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Campaign to get staff to speak Danish

New ‘language buddy’ initiative to pair off international staff with Danes to practice pronunciation and gain confidence

For international staff trying to learn Danish, actually finding a way to practice can be the hardest part.

Many Danes want to slip into English when talking to their international colleagues, and the international staff often play along with it: After all, just speaking English seems like the easiest way out.

But in the long term not actively speaking Danish can cut off internationals from the Danish spoken in their work community.

Both languages official

A new ‘language buddy’ initiative hopes to fix the problem. Part of a wider campaign called ‘Let’s Dansk’, Danish and international colleagues are paired off so they can practice the hard-to-pronounce Danish language in a formalised ‘Danish lunch’ setting.

»Most international staff who attend Danish classes feel that they need more vocabulary, and that they need to understand what goes on at meetings and at lunch breaks,« explains Charlotte Øhrstrøm of the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use (CIP) who has started the project.

Both Danish and English are considered working languages at the University of Copenhagen, and all international staff are offered courses in Danish. Charlotte herself has been teaching one of these courses for a year. But it is important that Danish is spoken outside the classroom setting, she explains.

Overcome fear of losing face

»The language buddy initiative is not about achieving fluency, but more about practicing the Danish you have already learnt«.

In a work situation, the biggest hurdle to overcome for many international staff is to start speaking Danish to their Danish colleagues, especially if they are not confident enough.

»Staff at my classes have told me that they feel shy. And I interpret this shyness as the fear of losing face in front of your colleagues,« she says.

‘Danish’ lunches throughout uni

The first event in the initiative, a Danish lunch at the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication on Wednesday has five international staff paired off with five Danes.

The hope is that the idea will take off, and be copied by other departments throughout the university, Charlotte explains.

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