Don’t listen to Danes.
You do need to know Danish in Denmark.
I’ve lived in Denmark on two occasions. On the two occasions, I have lived in three different places and have studied at two different universities so I feel I can give a good overview of why it is important to learn Danish.
Now, I am not suggesting that you need to be of a level where you can write a PhD thesis in Danish, but what I would say is if you value your quality of life it is worth taking fairly seriously.
The first time I moved to Denmark, it was as an exchange student. Now, as an exchange student for six months or so, you can probably get away with just speaking English. Any longer and in my opinion, it doesn’t make for the best experience.
Quality of Life
When I say quality of life, I am talking about three things, independence, employment prospects and integration.
The independence aspect is possibly entirely relative. However, if you’ve been around Danes for any length of time you’ve probably heard something along the lines of ‘You don’t need to learn Danish, everybody speaks good English.’ To some extent it is correct. Near enough all of the Danes, I have spoken to in the last three years are more than capable enough to hold a substantial conversation, but I don’t think that’s the point. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than for example not being able to read your own mail or having to rely on someone to translate a joke. In fact, thinking back on those times, it can be extremely frustrating, especially if you’re an independent person.
I’ve done some research and spoken to a lot of people, and it does appear that there are many jobs in Denmark that do not require the ability to speak Danish. That being said there are many jobs (a lot more) that understandably do. I won’t lie, many of the posts that I have seen which do not require Danish have involved work as a cleaner, warehouse-worker or as a dishwasher in a restaurant. There’s nothing wrong with those jobs, as we all know, bills don’t pay themselves. However, (I could be wrong but) I don’t think anybody sets on doing a degree/master’s/ Ph.D. to be in a foreign country washing dishes for 10 hours on a Friday and Saturday night. Understandably, a job is a job. But, it goes without saying that learning the language of the country you’re living in will present a broader range of opportunities, perhaps in a study related career.
A wise man said that you couldn’t learn a language without integrating, and you can’t integrate without learning a language. That wise man was me.
I think learning Danish is key to integration in Denmark. Even just the ability to read a newspaper headline so you know and what’s going on in the place where you’re living is quite essential for peace of mind. You will always be an outsider if you cannot communicate or understand what those around you are talking about. If you want to settle in you, have to learn to speak the local language so you can socialise, interact, engage and get close to your community.
It’s easier said than done. Sometimes it can take a very long time to learn a language, but the point is that it is worth it in the end, especially if you want to have a future in the said new country. I know in Denmark there any many initiatives that are there to assist migrants in learning the language and lucky enough, these initiatives are quite often free. Places like LærDansk were fundamental in the initial stages of me learning Danish, though it’s fair to say two times a week at a language school probably won’t be enough. Ok, it will help you to count to ten, but will it help you to read that advert on the side of a bus? I don’t know.
What really accelerated my language learning were things like watching Danish TV. That doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down and watch cartoons for toddlers, but there are many things like the news or reality TV shows that can speed up the process. Slap some subtitles on whatever you’re watching and in no time; you start picking up the lingo and most common phrases.
Also, it probably goes without saying, but hanging around with Danish people can help. Danes are not the most open, so it probably helps to join a sports club or something. Even if you’re not speaking just being in the vicinity of spoken Danish can always help.
And finally, if you can afford it, it is probably worth getting a tutor. I am sure I don’t have to explain why a tutor is a good idea, so yeah, if you can afford it I recommend you get one.
I am by no means fluent, so don’t expect a thesis in Danish anytime soon. But, I practice what I preach. I took my own advice long before I thought about blogging about it, and it’s done me a world of good. I am in a much better position than when I first arrived, and that’s primarily down to taking the extra steps to learn the language of the country I am in.
For those in a similar position, keep at it.