Thoughts on Denmark: The Danish Language

Having spent long periods of time in Denmark, I couldn’t help but notice the many idiosyncrasies of Danish people. Therefore, I have decided to write a series of blogs recording my assessments.

Before I proceed, though, I need to make a disclaimer that I truly like Denmark and the people living there so nothing that is written should be taken offensively, but only in a funny, friendly manner.

* * *

The first thing that I noticed after crossing the border into Denmark, and probably most other foreigners would say the same, is the way Danish people pronounce their words. If there was a Danish person sitting behind me and he started speaking, I would immediately assume this person was about to throw up. And that’s honestly the best way that the Danish language can be described. Danish people annunciate their words with the air in their stomach, as if they were getting ready to hold their breath. This is why you will sometimes even notice a Danish person gasp for breath before they can mutter one more word after a long sentence.

* * *

 Danish is a very difficult language to learn, not because of challenging grammar, but because many of the most common words prove impossible to pronounce by non-Danish people. Danish phonetics are completely opposite of how the words are written. Many letters are silent and many sound exactly the same, while others make different sounds depending on where they are placed in the word. Then, you have the 3 extra letters that were added to the Danish language, ø, æ, å, which are very difficult to distinguish from o, a, and e. On top of that, some syllables are spoken not through the mouth, but with the nose. Or there is the letter, r, that when it is the first letter of a word it is rolled with your throat, instead of with your tongue.

 Examples:  Hedder: pronounced as hether*

                     Hvad: pronounced as vel

                     Meget: pronounced as mall

*All Danes will tell you that the “d” is pronounced as a “th,” but whenever you hear them speak it actually sounds like an “l” and if you pronounce it that way, they will generally tell you it sounds right.

* * *

There is something even stranger than Danish pronunciation and that is hearing English words and American phrases thrown into the middle of Danish conversation. It has recently become trendy for young Danes to mix more English words and phrases into conversation so now it’s even more prevalent.

Danes don’t only know a few English words, though, but are actually more than fluent. This could be because Denmark is such a tiny country and they have realized that is it essential for them to know English so that they can communicate with other countries. American influence is also strong in Denmark. All American television programs and films are kept in the original format and have Danish subtitles. This certainly helps the Danes learn English from a young age.

So, there is of course no reason to worry if you are traveling to Denmark and haven’t quite perfected the Danish tongue twister, rød, grøn og flød, because you will be able to communicate in English!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah A.
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 18:55:48

    Great insight! I’m thinking about becoming an au-pair in Denmark (specifically Copenhagen) and I read your other post about your experience there. First off, I want to say that I’m so sorry you had to experience that! I’ve heard about the au-pair abuse in Denmark and Norway. But I’m an American girl and the family I am talking to seems super nice and very accommodating. The mom is American (she was an au-pair in Denmark) and the dad is Danish. What questions should I ask them to ensure that I won’t be expected to do house maid work?

    Reply

  2. manwithpants
    Jan 02, 2015 @ 23:18:23

    Hi, I’m from Denmark, and I love your article! You’re absolutely right, that the Danish language is kinda messed up! 😀 And it is very correct that Danes learn English really quick, because of the reasons you pointed out. And actually, the tongue twister is called “Rød grød med fløde” wich means “Red porridge with cream”. 🙂

    Reply

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