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University of Copenhagen
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Uni must learn to use both languages

It is early days. But the University of Copenhagen will, eventually, learn to incorporate Danish and English into its daily life. This is according to the head of the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use (CIP), who encourages university administrators to work actively with language use

»Many people are under the impression that language is something you use, and not something you have to actively consider or plan. But there is no reason to believe that the university’s problems with the current language use will go away by themselves, and so we have to take them seriously,« says head of the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use CIP Anne Holmen.

This is in response to Danish and international staff members’ criticism of parallel language policies at the University of Copenhagen. Some say they don’t go far enough, others that they go too far.

Problems arise when either Danish or English, depending on the policy of individual departments, takes precedence to the detriment of non-Danish speaking or non-English speaking minorities.

Steps taken to improve life at UCPH

For Anne Holmen it is important to point out that parallel language use cannot be implemented from one day to the next, but that it is a gradual process:

»For years we haven’t taken the problems seriously as an institution, but with UCPH’s language policy (from 2008, ed.) the use of English and Danish has been put on the agenda, and over time this will help us improve communication within the university,« says Anne Holmen.

In light of the latest criticism she says that steps are being taken to create additional language policies to suit the individual needs at different departments. These are to function as practical tools that can help make daily life run smoothly for all members of staff.

Necessary to learn Danish to teach here

It is important that policymakers make room for both Danish and English, and do not create an actual ‘language police’:

»We have to solve the current problems by pinpointing and articulating them, and not moralising and restricting, which has a destructive effect, regardless of the good intentions,« she says.

While many members of staff will still benefit from improving their English skills, the department heads should not underestimate the importance of offering internationals, even those here temporarily, Danish lessons.

»If we wish to keep the most talented staff members that come here for temporary positions, we have to make it possible for them to get work in this country. When providing career advice, we have to make clear that it’s necessary for anyone who wishes to teach here, to learn Danish,« says Anne Holmen.

UCPH relies on both Danish and English

She acknowledges that many academics won’t have time to take longer courses. Because of this, CIP is starting ‘Introdansk’, which gives new arrivals 50 hours of Danish lessons the first month before they have started working on anything else. It is followed up with flexible online activities and regular, but less intensive, lessons.

It is a priority to strengthen both English and Danish as functional languages for work at UCPH. English has become the international research language. But in a national context, departments with a high concentration of internationals have to work towards introducing more Danish in the everyday.

According to Anne Holmen, anything else would be doing international scientists a disservice, and the university relies on the two languages coexisting.

We need both

»As a Danish university we have a democratic obligation to convey our knowledge and participate in the development of this society. If this is to be done in a believable way, it has to be in Danish,« she points out.

»UCPH has to be a culture-bearing institution, and this makes parallel language use very important. We have to remember that we walk on two legs and need both. It isn’t possible to exclude either Danish or English.«

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