Lydia recently had a World Read Aloud day at school and she asked if I could come in and read The Princess and the Pea in Danish (Prinsessen på ærten). It was so lovely to see her class of six and seven year olds be so fascinated by a book in a different language. And it was very special that Lydia, sitting next to me as I read it, eagerly translated words to her friends and spoke some Danish to them.
So I thought I’d do a post about learning Danish. This one will be about learning Danish when living in Denmark. I’ll then do a second post about how we are trying to keep up the language in England.
As long as you have a CPR (personal registration) number and are over the age of 18, you can sign up to a language school and take lessons for free. This wasn’t the case for two years, when between 2018 and 2020, you had to pay 2,000 kroner for every module.
You can take five modules in the Danish language course, ending in the PD3 (Prøve i dansk 3) exam, which is the level needed for citizenship. If you don’t take any breaks, you can get to this stage in 18 months. You can then go on to study module six and take Studieprøven, to get to a level where you can enter Danish higher education.
The advantages of language school is that it gives you a structure to your learning, and gives you skills in the four areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as learning about Danish culture. The class times are often flexible and you can choose between online and classroom lessons.
The downside is that with large class sizes, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to practice speaking, which is why supplementing language school with speaking opportunities can really help.
I went to classroom lessons, except for Module Three, which I did online in the evening while on maternity leave. I passed my PD3 in June 2020, which I was so happy with. However it doesn’t unfortunately, equal fluency. So you’ll need reinforcements.
Language learning boosters
If you live or work with someone who speaks fluent Danish, try to switch the conversation to Danish just for a few minutes a day to start with.
*Find libraries, for example Nørrebro Bibliotek, where language conversation groups are held.
*Join an organisation like Elderlearn, who pair you with a Danish older person to chat to and keep them company, while you practice your language skills with a patient listener.
*Look for places that hold language events, such as cafes or the weekly gatherings at SMK Kom where you can chat to other people learning Danish.
*Join conversation groups through the Meetup app.
*Look up ‘frivilligjob’ to find volunteer opportunities in your area, such as working in a Røde Kors shop, or a library, or cafe like Sweet Surrender in Copenhagen, where you will get to practice your Danish.
*DRTV and DRNyheder apps to watch Danish TV.
*Danish programme recommendations: Matador (in the DRTV archives), Broen, Borgen, The Killing, Rita (Netflix), UltraNyt (a kids news programme on DR Ramasjang), other kids programmes on DR Ramasjang.
*Listening to Danish songs like Kim Larson (Papirsklip is a famous one), Tommy Seebach, Rasmus Seebach (Under stjernerne på himlen is well known) or Danish children’s songs like Popsi og Krelle on Youtube.
*Danish 101.com – has a useful app.
*The brilliant @learning.with.ervin
*Audio books (lydbøger) – eReolen, Mofibo
*Reading children’s books
Learning from children
I found reading children’s books really rewarding, as they often involve repetition and rhyme, which helps you remember new words. Lydia would often correct my pronunciation which also helped!
If you follow my Instagram page, under the highlights Lære Dansk, you can see my language learning journey, which includes Lydia’s corrections and me attempting bedtime stories in Danish.
Lydia and Sofia learnt Danish by going to nursery (vuggestue) and kindergarten (børnehave). It was quite incredible hearing their language develop and in Lydia’s case, as she was older, become fluent native. Children’s ability to learn new languages, especially when they are very young, is fascinating. They just absorb and imitate and can make the new sounds with their mouths that adults struggle so much with. My girls almost sound like different people when they speak Danish, it is so unlike their English accents.
For adults, it’s much harder but finding opportunities to just chat Danish is the key. It was only when I started speaking Danish once a week with a volunteer, did my language improve.
You’d think living in Denmark, you’d get the opportunity to chat the language a lot. But if you don’t live with a Dane or work where Danish is spoken, it’s very easy for English to become the default language, because everyone speaks it so well and Danish is so hard to understand.
The thing that massively boosted my language learning was speaking with my volunteer, Torben for two hours once a week. He became my Danish cheerleader and gave me the confidence to speak the sounds that came so unnaturally. I still keep in touch with Torben. Our families meet up when we are in Copenhagen and his granddaughter has even come to stay with us in Sheffield. I’ll always be so grateful for his support.
The video below is my presentation for my PD3 speaking exam, which I got a level 10 for. Listening back, I am speaking way too quickly but it’s a nice reminder of everything I learnt during my language course. For the speaking exam, you are given a topic the week before the test. Mine was about work/life stress. You then write a two minute presentation, learn it and prepare answers to any questions the examiners may ask you.
The other part of the speaking test is to pick up a picture card and then go on to describe the situation you see. It could be a picture of an office, a library, hospital, restaurant. The examiner then asks you further questions about this.
My Danish language learning journey is still very much a work in progress and it probably always will be. But despite all the hard work, it is so rewarding, so if you’re in the middle of it, I hope this helps you to keep going.
I’ve written a couple of articles for The Local that you may also find useful or comforting.