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The challenges of learning Danish

Danish is a Scandinavian language from the same old language – Old Norse. It means that with a little effort, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes can communicate with each other, speaking their language. This is a good reason to start learning one of them.

Photograph: Pexels

Text: Natália Šepitková

When you move to Denmark and decide to live here (after getting a residence permit), you can study Danish for the first five years free in municipal language schools (in Danish – Sprogcenter) nationwide. I started learning Danish one and a half years ago. And if you assume that after such a long time of learning a language directly in the country where this language is spoken, I must already be able to hold a fluent conversation with the Danes, I have to mislead you. My Danish is still not good enough to start talking immediately.

Danish is such a complicated language. Some of my schoolmates have problems with grammar, others with reading or writing. It is very individual. I have, for example, problems with listening and correct pronunciation. And I am not the only one. Understanding Danish native speakers when they are talking is challenging – because of the fast-talking and the "vowels eating". Learning Danish also has more challenges, but let's start from the beginning.

Letters and numbers

Primary, you need clarification about two things. First are Danish unique letters. Danes use Æ, Ø and Å, and they pronounce them like extended "e", slashed "o", and "o" in the English exclamation "oh". You should also know that the letter "y" in Danish words is pronounced like "u".

The second strange thing in Danish is numbers. From 0 to 20 are Danish numbers quite okay, but if you want to count 20+, you need to remember that Danes use different ways like we use in English and many other languages.

The first is always units and then tens. For example, number twenty-five is in Danish "femogtyve" (five and twenty). Danish numbers 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 can also be bizarre for foreigners. Fifty is "halvtreds", sixty is "tres", seventy is "halvfjerds", eighty is "firs", and ninety is "halvfems". Explaining this phenomenon is even more complicated than simply learning these numbers by heart.

Laid-back attitude

Another challenge can be time. It is tough to include learning Danish in the daily routine. Especially for women and mothers if they have long to-do lists full of daily duties. From my experience, it can be done if you find the right way that works for you. My advice is to find an activity that is a pleasure for you so that it will be relaxing.

For example, if you love reading books, you can read them in Danish. If you have your favourite TV series, you can try to watch it in Danish. Whether you prefer to understand grammar, you should find an application or website to help you train in grammar. The good thing is also a practice book with answers. And, of course, as a participant in a language course, do your homework. As a pupil, I wouldn't say I liked homework, but now is when I can switch my brain to another mode: relaxation. What will fit you more is up to you; bring a little fun to the learning language.

"Danish is such a complicated language. Some of my schoolmates have problems with grammar, others with reading or writing. It is very individual."

Daily small-talk

To advance in Danish, finding at least a small opportunity to talk, preferably every day, is also good. It can be with a shop assistant, postman, neighbours or mothers in a playground (of course, only if you have kids there, too; otherwise, it will be a little weird). I know some of my schoolmates who started doing team sports or joined various collective hobby activities where they can communicate in Danish with native speakers.

I have, for example, one friend. She is not originally from Denmark but has lived here since childhood. When we write messages, we write in Danish and sometimes talk in Danish. This way is easier for me because I am usually too shy to start talking in a foreign language until I determine if my speech will be good enough. Maybe in the beginning, you will feel that learning Danish is all Greek for you, but over time, it will get better, and you will progress quite quickly, also thanks to the fact that you live in a country where this language, perhaps entirely new for you, is spoken.


#1 Podcasts: There are many podcasts in Danish for beginners, but my favourites are DanishTube and Dansk i ørerne.

#2 Books: I have already started reading Danish novels, but if it is too much for you, you can begin with bedtime stories, fairy tales, short news or audiobooks. A good application is eReolen.

#3 Movies and TV series: Streaming services are full of movies and TV series where you can also find Danish movies or select Danish subtitles. I recommend checking the DR TV archive, which is free.

#4 Danish songs and recipes: Singing popular Danish songs or preparing national meals can also be fun. I draw inspiration in the kitchen, for example, here.

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