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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

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.

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