I don’t speak Danish. Jeg taler ikke Dansk.
Now repeat after me: Jeg taler ikke Dansk.
Good work! You have learnt how to say I don’t speak Danish, which is pretty much all you will ever need to know. Congratulations. Go forth and enjoy the wonders of Aarhus.
Oh…. You want more? Hmmm. You see, the problem is, in over the year that I have lived here, my Danish has been, to say the least, not exactly the best. (This ‘I’ being Marcia by the way: our other International Extraordinaire is partnered up with a Viking so over the years she has picked up some Danish with the sole purpose of making me look bad.)
Now, my lacklustre Danish cannot be blamed on a lack of opportunity to learn. The Danish government helpfully provides all of us internationals with three years worth of free Danish lessons at Lærdansk. So I’ve decided that the problem lies with the Danes themselves: their English is just too darn good! If you try to mumble your way through a Danish sentence, they can tell instantly that you are new at this. And of course they want to help: by speaking back to you in English. Which in turn becomes the opposite of helping, as of course you then respond back in English (as the thought of uttering even one more syllable in Danish brings you out into a cold sweat). And henceforth this cycle repeats itself again and again until the end of time.
I guess that what I’m trying to say is (apart from finding any excuse as to why I have failed so miserably at the language) is that learning Danish is difficult. And it really is difficult – not just for a native English speaker without any other language skills like myself. But it’s OK. Obviously, not every single person in Denmark knows English (and knows it well), as that would make the Danes simply a species of super-Vikings. But the overwhelming majority do know English, and they know it extremely well. Which of course is amazing for us. But yet, this is also a problem, because it makes it tricky to ever really learn as you a) never have to speak Danish, b) it is difficult to find the opportunity to practice without being interrupted and c) Danish is hard!
Now, I can understand that you have probably looked at some Danish and are thinking: what the hell are you talking about? And to some extent you are right: Danish is basically English and German mixed together with a bit of Swedish and a whole lot of of herring. However, it is not the written language that is the problem: it’s the pronounciation. Danish often sounds like a bunch of vowels because they just hate consonants. If there is a g or a t atthe end of the word, they ignore it. The d is called a soft d because it is pronounced like an l. I mean, what is that all about?! Call a spade a spade Denmark, and call the soft d ‘kinda like an l but not quite’.
But the worst is definitly the counting.
Oh lord, the counting.
The Danes have an interesting counting system – like in German and Arabic (for instance), they count in 20s. Therefore, to give you an example, this is the number 56: seksoghalvtredsindstyvende. In English, this is “directly translated” as six and fifty-ness, twenty-ness . You can only imagine what it is like when you reach triple digits….
To make the problem even worse (although it certainly makes me feel better about my own language inadequacies), the Danes have very strong dialects. Look at this video:
(UPDATE: Since someone, ahem, is very concerned about this video’s accuracy, we want to make it clear that this video is made by Norwegian comedians taking a jab at the Danish language and is obviously an exaggeration. There, you happy? ;))
So what can we learn from this?
a) The Danes can’t even understand each other! So what chance are we possibly meant to have?
b) Hvad? actually means ‘what?’. This is a very useful phrase to know. Except it’s pronounced like ‘vel?’… I told you Danish hates consonants.
c) If you really want to learn some more Danish but aren’t attending classes, then there are a few key phrases in the arrival guide that yours truly produced.
d) That really is it. This is your first and final Danish lesson from the International Extraordinaire. However, this is only one of a number of posts which will help you to Danish-ise your life, so make sure you look out for them over the next few weeks. Hurrah!