Our principal and Danish teachers have written the following about learning Danish. Lars Skov, principal of Studieskolen describes the characteristics of the Danish language. For example, the many vowel sounds, the difference between what we write and say and word order. A group of our Danish teachers offer ideas on how to help your wife, husband, boyfriend or colleague to learn Danish.
Is Danish difficult for foreigners to learn? Yes, but not more so than other languages.
Danish has many vowel sounds - quite a few more than we actually write, and there are many silent letters. In Danish, there is a big difference between what we write, and what we actually say. In other words, there is not much correlation between sound and letter. In this respect Danish - and French - represent two of the more difficult European languages. This means that students need to learn to see a word as it is written, and yet at the same time learn a completely different sound image.
In addition to this, Danish also has a unique sound phenomenon called the glottal stop, which can be difficult to achieve. The glottal stop is something that makes Danish especially characteristic in relation to other languages. Foreigners do not necessarily have to learn the glottal stop. There are regional dialects in southern Jutland, Lolland and Falster, among other places, which don't have the glottal stop at all.
The Danish word order in the main and subordinate clause can often be difficult for foreigners. The Nordic languages, German, and Dutch are unique in having what is called "reversed word order", that is, the verb before the noun. You can also say that the verb is always in place number two in the main clause.
Many foreigners feel the lack of a word such as "please", "bitte" or "por favor" in Danish. But we actually do have politeness markers imbedded in the language; they're just not quite as easy in Danish. "Luk venligst vinduet" doesn't always sound that friendly in Danish. If we want to politely ask someone to close the window, we could perhaps say, "åh, du kunne vel ikke lige lukke vinduet". In this case, "vel ikke", together with a past-tense form of the verb, is a politeness indicator.
A major problem for foreigners in Denmark is that Danes have only heard foreign attempts at speaking Danish for the last 30 years. Our tolerance level is still relatively low. A person's Danish must be absolutely correct before we can recognise it as Danish. In English-speaking countries, where people are used to hearing English spoken in strange ways by people from all over the world, the tolerance levels are much higher. Eventually, things will be that way in Denmark, too, it just takes time.
Lars Skov, principal of Studieskolen
If you have a foreign husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, neighbour, colleague, customer, client, patient, classmate, fellow student, friend, or acquaintance who is in the process of learning Danish, you have an important role to play!!
We encourage our students to speak Danish outside of class, especially once they are past the first beginner levels. This is because the more you use language in genuine communication, the better and more quickly you will learn.
It is important for foreigners in Denmark to have someone to speak Danish with, preferably different people in many different connections. But this is only possible if they feel confident enough to experiment. Here are a few suggestions for how you can help:
- Answer in Danish if you are addressed in Danish
- If you initiate the conversation, attempt Danish first
- If there are comprehension problems, first attempt to solve them in Danish
- If you are asked to repeat something you have said, repeat it first word-for-word. If that doesn't work, try to rephrase. Wait to use a different language until all other attempts have failed
- Ask if you should speak a little more slowly or more clearly
- Have a little patience. Remember how you feel yourself when you are abroad and attempt to communicate in the local language, and how satisfying and encouraging it is when you succeed!
For foreigners and Danes who live or work together, the transition to using Danish can be difficult when you are used to speaking another common language. To make the transition easier, it helps to have some good ideas on how to go about it. Here are some suggestions from students who have been through the process themselves, as well as some recommendations from Danish teachers:
- Start with little, everyday questions and messages, and allow your Danish usage to grow as her language develops
- Agree on some certain times of the day or week where you exclusively speak Danish - maybe just five minutes at a time to start with, but then gradually for longer and longer periods.
- Be supportive, but stay in the background when your partner or colleague is trying to handle a linguistic challenge on his own
- Agree on how much, how often, and in which way linguistic errors should be corrected. Some people like to be corrected every time they make a mistake. Others only wish to be corrected when it is absolutely necessary
- Some people do not like to be corrected in the presence of others, so bear this in mind
- Revise your agreement frequently
- During a conversation, it is generally better to correct in an indirect manner. You can, for example, just repeat what has been said in the corrected form. For example: "I går jeg snakker med viceværten." You: "I går snakkede du med viceværten. Hvad sagde han?" Don't try to insert long linguistic explanations in the middle of a conversation that is about something completely different
- Speak naturally! Don't pronounce the words the way they are written, but as they are spoken. In ordinary spoken language, we say, for example, ku' and not kunne, ik' and not ikke, go'e and not gode. We contract our words so that 'jeg er træt', for example, sounds like 'jaatræt'.
A foreigner needs to learn these things as well It is perfectly fine to talk to each other about language, but our students need to do their written homework themselves. In the lessons, we focus on those language elements that the individual needs to work on. Mistakes in written homework show us which areas we need to address.
- Errors - verbal as well as written - aren't just mistakes, but opportunities for learning and completely necessary on the way to acquiring proficient Danish
- It is wonderful to laugh together - also at linguistic errors - but it is not at all fun to be laughed at when you are doing your best!
- Danish humour can be very ironic. Wait with double-edged comments or check to see if you have been properly understood In other words, there is a lot you can contribute.
You will also get a lot out of this process yourself. It is challenging and enriching to meet other languages and cultures and also get the opportunity to communicate that which is uniquely Danish. You can't help but discover new, surprising elements of language and thought-provoking aspects of our cultural and societal norms. Enjoy!
The Danish teachers at Studieskolen