Can we speak Danish

Hej from Copenhagen,

Another month, another article collaboration with the expat newspaper “The International“.

Every month I share my personal experience about the process of learning Danish in Denmark. This is a really cool free newspaper with a lot of insights from various expats in Denmark. You can find the newspaper at these locations all over the country.

Make sure to follow them on Instagram: @theinternationaldenmark


Here is my article in case you didn’t read it yet 🙂

Can we speak Danish please?

According to the English Pro ciency Index (EPI) from global language training company Education First (EF), Denmark ranked fifth in the world in 2018 for non-native English proficiency. No wonder why we, expats, find it hard to engage in Danish. We have to give credit to Denmark for being so expat friendly. When I lived in France with my wife, the situation was very different; she had to learn French, otherwise she would have been completely lost, struggling every day in a country where only few can speak English. Yet in Denmark, it is a safe choice to stick to English: everybody understands it. You can easily survive in the Danish system without understanding Danish. But wait. How would you feel about expats in your country not trying to learn your own language?

When I moved to Denmark four years ago, the desire to speak Danish was there, however the ability was not. Danish, like any other language, brings its challenges, frustrations and victories. For about two years, I only spoke English with my Danish relatives. They knew I could barely speak Danish, so English was an easy choice. Besides, they liked speaking English with me. It was a win-win situation, as far as I could see. But eventually I started feeling that, because of me, they all had to make an unnatural extra effort to speak English. The country was Denmark, the people were Danes, the language was Danish, yet English was dominant.
In the earlier modules at language school, you do learn a lot of vocabulary, but you do not have enough knowledge to be able to just speak Danish. So comes a phase where even though you really want to, you have to stick to English. It is frustrating, indeed, but patience, the Danish illumination is just around the corner.

Half way through the language course, I felt an evolution with my Danish. I started to further challenge myself and try it out around me. It started with Danes talking Danish to me at a slower pace, and I would answer in English. This first improvement helped me understand conversations as they were contextualized, regardless of my incomprehension of certain words. I built up a wide vocabulary. This led me to feel a lot more comfortable and push myself to communicate in Danish. It was not an easy step up, for conversations moved fast and I needed to stay focused and quick when talking.
All along, my friends and family have been very patient with me, giving me time to try to express what I wanted to say. This encouraged me to use a lot more Danish than English in my everyday life. The feeling is absolutely amazing when you feel confident to speak Danish!

It took me a little less than three years to be able to switch from English to Danish. A full year of Danish language classes definitely made that transition possible. There is no secret recipe here, just determination and patience!
Of course, there are still situations where I don’t know the Danish word and use an English term instead. The process of learning a new language takes a long time, so there is nothing wrong with trying and making mistakes. The more you initiate a conversation or answer in Danish, the more Danes will reply to you in Danish. Sure, it can be quite annoying when you speak Danish and they reply in English. But as tough as it can be on your ego, you need to push your- self and stick with Danish. It’s just their way to remind you that you are on the way to speak great Danish! It may seem like small victories along the way, but keep confident, you will get there.


You can also download the full newspaper here