped to obtain necessary language skills out of consideration for work environment and safety at workplaces.
Via our daily newsletter, we reached out to our readers – many of whom are internationals based in Denmark – for their views on this issue.
Here are some of the responses we received.
“My husband and I (both retired) went for an introductory course to the Danish language lessons for six weeks in Gulborgsund. The lessons were very slow and repetitive and when we were asked to attend five days a week we drew the line. They were aimed at people whose native language was not European. We would certainly not pay 12,000 kroner per module,” Helen Crowther wrote.
“Most people we deal with can speak some English, lucky for us. The difficulties are in dealing with official documentation such as from [tax agency] Skat and the kommune [municipality, ed.], which language lessons don’t really help with,” she added.
Sharon Simon Christensen, a Canadian who is married to a Dane, said her plans to learn Danish could be affected by the development.
“I plan on moving to Denmark soon (retirement with Canadian pension), and I was very excited to learn the language in respect of your country and culture. However, the cost to take the classes will now impede my ability to learn Danish and I may have to just pick up the language enough to get by, rather than fully dive into the classes, as I intended,” Christensen wrote.
“It is unfortunate that providing free classes to encourage and maintain your national language will be cut to save money in your country. I always respected Denmark’s strong encouragement of their identity and support to help new citizens integrate with the Danes. Sadly, this culture seems to be changing and the long-standing values are becoming lost,” she added.
Photo: Farah Bahgat
Those sentiments were echoed by Australia-based Dane Annie Eriksen.
“I think it would be a bad move to get foreigners to pay that extortionate amount to take Danish lessons as the effect would be that they simply won’t make the effort to learn Danish properly. I’m not sure the lessons have to be free, but I can think of a million other and better ways of getting that revenue,” Eriksen wrote.
“I am proud of my heritage and I think it would be good for Denmark if more people would learn the language, but because it is not an easy language and a minority, foreigners do need an incentive to want to learn it,” she said.
READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?
We also received views from people without any connection to Denmark but with experience learning the language of a new country.
Chien-Lu Yang, who works as a receptionist and assistant translator in Taiwan but spent time in the United States as a student, said making language school less accessible could particularly impact non-Europeans.
“For learning without attending classes, I (would) just pronounce the way I would learn (words) from an app.
“I wouldn't compare that with actual classes from school though, especially for a person with no European background at all,” Yang wrote.
Other mails we received said that it was fair for the state ask self-sufficient people to pay for language lessons.
“I think the 12,000 kroner will be a good investment. If you are living in Denmark, and you are wishing to become a good citizen, being able to express yourself is important,” Max Hendrix wrote.
Hendrix’ mail was one of two we received expressing support for paid language lessons. All comments are published in accordance with the sender's permission.
Carla Beltrão, who moved to Copenhagen in June 2017, provided insight into the experience of a student at one of Denmark’s language schools.
“At a period of so many down payments to settle in in a whole new city and country, the thought of yet another down payment [the 1,250 kroner deposit currently required for free lessons, ed.] made me reluctant to start it earlier. In hindsight, I should have,” Beltrão wrote.
Once she started the classes, Beltrão said she found her progress much more tangible than that gained from using apps and other methods.
That makes the announcement of the new fees all the more hard to take, she wrote.
“The language is crucial settling in, and the free classes have worked as a generous and well received ‘welcome’ card. Take that away and for me personally, having relocated from the UK where I was a foreigner too, I feel much like I'm living Brexit number two. I don't feel personally attacked or ostracised, but I certainly feel unwelcome,” she wrote in her email to The Local.
“Foreigners will never fully integrate until they speak the language. And even so, there's a long journey to be taken! But even more importantly, what will make us want to stay if all we have are either English speaking jobs, equally available in many other countries, or if we’re not so lucky, lousy jobs with lousy perspectives?
“We all understand the times we live in and the constraints of budgeting on a large scale. Someone and some places just have to give. But I'm fairly sure we will see a significant decrease in the number of foreigners registered in Danish classes, which will very likely reflect on the job market and the available, highly skilled foreign workforce,” she concluded.