Learning Danish

Learning Danish
Learning Danish

Just over two weeks ago, I applied to learn Danish at Studieskolen. There is no obligation for me to learn it, as the everyday language used at the University is English. Indeed, most Danes speak English very well. However, since I will be in Denmark for at least a few years, I thought it would make a lot of sense for me to learn Danish. Besides, I found that learning a language helps one in understanding the culture.

So I had my entrance interview with a nice lady from Studieskolen. She gave me a sentence and asked me to identify parts of the sentence (subject, verb, object, noun, adjective, article, pronoun, preposition, and adverb). Uh-oh… I had forgotten my grammar theory. Some of them were obvious, but some were not, at least to me. I last learnt grammar theory 16 years ago, and I have been putting theory into practice ever since. Just when I thought I had blown it, she gave me another test. This time I had to repeat some sentences in Danish that she read from a book. Then she asked me to translate the sentences to English. Some parts were obvious, but some parts I didn’t know about. Like any self-respecting scientist, I then started looking at the picture that accompanied the text and managed to translate some more parts. My interviewer said she was impressed and said that she had never seen anyone done that before. But I’m sure she said that to anybody who had bothered to look at the picture.

Anyway, so I signed up right there and then, and had my first class in the afternoon that very same day. Danish is certainly not the easiest of languages (and probably not the hardest either) to learn. The problem is simply that the spoken language is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the written language. Letters and sometimes entire words get dropped with seemingly no pattern whatsoever. For example, the word “selvfølgelig” (meaning “of course”) has 6 letters dropped from it, and is pronounced se-fø-li (approximately like saying “say-foe-lee”). The sentence “det ved jeg ikke” (meaning “I don’t know that”) has the last letter from each word dropped. The sentence “jeg er australier” (meaning “I am an Australian”) has the “g” and the entire word “er” dropped. Learning Danish truly is like learning two separate languages. And don’t get me started on the (lack of) logic of counting numbers and telling time! A fellow student said to me that it is as if the Danes deliberately chose the hardest and non-obvious/non-logical way possible.

I am in good company, though. There are eleven of us plus our teacher. Our teacher is a Dane (selvfølgelig!) and then we have three Spaniards, a Romanian, a Frenchman, a Croat, a Nigerian, a Pakistani, a German, an Austrian, and me. We come from different backgrounds: three physicists (yeah, really!), a mathematician, two designers, an architect, a programmer, a psychologist, a business student, and a banker. We have our classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays in late afternoon. Each class goes for 2.5 hours plus 10-20 minute break. We usually have pronunciation and dialogue training which we either do individually or with 1-2 partners (depending on how many people turn up). It is now halfway through our module (module 1.1), and the material is getting more difficult. There are plenty of new words and new phrases to remember, and it is obvious that everyone is a bit overwhelmed. But it is good to see that no-one has dropped out yet. The next module (module 1.2) will start straight after this one finishes. The people I talked to said that they wanted to take some time off for a while and then pick up module 1.2 in the next cycle (each module takes 6 weeks to complete). I am also thinking the same. However, the downsides of taking the time off are: we might forget some of the material that we’ve learnt, and we won’t get the same teacher. We all like her; she’s very good and patient with us. So maybe I’ll continue on until I at least finish module 1.2 (i.e. the entire module 1). We’ll see. But at the moment, I am certainly enjoying the classes. And in any case, we will all go out to celebrate the completion of module 1.1.

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