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Five essential words you need when speaking to a doctor in Denmark

If you are visiting your GP in Denmark or perhaps speaking to the on-call doctor, a few essential words will help you to converse effectively in Danish.

'Akutmodtagelse' or Accident & Emergency is a useful Danish word to know in medical situations .
'Akutmodtagelse' or Accident & Emergency is a useful Danish word to know in medical situations . Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

If Danish is your second language but you feel comfortable enough with it to use in official correspondences, knowing a few key technical words can enable you to put your existing proficiency to reliable use.

Communicating with doctors or other medical professionals is one such situation where you might need to add a few technical words to your existing conversational ability.

We’ve put together an outline of some of these words, their meanings and the context in which you might use them below. If there’s anything important you think we’ve missed, let us know.


Literally the ‘doctors’ shift’, the lægevagt is the line you call for non-emergency medical advice outside of your own doctor’s opening hours. It is staffed by vagtlæger, or on-call doctors.

Unlike the emergency telephone number, the number you call to reach a lægevagt varies depending on the region of Denmark in which you are located at the time of the call. For example, the number in Greater Copenhagen is 1813, while in Southern Denmark you’d dial 70 11 07 07.

The other lægevagt numbers in Denmark are 70 15 07 00 (Zealand); 70 11 31 31 (Central Jutland); 70 150 300 (North Jutland).


 These two words are the equivalent of Accident & Emergency/Casualty in UK English or Emergency Room in US English.

Skadestue (literally, ‘injury room’) is a more old-fashioned term than akutmodtagelsen (‘acute reception’). You could hear wither conversationally, but are more likely to see the later on hospital websites or on signposts on site at hospitals.


Most relevant at pharmacies, medicines can be bought using a recept or prescription or as håndkøb, literally ‘hand purchased’ i.e. over the counter or without prescription.

If you’re asked about medications by a doctor, these words could come up. You might also need them when asking about how to pick up any medicines you’re advised or at the pharmacy itself.


Patient records are usually referred to as a journal. The term is relatively easy to remember due to its diary-like connotations. You may hear medical professionals referring to checking your journal if you are communicating with regard to a longstanding or previous problem.

Women who have been pregnant in Denmark may be familiar with the slightly quirky but also charming term for maternity notes vandrejournal, literally ‘wandering journal’. Danish maternity notes are usually kept in a yellow envelope, which also makes them remarkable given the digitisation of almost all medical record keeping.


When describing symptoms or an injury, or possible causes of your medical problem, you may need to use or hear the word betændelse (inflammation or infection) or betændt (inflamed or infected).

It’s important to know the nuanced meaning of this word so that you can understand how it’s being used in the context of what is being said. For example, lungebetændelse literally means ‘lung infection’ but is a common word for pneumonia. But you may also have a betændt or swollen, inflamed mouth after an operation to remove a wisdom tooth, and need a recept for antibiotika (antibiotics) to keep infection at bay.

Doctors may also use the word infektion for infection. This is easier for Anglophones because of its similarity to the English word. Swelling or inflammation can also be referred to as hævelse.

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Five tips that make it easier to learn Danish

Learning the Danish is a challenge shared by all newcomers to the Scandinavian country. It can be a tricky language to master and the high level of English proficiency amongst Danes can make for a disheartening experience when putting your new skills into practice. But there are ways to help smooth the path to proficiency.

Five tips that make it easier to learn Danish

“Godmorgen. Jeg vil gerne have en bolle med ost, tak.”

“Sure, would you like cheese on your bolle?”

“Err.. yes please, I mean ja tak, ost tak.”

And before you know it, attempt number 56 at speaking Danish in public has been met with incomprehension and a switch to English. And yes, you did say all the right words, in the right order but it just didn’t sound that Danish.

Therein lies the rub.

The Danish language contains a lot of vowel sounds and swallowed words that can feel almost impossible to imitate as an adult who has never spoken the language before.

You can study all the books, take all the classes, even pass your PD3 [prøve i dansk 3, the final exam at language classes] exam with a 12 and still be confronted by the drone of a “hvad?”, when you try to speak like a Dane.

