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LEARNING DANISH

READERS REVEAL: What learning Danish changes about your life in Denmark

We asked our readers in Denmark why they learned to speak Danish and what it has changed about their lives.

READERS REVEAL: What learning Danish changes about your life in Denmark
Learning Danish in Denmark isn't always necessary for foreigners, but it usually changes a few things about life in the country. Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

For the majority of foreigners who live in Denmark, learning the Danish language comes with the territory of relocating to the country. It’s not always an easy process, but it can be a rewarding one.

We asked our readers what learning Danish had changed for them. We received a lot of interesting answers and input – thanks to all who took the time to answer our survey.

Some said that learning Danish was a personal decision while for others, it was a requirement of immigration rules.

“It was my own decision to learn the language to be able to understand what is happening around me in daily life (on public transport, in the shop, on the street, what my colleagues are chatting about when they don’t use English), and with the hope that I can easier build up some social connections with locals! If I live in a foreign country, then it’s the minimum to speak and understand the language at some extent,” said Dorina.

“I’m still in module 1 [of the national language school programme, ed.], so no change (to my life) yet, but I can see that my colleagues are valuing my effort very much,” she added.

Pedro told us that “as a person who’s lived in a few countries since I was very young, I do understand the enormous value of completely emerging oneself and learning the language of your current home.”

“It opens up a whole new world in a sense and it helps you to be fully engaged into a new society. And I’ve felt that the locals truly appreciate it when someone knows their language,” he said.

“That’s especially true with Danish since relatively there are so few speakers in the world,” he added.

“Regardless of my own desire to learn I do need to learn to pass a few language exams to fulfil my visa requirements, for permanent residency and hopefully citizenship exams,” Pedro also said while adding that knowing Danish would likely broaden his career options while in Denmark.

Lizzie meanwhile said she had begun learning Danish “because I decided to stay in the country after graduation, so it made sense to learn Danish, so I can integrate easier.”

“I’m from outside the EU. It was compulsory for me to learn (Danish) on a reunification visa,” Barry said.

Being able to speak Danish had a range of impacts on the lives of our respondents.

“After 10 years I still work in a predominately English workplace,” Barry said, adding that he used the local language “when out shopping and (for) other simple everyday interactions.”

Learning Danish has “enabled me to engage and become involved in society, build a social circle independent of my wife’s social circle and become more eligible in my previous professional field,” wrote Lyle, who was required to learn the language to meet visa requirements.

“Danes hold you in a higher regard when you engage in Danish even if you attempt and you suck a bit,” he said.

Another reader, Iulian, said language classes were a good place to “meet people having the same obstacles and make new friends.”

“And it is free now,” he noted.

READ ALSO: More foreigners go to Danish language classes after fees scrapped

“I have a nice relation with my 70-plus year-old neighbour who speaks only Danish. He helped us with so many things so far, things I would have not known if he would not have told me. It was possible because I learned some Danish, enough to understand each other,” Iulian said.

“Finding work and internships I think has been easier” with Danish, wrote Lizzie, adding that even at international companies, Danish can help you feel more at home.

“Almost everyone speaks Danish in the breaks,” she said.

“It’s allowed me to communicate with others, especially at my son’s vuggestue [childcare] where many don’t speak English as much as the general population,” Pedro added.

Dorina told us that “A whole new world opens up by understanding what’s going on around me.”

“The biggest achievement of starting the language is that I can already catch some words from locals and be able to differentiate words within a sentence when they speak,” she said.

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LEARNING DANISH

How to talk about family in Danish

Talking about family in Danish can be complicated. Discussing your relatives requires an in-depth knowledge of exactly how they are related to you, so it's time to start brushing up on your family history.

How to talk about family in Danish

Let’s start with grandparents.

Danish has six different words for “grandmother” and “grandfather”, depending on which side of the family you’re talking about. This may be confusing if your native language doesn’t have this distinction, as you will need to start reminding yourself of your family tree every time you discuss your grandparents in Danish.

Grandparents, or bedsteforældre in Danish, can be called bedstemor (grandmother) or bedstefar (grandfather), but it’s probably more common to hear the slightly shorter, but more specific, combination of mor (mother) and far (father) used in four different variations, a unique one for each grandparent.

Most Danes refer to their mum and dad as mor and far (although the more formal terms for parents, moder and fader do still occasionally see the light of day), and these are also the terms used in the names for grandparents – as well as other relatives.

First off, let’s look at your maternal grandparents, or morforældre (“mother parents”). These are your mother’s mum and dad. 

To refer to your mother’s parents, you would use mormor (“mother-mother”) for your grandmother, and morfar (“mother-father”) for your grandfather. 

So what about your paternal grandparents? These are your farforældre or “father parents” – although Danes are far more likely to use the catch-all term bedsteforældre to refer to two or more grandparents.

Your father’s mother would be your farmor (“father-mother”), and your father’s father would be your farfar (“father-father”).

So to recap: your mum’s parents are mormor and morfar, and your dad’s parents are farmor and farfar.

READ ALSO: Danish expression of the day: At tage en morfar

This also means, bizarrely, that the same grandparent can be called two different names depending on their exact relationship with their grandchild. If a woman has a son and a daughter, for example, her son’s children would refer to her as farmor, but her daughter’s children would call her mormor.

Great-grandparents can be referred to in two ways: by adding the word mor or far after the grandparent’s title, such as mormors mor (“mother’s mother’s mother”), or farfars far (“father’s father’s father”), or by adding the word olde- (literally, “very old”) before the grandparent’s title, such as oldemor or oldefar. The latter option does not have the family tree encoded into its construction, but is probably the most common way Danes refer to great-grandparents.

A great-great-grandparent is a tipoldefar or tipoldemor.

It doesn’t stop there. Your aunts and uncles all have special terms as well. These are similar to the terms for grandparents, in that they trace each family member linking you and your aunt or uncle.

We’ve already covered the word for “mother” in this context: mor. The Danish words for sister and brother are søster and bror, meaning that your mother’s sister is your moster (shortened from morsøster) and your mother’s brother is your morbror. 

Your father’s siblings follow the same pattern: faster for your aunt and farbror for your uncle.

This only applies to aunts and uncles you’re related to by birth. Although Danish does have the word tante for aunts and onkel for uncles by marriage (someone who is married to one of your parent’s siblings), you may also hear Danes referring to these family members as their farbrors mand (“father’s brother’s husband”) or morbrors kone (“mother’s brother’s wife”) instead.

Nieces and nephews do not follow the same pattern in Danish. Your brother’s kids are your nevø (nephew) and niece and your sister’s kids have the exact same descriptions.

Finally, grandchildren. The general word for “grandchild” in Danish is barnebarn (“child-child”), which is the word you’re most likely to hear.

There is also a now-antiquated way in Danish for grandchildren to be referred to using the same system as for other family members: sønsøn for your son’s son, sønnedatter for your son’s daughter and dattersøn or datterdatter for your daughter’s son or daughter, respectively. 

But what about your cousins? Are they your farbrorsøn (father’s brother’s son) and mosterdatter (mother’s sister’s daughter)? Thankfully, no, but they do have gender-specific words. Kusine is traditionally used for female cousins and fætter for male cousins.

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