Denmark is a wonderful country to live in. It is full of unique architecture, majestic design, great food, breathtaking landscapes, the magic of the snow and the beauty of its summer days, a rich and exciting viking history behind and more.
So, what could possibly go wrong?
The Danish language
Over these years in Denmark, we have been hearing over and over again the troubled experiences of many internationals learning the language, the challenges, the ups and downs, the recommendations to do it faster and more.
The truth be told, studies have found that the Danish language is in indeed among some of the most difficult languages to learn. Individuals trying to learn it argue its due to its particular pronunciation, others due to the many dialects found in this territory and some others because it unique structure. The reality is that it might be a mixture of all these elements.
The facts behind the challenges
Dorthe Bleses, a linguist at the Center for Child Language at the University of Southern Denmark, has stated in the past that up to 40 different vowel sounds can be found in the Danish spoken speech. When you notice the only official ones are a, e, i, o, u, æ, å, ø and y then it is easy to understand the evident challenge there is to someone learning this language. The possibilities of saying many words absolutely correct will be considerably low, during the early stages of learning, since all those other ‘hidden’ vowels will only appear as you interact with native speakers.
The University of Copenhague adds another argument to the discussion by showing that in Denmark there are approximately 32 dialects. And even when this is not a fixed number, it is indeed surprisingly high when considered the size and number of inhabitants in this country. This particularity, adds some difficulty when foreigners travel out of their ‘confort zone’, try to interact with others in another region and afterwards noticing that their Danish skills aren’t as proficient as they seemed back where they learned it. But please keep in mind, that even some native Danes do not understand each other when coming from distant regions!
Finally, an evident particularity to anyone that has been in touch with this language, is the fact that you technically learn two languages at once, since it is so amazingly different the written words to those you shall pronounce afterwards. Just try to take a look at words like ‘meget’ or ‘ærgeligt’.
Don’t quit to early
The information above aims to point some interesting facts about the language people around here use as their mother tongue. However, despite the evident level of difficulty to reach an understandable spoken level at this language we can say for sure that you’ll be able to learn it over time. It ‘only’ depends on your level of commitment and motivation. (Just like any other task in life, right?)
The good news, is that there are actually a significant number of resources helping the newcomers to start speaking the local language as soon as possible. Because even when 86% of Danes speak English, over time you’ll see how relevant will be for you to learn Danish.
- All the municipalities in Denmark offer FREE language classes to all those with a valid residence permit. The times, schedules, intensity and duration of these classes will differ in many cases. In Aarhus classes are offered by Lærdansk.
- Other organizations in Aarhus like FVU, In Stjernen and Hasle Kirke offer FREE Danish classes for those that aren’t elegible for the official classes. Even Lærdansk offer this short introduction for free to those interested in learning.
- Online apps, like Duolingo, are becoming better and better in this language. Give them a try and keep on improving your skills together with other resources.
- Specific meeting groups is a very popular choice here. Initiatives like Danish and Fun and Taldansk Cafe are perfect for those interested in not only the language but in meeting other like minded people.
- Lastly, you can use your own language as an exchange to learn Danish. Join a group like Swap Language and do a great joint work with another person interested in the same as you are.
One step at a time
Learning Danish is not a process you want to do in a rush. For sure it will depend how well you want to learn the language, whether you just need it to get around, speak it in the street or fully engage with all its aspects.
The recommendations for learning it will vary enormously considering the personal experience someone had when doing it themselves. Many will say to drop immediately your English, take the jump and start speaking it right away. Others are more careful and prefer to learn the grammar and later make correct constructions. Many other will advise you to read, listen and watch Danish media.
Whatever your approach is and whichever recommendation you take, be sure not to overwhelm yourself. Take ever step at time and feel confortable with it.
Be sure that Danes will switch to English as soon as they see you stumbling across some words in Danish and even when you say it grammatically correct they might still ask you ‘What?’. This might be due to the fact that your pronunciation doesn’t resemble their own dialect, others might do it as it can be faster just to say it in English and some simply to avoid misinterpretations.
So before you loose faith in your learning skills, remember how complex it is.
You are actually doing a great job! Vi tales ved!