University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Internationals bombarded with Danish e-mails

Six out of eight faculties at the University of Copenhagen do not live up to language policy

International research staff miss important information, regulations and social events, and are forced to rely on the garbled Google-translate system to attempt to understand Danish-language e-mails.

They are not receiving English versions of important mails from faculties and departments in spite of an official University of Copenhagen policy to promote English as a parallel-language to Danish.

A spot check by the University Post of non-Danish speaking Ph.D.s shows that neither the Life, Health, Social and Natural Sciences, nor the Pharmaceutical or Law faculties live up to English-language standards.

They have not assured that administrative e-mails and invitations are in both languages.

Google translating

When internationals are asked whether or not they have missed important information, the answer is almost always the same. As Lourdes Cantarero a Spanish Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences puts it:

»Most of the time, I don’t even know whether I have missed something important«.

She, like almost all of the researchers that the University Post has been in contact with, is regularly forced to use the Google-translate application, an application that for non-Danish speakers often renders an English text more confusing than enlightening.

As if they don’t care about us

Yuhari Yumada is a Japanese Postdoc. student at the Faculty of Health Sciences. As she has been here for a while, she can now understand most of the written Danish. But for a long time, key information was withheld from her.

»For example, I did not know that people could get a key to the entrance from the secretary, and was unable to get in, when it was outside working hours,« she says.

Danish e-mails to her inbox included invitations for annual general assemblies at her department, and for key social events.

There are not many international researchers in her Department and Faculty, Yuhari admits, but the not-translated Danish e-mails, »make it as if they don’t care about us,« she says.

Should be no barriers

The University of Copenhagen has a clear policy on English language translations of e-mails both to its international students and to its 1300 full-time and part-time non-Danish researchers.

Realising that the University of Copenhagen is an international institution, the strategy paper ‘U of C action plan – the way to 2012’, states clearly that the university ‘should be a workplace where the potential barriers between Danes and non-Danish speaking should be broken down’.

Mails distributed widely to staff and students should either have an English parallel text or a link to relevant information in English. This parallel language mail policy is the responsibility of the faculties, but is apparently not being carried out.

Faculty management surprised

The University Post has attempted to reach each of the faculties which failed in our survey, for comment. Director of the Faculty of Health, Arnold Boon is from one of the faculties that responded with surprise when they heard that they had failed the spot check.

»The Faculty of Health has a general policy that all mass-distributed e-mails and information should be in both Danish and English,« he comments in a written response.

No simple explanation

In the mean time, international researchers and staff are being kept out of the university’s e-mail loop. Cindy Vestergaard, a Canadian despite her Danish surname, is doing her Ph.D. in political science, and is, she admits, tired of deleting the torrent of Danish-language e-mails.

The University Post asked her to forward the first Danish-language e-mail in her inbox as we spoke.

It turned out to be an invitation to relevant Ph.D. courses, highly relevant for her, but with no English text with a simple explanation of the content.

»99 per cent of all I get in my mail box is in Danish. The latest was a highly relevant upcoming annual meeting for the department of Political Science,« she says.

Luckily, he knows German

Kestutis Aidas is a Lithuanian Ph.D. student from the Faculty of Science. Since he came to the University of Copenhagen he has been an avid user of the Google-translate appliance, he admits, as some of the e-mails from administration are in English, while some are not. This exercises his powers of interpretation:

»I know German to some extent. So most of the time, I can get a grasp of what the mail is about.«