University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Editorial: Danish, what's the point?

Learning Danish may not seem to be worth the time and effort, says the editor of the University Post. But if you try anyway, Danes will be honoured with your few polite phrases, and there are other benefits

YOU CAN EASILY get by in Copenhagen with absolutely no Danish whatsoever. Most people here speak good English, and they like to practice it at every opportunity.

Official websites are in English too, and the University of Copenhagen has a policy of English-language translations of all e-mails. You are reading the University Post, the independent, and English-language, media of the University of Copenhagen.

So why make the extra effort to learn Danish? Especially if you are only going to be here for a short stay, the payoffs of learning a new language seem slim compared to the effort involved.

Let’s face it: Danish, and the closely-related Swedish and Norwegian languages, are only spoken by 20 million.

Put yourself on a desert island with only one other person randomly selected from our globe. What are the chances that this person is a Dane, Norwegian or Swede and that he doesn’t speak English?

About one in 10,000.

From a rational perspective, there are more important things to do than spend hard hours learning a language that you may never have to use again.

BUT FOR SOME OF YOU it is still worth the try.

First of all, without Danish it is harder to get a job, even a student job: Companies and organisations are wary of hiring internationals if the company language is Danish. Among themselves, Danes like to slip back into their Danish patois, or a kind of Danish-English pidgin, even though they are excellent English speakers.

Second, it will give you satisfaction to learn a new language. A new language is like learning a new way of thinking, and your own language and thinking will be the richer for it.

DANISH IS A BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE. It resonates with both the subtle irony of the existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and the searching poetry of Danish New York-exile Naja Marie Aidt.

In the meantime, whether you are learning Danish or just a few polite phrases, don’t ever let a Dane make fun of you. Your version is as good as theirs, and by making an attempt at learning their small language, it is you that is doing them the favour!