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Comment: Switching over to English

Danes switching over from Danish to English is at first a relief, but once you've learned the language a bit and want to practice, it gets annoying, writes Kelly Draper

At first, when you are a total beginner to Danish, ‘switching over’ is a blessing.

You mangle some vowels and whisper some consonants and you have no idea what you just said and then ‘Would you like milk with that?’ comes the reply from the Dane.

Oh thank you Danish folkeskole system! Thank you for rescuing me!

The blessed relief.

Copenhagen the worst

Then after a few months when your mouth and face muscles have accustomed to Danish sounds and you really want to practice, people switching over is suddenly a pain in the butt.

»What are they implying, like?«, you think » I thought that was pretty good, myself!«

Plus, you get stung every party when people tell you that to learn Danish faster you must use it more. (Hah! Like starting with this party, maybe? Is that what you mean?) Good luck with that, who is going to let you practice?

At the moment, my Danish is at the »oh! Your Danish is soooo lovely, how long have you BEEN here?« level. I hear the next level is when people make no comment on it at all and just communicate with you in it.

Interestingly, in Copenhagen, people switch on me every time I open my mouth, which feels like a step backwards into my old switch-over stage. People in Århus often switch but not every time. People in my small town very rarely switch at all. It probably has something to do with people being used to switching over for the tourists, rather than any comment on my Danish. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Thought we were speaking…Danish

I remember the first time someone in my town did NOT switch over for me and I thought »
What was HIS problem?«

Occasionally, once people have spotted that I am foreign in my town, they clam up entirely, in any language. No Danish, no English, they just point at things. Perform the whole transaction via the medium of dance. Weird.

Funnily enough, I can carry on whole complicated conversations in shops and cafés with the employees only for them to switch over for the very last bit. Usually the price (which, by the way, Danes, is fine by me), or the farewells. Sometimes they even ask
»DO you speak Danish?» after we have conversed in Danish.

The whole thing is a bit surreal. Like when I told my friend’s four year old (who I have only ever spoken to in Danish for about two years), that I have never spoken Danish and do not know how (in Danish), and she just said:

»Oh, really? I thought you DID speak Danish, that’s weird.«

Trying to be ‘nice’

I mean, it’s understandable that a four year old is not entirely sure about the concept of language, let alone my sense of humour but what is with the adults asking the same thing?

I go one of two ways when someone switches over.

If I think they need the practice more than me, I let them fill their boots. If I think that I need the practice more than them, I keep going in Danish and see who breaks first.

Some other foreigners say things like »Please let me practice!« in Danish, no less. I never have done this, in memory of my previous self who would switch over to French/Japanese/German/Swahili in excitement at meeting someone who spoke my night school language.

Uhh, past-Kel, maybe they came to the UK to, uhh, PRACTICE their English? It only occurs to me now, it never occurred to me then, I thought I was being nice and welcoming.

How have your switching-over situations gone? Are they still a relief still or do they make you feel sad inside?

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