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Guide — Learning Danish can be fun, but it can also be very frustrating. With the help of two expats, Copenhagen's University Post has put together some tips on how to learn Danish.
It is quite common to think you have to sign up for language school if you want to learn a new language. Going to language classes is great to get in the basic grammar and vocabulary, for sure. But spending up to six hours a week at a language school can be hardly doable next to uni, a student job, and your social life.
This is why the University Post wants to give you advice on how to learn Danish outside a language school. We have also talked to two expats who explain how they managed to overcome all their struggles, and we reveal some personal study tips.
"Harry Potter taught me Danish"
“I didn’t attend any language school – the best school for me was my host family. We put up sticky notes all over the house and I slowly began to widen up my vocabulary and to understand more and more – it just came naturally”, says Juliane.
If you are not a great fan of going to a language school, you might consider studying online. Strokes Danish is a language learning software which offers three levels. Each consists of 100 short lessons including a brief dialogue and a handful of vocabulary exercises. You can also do oral exercises as the software will correct your pronunciation. This way you can choose when and, of course for how long, you want to study.
Catch up on the latest news with DR LigeTil. This is a Danish news site which is quite easy to read and therefore makes it understandable for a broader audience of Danish learners. Each week, you can also do small tests about the articles you have read, to improve your reading comprehension.
Here you can find a bunch of different people who are looking for an online “language tandem partner”. There are also many Danes who are looking to learn your native language. If you prefer to meet in person, there are also some great MeetUp Groups in Copenhagen. That might be a perfect opportunity to also learn a language in a more cosy environment. You might even get a new friendship out of it.
Don’t be shy to try out your Danish Skills in real life. Pull yourself together and use whatever you can, whether you are going to order your coffee in Danish or start greeting your Danish friends and colleagues with a friendly “Hej, hvordan går det?”. It will help you get more comfortable with your pronunciation and the language.
Juliane also says: “From the very beginning I tried to implement all the Danish words I already knew into my sentences and all my text messages. That really helped a lot to get used to using Danish on a daily basis.”
The last piece of advice for implementing your Danish skills into your daily life is making people correct your language. It might make you feel uncomfortable, but Juliane explains why it is worth it:
“I had to do an effort to make people correct my language all the time. I encouraged everyone around me to tell me whenever my grammar or pronunciation was wrong. That was hard for my self-esteem sometimes, but a great help to finally get fluent in Danish. You have to be very patient with yourself when learning a language and accept that you constantly feel ‘handicapped’ because you can’t express yourself and show people who you really are. But don’t give up – at one point you will feel more confident speaking Danish.”
Even though you might feel a bit awkward, Juliane also recommends reading children’s books. According to her, it really helps to stay motivated as you get the feeling that you can actually read something in Danish without having to look up every second word.
“Most of the books I have normally previously read in German. It makes it a lot easier when you know what the story is about beforehand. Reading different children’s books just really helped me to get used to the Danish language and to learn more Danish words along the way – but without any pressure or homework. So, [she starts laughing] Harry Potter taught me Danish”, says Juliane.
One word a day is still better than no word a day. With the help of Word of the day you will learn one new Danish word every day. You can also listen to the pronunciation and try to use the word in a sentence.
The second expat we have talked to, is
“Nowadays I am studying and working in Danish. Mingling with fellow students or my Danish colleagues is helping me a lot to improve my language everyday. But I still feel I’m learning Danish all the time. Learning Danish will probably always be an ongoing process,” says Norkka.
If you want to spice up your Danish learning game, you should start watching Danish series. If you are into crime stories, you have to check out Broen, Forbrydelsen or Gidseltagningen. You might have to concentrate very hard in the beginning, but it will get easier from time to time. It is really satisfying if you notice your own progress and get better in following the plot and understanding the dialogues.
Of course, you could also watch some Danish YouTubers or find yourself a Danish movie or Danish documentary at DR.
Here comes a quick follow-up on the previous advice on watching something in Danish.
In Denmark, there is no dubbing – instead we are fortunate to have Danish subtitles. By watching English movies with Danish subtitles, you can pick up on various words or useful phrases. Watching Danish movies and television with Danish “undertekster” can help you a lot with building up your vocabulary. Try and let your brain slowly match the language with the on-screen visuals.
"I learned some Danish songs and sang a lot of karaoke"
To really challenge your listening skills you should try listening to Danish podcasts. A good one to start with might be Copenhagencast. It provides you with functional language and clear explanations on when and how to use certain vocabulary, so that you can easily apply it in your daily life – there are loads of everyday phrases which make you sound more “native”.
If you feel your Danish is already more advanced, go and check out Third Ear’s podcasts by Tim Hinman. This particular podcast is one of the most popular in Denmark. It is all about serialized stories with investigative reporters trying to solve a mystery.
Whatever you do, make sure you have fun doing it. Invite some of your friends to play some Danish board games such
Norkka also found a quite amusing way to overcome her Danish pronunciation struggles. She says:
“It also helped me to learn some Danish songs and sing a lot of karaoke. Believe me, it is real fun and you learn something without feeling you are working hard. I would recommend it to everybody who is struggling learning Danish.”
Thanks to recent technology, learning a new language suddenly seems doable. Or at least, apps such as Duolingo and Babbel are making it a lot easier to learn a language. Duolingo is even for free and you should go and download it now. The sooner the better – before the company gets wise and starts charging.
Even if you choose to only spend 5-10 minutes each day studying Danish on one of those apps – you will quickly feel a difference. You can also adjust your study time from 5-25 minutes towards your personal needs and goals.
With those Apps you can not only practice your writing, reading and listening, but also to revise certain vocabulary, grammar or spelling mistakes.
Try to listen to Danish radio on a regular basis or at least make it a thing when you for instance have to clean the apartment, are taking a shower, or cooking dinner. Believe it or not, but you will automatically learn new bits and pieces here and there even if you are only partially following it. It is an easy and fun way to surround yourself with the Danish language without putting to much focus on it.
Read this article to understand the mysterious words, phrases and expressions in Danish everyday conversation.