Essential Danglish words you’ll end up using

Ah, Danglish. English spoken with a heavy Danish influence is often used to refer to Danes speaking their second language. But native English speakers who live in the Scandinavian country might also find that their language becomes ‘Danskified’ over time.

Essential Danglish words you'll end up using
File photo: KELD NAVNTOFT /Ritzau Scanpix

Whether you've mastered the Danish language or are still struggling to tell a skov from a sko (a forest from a shoe), there's a good chance that, the longer you stay in Denmark, the more Danish words will begin to creep into your English vernacular.

There are several reasons you might do this after moving to Denmark, or indeed any new country. Concepts or things that are specifically Danish might feel odd to translate, particularly if you are speaking to another Denmark-based international who knows the Danish terms.

For example, internationals might say CPR number (a mix of Danish and English) rather than 'personal registration number' or refer to the ‘kommune’ instead of the city council or municipality.

For people are more used to hearing technical or political terms in Danish, it's much easier to sub in words like a-kasse (unemployment insurance provider) or ordfører (parliamentary spokesperson) than to remember the correct, sometimes convoluted, English term.

There is also the matter of avoiding confusion in the case of false friends. For example, a højskole would literally be translated as 'high school' in English, but refers to a completely different form of education, so using the Danish word becomes necessary to prevent misunderstanding.

Another form of Danglish is speaking English words but with Danish grammar or word order. Have you ever spent so much energy mastering ‘inversion’ of verb-subject order in Danish sentences that you find yourself doing it in English — and sounding like Yoda? Yes, that have we done many times.

For some internationals living in Denmark, using the language is an important way of showing respect for their adopted country and to signify that they are making an effort to integrate, even when speaking English. That could mean saying hej and tak in shops and restaurants, even if the rest of the interaction has to be in English, or slipping in the occasional noun or adjective to show appreciation and understanding of the language and, by extension, the Danish way of life.

Photo: Sophia Juliane Lydolph/Ritzau Scanpix

Sometimes, Danish just has a snappier word for something, and before you know it, haps, you’ve taken it and dropped it straight into your English sentence.

So for a whole range of reasons, Danish words are likely to start infiltrating your vocabulary, which might result in blank faces and awkward moments if you use them with friends or family back home. Here are a few of our top personal culprits.


Okay, this one doesn’t really fit into any of the above categories, but we find it almost unavoidable to say as a sentence filler, even when being extra conscious about not using Danglish. It somehow just rolls off the tongue more easily than ‘er…’, despite having more syllables.

Do say:
“I’m going to the supermarket, altså. Do you need anything?”

Don’t say:
“Hi, I’m altså, calling to make a, er, altså, reservation.”


Danish has a way of saying “over there” in one word: derover (or derovre, depending on grammar). Not only is this easy to say, it sounds so much like the English “over there” in reverse, that you’ll end up saying it by accident and coming across like a bad Shakespeare audition.

Do say:
“My phone is on the table, will you pass it to me? It’s just thereover.”

Don’t say:
“Look at him, thereover, his attire is verily absurd.”


Denmark has a deposit scheme for cans and bottles whereby you get a small amount of money back if you return empties to be recycled. This recycling arrangement is known as the pant system, and the word pant is therefore used to refer to empty bottles and cans, and also to the money earned by returning them. It can even be used as a verb. Meanwhile, people who gather bottles and cans (for example, at music festivals) are referred to as pantsamlere (pant collectors).

Do say:
“That was a great party last night, now we have loads of pant.”

Don’t say:
“I didn’t have enough money at the supermarket, I forgot to take my pant with me.”

Photo: Erik Refner/Scanpix 2011

Vuggestue, børnehave, dagpleje

These terms all refer to different forms of pre-school childcare, but because of the way daycare is organised and partly state-funded, there are no precise English words for the various forms available to parents in Denmark. So the only way to be completely accurate is in the local language – provided your conversation partner knows what you mean.

Do say:
“I dropped little Christian off at børnehave this morning with an extra pair of gloves”.

Don’t say:
“The office was like a børnehave today.”


No self-respecting article on Danglish words would be complete without hygge, the feeling of conviviality, security and comfort to be gained from being in good company or having a nice time. But does it even count? It’s in the English dictionary, after all.

Do say:
Thanks for the last! It was totes hygge.”

Don’t say:
“That party really bombed. Very un-hyggelig.”