But with a lot of persistence and patience, it is possible to learn this tricky language and we’re here to help with these five top tips:

1. Practice speaking Danish as soon as you can

Of course, this is much easier said than done, when everyone switches to English but there are ways:

  • If you live or work with someone who speaks fluent Danish, try to switch the conversation to Danish just for a few minutes a day to start with.
  • Find libraries, for example Nørrebro Bibliotek, where language conversation groups are held.
  • Join an organisation like Elderlearn, who pair you with a Danish older person to chat to and keep them company, while you practice your language skills with a patient listener.
  • Look for places that hold language events, such as cafes or the weekly gatherings at SMK Kom where you can chat to other people learning Danish.
  • Join conversation groups through the Meetup app.
  • Look up ‘frivilligjob’ to find volunteer opportunities in your area, such as working in a Røde Kors shop, or a library, or cafe like Sweet Surrender in Copenhagen, where you will get to practice your Danish.

2. Language School

As long as you have a CPR (personal registration) number and are over the age of 18, you can sign up to a language school and take lessons for free. This wasn’t the case for two years, when between 2018 and 2020, participants had to pay 2,000 kroner for every module.

You can take 5 modules of Danish language, ending in the PD3 exam, which is the level needed for citizenship. You can go on to study module 6 and take Studieprøven, to get to a level where you can enter Danish higher education.

The advantages of language school is that it gives you a structure to your learning, and gives you skills in the four areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as learning about Danish culture. The class times are often flexible and you can choose between online and classroom lessons.

The downside is that with large class sizes, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to practice speaking, which is why supplementing language school with speaking opportunities can really help.

3. Danish Media

Watching Danish TV with subtitles is always helpful. If you don’t have a TV, you can watch some Danish channels online including TV 2 News, TV 3, DR1, DR Ramasjang. 

The DRTV app gives you access to all of its programmes, including those in its archives like the famous Matador.

DR Ramasjang and Ultra are for children and teens and can be easier to follow than some adult programmes, especially UltraNyt, which is a children’s news programme.

On Netflix there are popular Danish series including Broen (The Bridge), Borgen, The Killing and Rita.

You can access audio books for free on @reolen or using a subscription service like Mofibo.

Listening to Danish songs can help with pronunciation. Kim Larson’s Papirsklip is a song you will get to know when living in Denmark. For children’s songs, Popsi og Krelle on Youtube is a good introduction.

4. Children’s books

Reading children’s books out aloud can help you learn how to make your mouth form those tricky words, as well as give you confidence when you can read and understand the whole of Peppa Pig in Danish.

Children’s picture dictionaries can be less daunting ways to learn new vocabulary and children’s song books like De Små Synger, or books that play the song and have text showing the lyrics, are also a good ways to improve your skills.

You can borrow books from your local library or buy them from second hand children’s shops like Røde Kors or Red Barnet.

Classic Danish children’s books include characters like Rasmus Klump, Totte, Cirkeline, Malle and Mimbo Jimbo. When you’ve mastered some of them, have a go at the well known Halfdans ABC, which has rhymes like this: ‘Freddy Fræk fra Fakse fangede i fælder femten flotte friske fiskefrikadeller.’ Good luck.

5. Creating new daily habits

Forming small but regular new habits will keep up your language learning without it feeling too overwhelming.

  • For example, keep a little notebook or a place on your phone where you can write down new words you come across in your daily life. During the week, while on the bus or waiting to meet a friend, keep looking at those words to get them stuck in your head.
  • When you’re caught off guard in situations, such as someone asking in a shop, “kan jeg hjælpe dig?” (‘can I help you?’), and you automatically blurt out English, don’t feel too disheartened. Instead, write the scenario down, find out the different ways to respond, and memorise them, so that next time it automatically comes out. “Jeg kigger bare, tak” (‘I’m just looking, thank you’) is always a useful one.
  • Add some Danish accounts to your social media so when you scroll, you’re seeing and hearing Danish. There are some useful Danish language accounts such as @wannalearndanish, @danish_for_you, @learning.with.ervin.
  • Listen to Danish podcasts or audiobooks on your way to work or when doing the washing up, whether it’s about a topic you’re interested in, or a specific language learning podcast like ‘Danish 101’.
  • Plan out what you’re going to say in a new situation before you say it and commit to it in Danish, for example booking an appointment, ordering food, speaking to your neighbour or language teacher.

Danish language learning can be a slow and painful process but keep going, take the small wins and one day, we promise, you will be understood. You may even be able to say, “rød grød med fløde.”