Learning Danish: Practical tips, tricks & resources
Many foreigners living in Denmark have a love-hate relationship with the Danish language. I’ve written about my experiences before (post here) – luckily, they are mostly positive, but I also know of many that are struggling and have gotten less-than-positive feedback, e.g. for not learning Danish fast enough. Today, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me get better at Danish.
I think what’s very important to realize is that everybody learns differently and at a different speed. In terms of learning Danish, I was lucky both because my native language, German, is close to Danish in grammar and word origins, and because I tend to do well with languages. So my first piece of advice to anyone learning Danish, or any new language for that matter, would be to take it at your own pace and not look too much towards how fast or slow others are learning. Don’t pressure yourself!
Here are some more tips that have helped me personally:
- Find a way to make learning fun. Whatever you do, make sure you have fun doing it, or you’ll stop before you know it. If you’re into board games, why not try a session of Danish scrabble, hangman, pictionary or the “categories game” – if you play with Danes, they should play in another language, too, to level the playing field!
- Find a way to integrate language learning into your everyday life. Try to surround yourself with Danish as much as possible – grab a copy of the MetroXpress newspaper on your commute to work, watch the evening news in Danish, and listen to Danish-language music (Rasmus Seebach, yo!). Check the handy resources below for some helpful links.
- Use what you can. Especially in the beginning, don’t be shy to get out there and use what you’ve learned in practice – even if it’s just ordering a coffee or wishing someone a nice day. It’ll help you get more comfortable in your pronunciation, and it might be easier to practice on strangers who you’ll never have to see again.
- Immersion, immersion, immersion! Try to spend as much time as you can with Danes, and have them speak Danish to you as much as possible. It’s really as easy as that. If you have Danish family or in-laws, speak with them. I waited WAY too long to actually speak – until I was pretty much fluent – because I was self-conscious and didn’t want to embarrass myself by making mistakes. It was totally silly, and my progress accelerated drastically once I finally started conversing in Danish.
- Ask for feedback and corrections. Once I got to the point where I could make myself understood in Danish, people tended to just go with it and look over my smaller mistakes, as long as they didn’t interfere with their understanding of what I was saying. On the one hand, that was great because it meant I could actually carry a conversation! On the other hand, I was perfectly aware that there were some things I was still, constantly doing wrong (like using “jeg synes” and “jeg tror” the wrong way around). So I asked my good friends and in-laws to please correct me when I used a wrong word or mispronounced something. I think this has really helped me iron out the smaller wrinkles.
- Get out of your comfort zone – and resist the urge to get back in. Often, when they see you struggling a bit to find the right words, Danes will helpfully switch to English. That’s both really nice of them and really bad for you – because you actually want to learn! Here, my tip is to politely say something like, “I would really like to try in Danish, because I want to practice”. I promise you, in most cases, whoever switched to English was trying to make things easier for you, so they’ll be happy to accommodate your request.
- Embrace imperfection. A final word of advice: Unless you’re some sort of child prodigy, chances are you won’t speak flawless Danish overnight. I still sometimes have trouble understanding every single word in a conversation with multiple people in a crowded bar with music playing. And even though most people can’t immediately place my accent, they still hear that I’m not a native speaker. But that’s okay! Even if you’re a perfectionist, this is part of the charm. For one, I think that the accent Danes have when they speak German is absolutely adorable – so why should that not be the case the other way around? Of course, then we run into the whole issue about how German is pretty much never adorable, but that’s my problem – your accent is probably super cute! And now go out there and snak some dansk!
Here are some useful links and tools that you might find helpful for learning and improving your Danish skills.
- DR LigeTil: Danish news site that uses relatively easy language to make it accessible and understandable for a broad audience of Danish learners. Each week, there are some smaller tests about the content of the articles, where you can test your reading comprehension.
- Danish word of the day: A new word every day, including pronunciation help and examples on using the word in a sentence.
- My Language Exchange: If you’re looking for a “language tandem partner”, you might want to check this website and see if any Danes out there are looking to learn your native language (or a language that you speak). If you prefer to meet in person, there are MeetUp groups in Copenhagen, too.
- Strokes Danish: This is the language learning software that I used before I moved to Denmark, and I found it quite helpful for self-study. There are three levels, which each consist of 100 short lessons that take 15-20 minutes each. I took one or two lessons per day, and it really worked for me. Each lesson consists of a short dialogue, some vocabulary exercises, and you even get to speak yourself and the software will “correct” your pronunciation. Side note: Rosetta Stone, another very popular language self-study software, currently doesn’t offer Danish.
- There are also a bunch of apps that you can use to improve your vocabulary and other Danish skills, for example Duolingo, Babbel, or Gengo. Just spending a couple of minutes every day can really help make progress. I used a vocabulary app for some time as well.
How do you learn Danish – and what are your secret weapons? Share your best tips and tricks and your favorite resources in the comments below!