Did we miss any good ones? Let us know

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

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The seven stages of learning Danish every foreigner goes through

You've got your dansk ordbog, you've downloaded all the apps, you are ready and willing to learn Danish. Then you move to Denmark and reality hits. Optimism, overwhelm, delight and then over it: These are some of the emotions familiar to those of us trying to learn the language, writes Emma Firth.

The seven stages of learning Danish every foreigner goes through

Stage one: Optimism 

You’ve decided to move to Denmark. You’ve watched The Killing and Borgen and can pick out the words ‘tak’ and ‘hej hej’, so you’re sure that within a year or so of actually living in the Scandinavian country, you’ll be sounding like Sarah Lund herself. You can’t wait to get started.

Tip: Hold onto the optimism because you’re about to have the shock of your life.

Stage two: Overwhelm

You arrive in Denmark, you’re overwhelmed by the next level life admin and you do not understand a word, not a word, of what is going on around you. You start to recognise written words while you’re out and about; ‘s-tog’, ‘gade’, ‘rugbrød’, but when you say them out loud, oh dear. You soon realise that you can’t learn Danish by reading it in your head. This is a language that needs to be listened to, at slow-speed, then de-coded, put back together and practiced. But you’re too tired for that because you’ve just moved country.

Tip: Enrol in the government’s free Danish language course as soon as you can. It will give you structure and motivation for starting to learn some useful vocabulary and vowel sounds. Duolingo and Google Translate are also your friends.

Stage three: Quiet delight

You’ve passed your first module of your Danish language course. You had a little chat in Danish and explained which country you come from, where you now live with and how many siblings and/or pets you have. This is it. You are going to be fluent in 18 months’ time (after Module 5). There’s tangible progress in your language skills and you are on your way to deciphering Danish.

Tip: Remember this feeling of progression and how good it feels because you’re going to have to keep it going for quite some time. Speak the little Danish you know, over and over again to gain confidence in hearing yourself make the sounds.

READ MORE: Five tips that make it easier to learn Danish

Stage four: Incredulity

You’re now half way through the language school modules. You’ve put hours and hours into learning this language. You know enough vocabulary to use in everyday life – it’s there in your head – you even know how to spell and conjugate the word. So why, when you go to say the sentence to the person behind the check-out, do they look at you in bewilderment and after another failed attempt, switch to English?

You start to feel like the hard work has been a waste, or perhaps you’re terrible at languages, maybe you’ve actually got an undetected speech impediment. The truth is, Danish takes a lot of hard work and practice to get to conversational stage. The vowel sounds are subtle and plentiful; the only way to master them is to keep speaking Danish. 

Tip: Don’t give up – you know far more than you sound like. Keep talking Danish wherever you can and push past those awkward exchanges, which unfortunately have to happen in order to progress to the next level. Force Danish speakers to stick to Danish, even just for five or ten minutes, or mix up a bit of English into your Danish so you can keep to the general thread of Danish conversation.

READ MORE: The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your Danish

Stage five: Reinforcements

The reason you can’t be understood is not you, it’s Danish. You realise that the language course alone is not going to make you fluent. You need reinforcements. You sign up to a language cafe, force yourself to listen to some Danish podcasts, start to watch more Danish TV and read some children’s books.

Tip: If you haven’t got a Danish person living with you, go and find one who will help you practice. There are schemes where a Danish volunteer can sit with you and help you practice speaking, or you can volunteer yourself in a local charity shop. If you have a cheerleader who reassures you that you can and will be understood, then you will get over that barrier many face after language school finishes.

Stage six: Breakthrough

You are being understood more than you’re not, you can read posters, apartment notices, letters in your e-boks. You are not so embarrassed by the vowel sounds coming out of your mouth and people are impressed you can understand a Danish exchange. 

Tip: Don’t take your foot off the pedal just yet. Keep going with the podcasts, the TV and the reading because stage four can and will still happen, and it can knock you off your course.

Stage seven: Acceptance

Despite your breakthroughs and miles on the clock, you realise you no longer know what fluency feels like. You will never sound exactly like a Dane; there will always be new words or expressions to learn; there will always be someone who responds with a “hvad?” to what you’re saying. But what you now accept is that this is the case with any language and we are all learning every day.

Tip: The more you use the language, the more you’ll enjoy it. One day, you may even find yourself sounding like Sarah Lund, to the untrained ear.