I want to start out by saying I really am fond of the Danish language and everything that follows is written with the greatest respect. Learning Danish is as hard as you would imagine it to be. No probably harder. Sure I learnt French at high school. I did ok. How hard can it be? Yeah, the answer is really difficult. Well in fairness it isn’t so hard to read Danish, the letters are the same as English. Many of the words are even similar looking, its the speaking and listening, where things start to get tricky. Now I only did one semester of Mandarin at school, and it was difficult as well. But I wasn’t living in China at the time and I didn’t need the language to eat. Well in truth I didn’t need it to eat in Denmark either. But when in Rome or Copenhagen, you get my drift.
I started attending Danish classes three or four times a week as soon as I could in Copenhagen. It wasn’t essential to speak Danish, as a temporary resident, I could more than get by with English as every Dane I met spoke it fluently. But I thought it only fair if I was living there to give it a go. Yes, well I learnt fairly quickly that it was probably better to just speak English with people and show due respect to the Danish language by not pronouncing any of it and leaving it alone!
I dutifully attended all the classes I was required to. Did the reading. Did the homework. Listened to the CDs. Talked with my classmates. Sat the exams and yes I managed to speak some Danish by the end of my first year. But speaking fluent Danish, next to impossible. I remember my excitement when I could understand anything said in Danish, and it was usually always spoken by someone similar to me, new to Denmark and Danish is not their first language. The real clincher was ordering coffee from an Aussie working behind the bar at a cafe we regularly frequented. We were chatting and then I heard him speaking Danish to another customer with an Australian accent. The horror. My husband and I looked at one another and said, “Seriously, if that’s what our Danish sounds like, we should just shut up and stick to English”. We decided it would be disrespectful to the language to pronounce it so badly.That is the rub with Danish. Great to read. But to pronounce or to understand from a Copenhagener who runs their Danish words together, forget it. Separate words pronounced separately on a daily basis, there were none. But when the Queen spoke I could understand many words. When older Danes spoke I could understand a few words. I’m not sure I ever made myself understood in Danish. The bewildered look on the faces of Danes as I attempted to converse made it easier for all to simply revert to English. I never truly mastered the accent. But I continue to love to watch Danish TV and Cinema to hear that familiar sound. It is not romantic like French. It is not gutteral like Dutch. It could be a combination of German, English and something else. It is instantly recognisable as none of those languages too. It is distinctive with an infectious melodic rhythm. It is Danish. And it is the best language in which to yell, argue or deliver negative feedback, it just seems to sound right.