Tag Archives: Danish language

Danish – is it really that hard?

DanishFlagDanish is not a  very easy language. It just isn’t. That said, can you learn it? Well, the Danes did! And many others too. Jokes aside, the challenge with learning Danish is mainly about the pronunciation. On paper it is very understandable, especially for the other Scandinavian speakers – Swedes, Norwegians and even the Icelandic people – and naturally everybody else as well if they put their mind to it. But when it comes to listening to it, speaking it; that’s were the trouble starts.

As our Danish professor at Helsinki University told us (read about it here), you mustn’t approach the Danish language from the other Scandinavian languages, but treat is as the unique spoken language it is. If you want to learn to speak Danish, you have to forget about all other languages, you even have to forget about yourself! You need to listen, digest what you hear like you were a toddler, and then produce something akin to that with a feeling,  almost passion! In that respect it almost resembles French actually. And on one level again it resembles German. All in all, pronounce-wise, it is further from the other Scandinavian languages than it is from German – at least to my ear, and I have studied them all.

So listen to this 3 minute video with Louise at DanishClass101.com (you can join the site with free lifetime account) and get started with your Danish – if you haven’t already!

My mother was a war refugee – a war child or sotalapsi as we call them here in Finland – during the Second World War. She spent part of her childhood in Denmark, and learned to speak the language fluently. Coming back to Helsinki, she had forgotten a lot of her Finnish, and was teased about in school – but that’s another story. Anyway, the Danish language stuck with her throughout the years, so I’ve been privy to hearing Danish words and sentences on and off  for years.

Here is funny video of Americans trying to pronounce Danish words which they most probably hear for the first time. One of those words – rødgrød med fløde – is the one my mother always used to tease with the rest of the family.  Rødgrød med fløde means literally red groat porridge with creme – it’s a kind of sweet fruit dish… On that note, have fun!

Native or Non-Native

2YearOldLong time before we turn two – the age by which most of us learn to form our first full sentences – we have learned the melody of our mother tongue. We kind of know what to expect to learn, we have ready-made holes and gaps in our minds to fill with words, sentences, connections. Even our tongue is ready to adapt the mother(‘s) tongue, the native language, and bring the pronunciation of each word and phrase to perfection. We breath the language, we savor words, and we play with them in order to see whether we can be misunderstood – and then understood again, hah!

But by the time we reach twenty, most of us have lost a lot of that linguistic impressionability. We look at languages from the outside like at any other subject that we learn at school – a thing to learn by heart, a thing to memorize. Instead of savoring the words, feeling them in our mouths, at the tip of our tongue, as extensions of ourselves.

The aim of this site is to encourage you to have that childlike approach to any language. To discard of any preconceived notions about the possible difficulties you may encounter with any particular foreign language, but to dive head on into the rhythm and melody of it.

I’ll tell yoDanishFlagu a short story to illustrate the importance of this sort of approach. I was studying Danish at the University of Helsinki. Despite the professor admonishing us all to refrain from approaching the Danish language from its likeness to Swedish, it was such an easy thing to do – for the written Danish is so similar! But at least one of us heard him right: she seemed to forget all about knowing one single word of Swedish, and only had Danish in her mind – and on her tongue. She learned to speak the language better than any of us in just a short time! Sure, we didn’t understand everything she was saying, but heck, who understands Danish – except the Danes of course! But she sounded just like a Dane, and the professor understood her! Way to go!

And no, it wasn’t me! I also took that typical scholastic approach: had lots of words at my disposal, but no nimble, unprejudiced tongue to utter them with! Yes, sometimes it has to do with the teacher. But the thing is: we are our own teachers – the teacher is there just to guide us towards the right direction! We need to trust our instincts, listen to ourselves, taste the words at the tip of our tongue. Not go to the extremes of a one-year old who wants to find out about things by the tactile approach. But have some of that innocence of a toddler who just wants to know first hand!