Confidence is the Key to Learning Danish

Posted: April 8, 2011 in Categorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Yesterday, I walked into a Danish sandwich shop and at first I thought I’d just order it in English.  But I’ve been to this sandwich shop before and I promised the person fixing my sandwich that the next time I came by, I would order in Danish.  So, I walked in and she had actually remembered my promise from about 2 months ago.  At first, I was a bit hesitant but it was about time that I put, “Jeg vil gerne have” (I would like…) to use.  So, I went for it and what transpired was actually a good moment.

I was actually able to order my sandwich and work my way through the payment, all in Danish.  We didn’t switch to English and I didn’t get a “Hva’” or “Hvad siger du?”  This may not seem like a big deal but for me it was truly a confidence booster. At this stage of learning Danish it’s all about learning the grammar, definitely the pronunciation and listening, but most importantly building confidence.

After the year 1864 in the Second War of Schleswig when Denmark suffered a series of defeats and territory losses that reduced it to its current size now, Denmark has been strongly focused on preserving its culture, its national identity, its welfare state and most of all its language. When putting the population size into perspective, Denmark is a country of about 5.5 million people and maybe 95% of the people speak English.  Danish only really needs to be learned if you plan on living in Denmark for an extended period of time.  So you’re constantly battling with the question of, should I even learn Danish?

My reply is, yes.  I think learning Danish is a gateway into the culture.  Danish is a straightforward language riddled with dry humor.  Compared to English, I don’t think Danish has that many words.  But, when comparing English to Danish, I think English is quite metaphorical and can sometimes tend to not be as straightforward or specific. For example, the Danes have four different words for “to think”, (at mene, at tro, at tænke, and synes).  I mean how specific can you get?  And trying to distinguish between the four verbs can sometimes be quite challenging.  I think when I figure those four words out and how to effectively use my glottal stop, I will have mastered Danish.  🙂

What yesterday’s experience taught me was that many foreigners learning Danish could benefit from more Danes that are willing to give them the opportunity to practice.  Many foreigners learning Danish actually love to practice but keep encountering Danes that keep replying back in English or have the belief that one should either speak Danish 100% correct or don’t speak it at all.  I’m sure many of the foreigners that are learning Danish have experienced, the notorious “Hva’ ” or “Hvad siger du?”, that just makes you feel like you are never saying anything right.   But as one that is actively learning Danish, I’ve learned 3 practicing tips in helping to build confidence in this stage of learning.

  1. If you want to avoid, a “Hva” or “Hvad siger du?”, try to speak up a bit more.  Sometimes when you think you might pronounce the sentence incorrectly, one has the tendency to speak softly.  Therefore, it might not always be that you have said the word incorrectly.  Sometimes, speaking with confidence helps build confidence.
  2. Don’t always feel bad about speaking slowly; the rule of thumb has been it’s better to pronounce the words correctly than to try to just say them quickly to prove your proficiency.  What I’ve discovered is that although Danes know English they are usually pretty self-conscious when they have to use it.  So, putting this into perspective, you’re just two self-conscious people trying to find the best way to communicate with each other.
  3. Until you have built up your confidence start with, “Jeg vil prøve at tale dansk….” which means “I will try to speak Danish…”  This helps prepare the Danish person, so they can know that you’re practicing Danish and most find it quite exciting that you would even take the time out to learn their language.

Overall, this is just a beginner’s advice as I am only in Studieskolen, Module 2.2.  Of course the obvious key to all of this is to practice as much as possible but I think often the confidence building part of learning Danish is sometimes missing.  Even as I am giving this advice, I still have to remember to apply it to myself. J

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Comments
  1. […] Confidence is the Key to Learning Danish « Et år i København … […]

  2. Thank you for the encouraging post! I am so excited to have found your blog. As an American (I actually used to live in St. Louis!) moving to Denmark soon, I am looking forward to going through your archives and reading about what else you have to say about life in Denmark!

    Best,

    Jacque

    • brunsonw says:

      Hey,

      Thanks for the reply! Wow, what a small world. I hope you enjoy your stay in Denmark. It’s an interesting country and being here has made me aware of my own culture. The whole experience has just been eye-opening and I’m really loving it.

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