- Danish is an intimidating language to learn for a lot of reasons, but it's also easier than you expect, so long as you take the right approach.
- The process of learning a new language is much like learning any skill, or getting in shape: time, habit, practice, consistency, and accountability over time will keep you on track.
- One particularly useful habit I've found is writing lists of new words each day and periodically reviewing them to practice your weaknesses.
Danish is alternately considered somewhat easy and very difficult to learn.
An old joke says that in order to speak Danish, you simply learn Swedish and then put a potato in your mouth when speaking it. Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are all closely related languages, and a native speaker of one language can generally be understood by a native speaker of one of the others. However, Danish is considered the hardest of these three for a variety of reasons.
In particular, the Danish language includes an unusually high number of vowel sounds, many of which seem very similar to an untrained ear.
Aside from that, the written Danish language doesn’t necessarily correspond very clearly to the spoken language for a native English speaker - often, letters have different, softer sounds than they typically represent in English, and many consonant letters are dropped or de-emphasized instead of representing their typical hard sounds. In speech, native speakers confuse this by further blending words, which makes it easy to speak quickly but harder to be understood by a rookie speaker.
One of the most infamous of these is the “Danish soft D” (the title of this article "Soft D's Are Not Hard" makes me crack up) which refers to a “D” that takes on a sound that is more like a combo “TH" and “L” sound. This sound, while common in Danish, is often quite hard for non-native speakers. I've seen Danish students from a variety of original native languages interpret the pronunciation of this very differently.
The difficulty in learning any language is relative to which language is your first. You’ll have an easier time learning a language which is relatively similar to your native language.
Conversely, languages which are significantly different are much harder - thus, for example, why native English speakers have a much harder time learning any of the Asian languages. These languages evolved with very different grammatical patterns, writing systems, and methods of conveying meaning. Ultimately, they require a lot more practice for an English speaker to fully grasp.
How can this be?
While Danish certainly isn’t an easy language to learn, by any means, it does bear some very close similarities to English. Both of the languages are Germanic, meaning that English is more closely related to Danish than to say, French or Spanish.
The pronunciation and vowel range may trip a lot of people up, but it gets much easier to understand with the guidance of an appropriate instructor. Learning Danish requires a social, conversational element more than other languages for this reason - because understanding the pronunciation is something you can’t pick up only through reading or studying.
Another issue is that the Danish culture doesn’t really do much dubbing over of movies or tv shows. This is done with children’s shows, but Danes typically prefer to either watch movies/tv with subtitles, or in English (since English competency is high in Danish culture). Existing Danish TV shows are often not written at a level that’s easy for beginners to understand, so the process of picking up more through film isn’t really possible right away either.
A plus is that the Danish grammatical structure is actually quite simple, and also quite similar to English. This makes translation a bit easier, and there’s no need to spend a lot of time memorizing conjugations for different verbs.
Ultimately, it seems like Danish is a language where its bark is worse than its bite - it seems forbidding and difficult at first, but once you get started, you'll find that it's not so hard as you expected.
About one year ago, I moved to Denmark. I’ve been studying Danish for about 6 months now, and I’ve actually found it to be… not too bad! Surprisingly better than people have led me to believe.
Tips For Learning A New Language
Interestingly, Danish is my third language - I studied French in high school and spent some time living in Strasbourg in 2010. As a result, when I first started learning Danish, I would often slip into French without thinking about it, because this was my default mode of thinking in another language. Of course, now that I've got Danish much more fresh in my memory, I'm finding it much harder to think in French!
Since this is my third language, I'm very lucky in that I've had some practice and experience with language acquisition before. Here are some general tips and tricks that I've found to be useful in learning:
It gets easier. I’ve been through some of the rough ups and downs of language learning before, as well as lived abroad multiple times before. This has given me a bit more perspective on as well as a bit more practice with the process. The more languages you learn, the more aware you are of what to expect.
I’ve got a slightly better ear for pronunciation than others, although I’ve got a terrible head for conjugations, so Danish plays to my strengths a little.
Intensive learning. Danish language schools are paid for by the government, making them easily available. In contrast, learning through other methods like Duolingo was unhelpful, particularly with pronunciation. I chose an intensive course, which means that I spend between 12-16 hours per week in class. Obviously, the more time you can put into learning a new language, the faster it gets done. You may not be able to dedicate 12 hours a week to learning, or be able to afford classes when learning a new language, but you can definitely make the effort to put more and more time into it.
Accountability. Since I go to a school, I have the support of teachers and other students, as well as a regular schedule. This is a classic example of what it takes to properly motivate yourself. Designing your lifestyle to create focus and accountability will help keep you on track if you get discouraged.
Reviewable daily word lists. I have a notebook that I take to class every day. Every time I hear a word or phrase for the first time, or can’t remember the definition, I write it down in the notebook. I use a separate page for each day, and mark the date at the top. If there’s a new grammar rule, conjugation format, or similar, I put it in a box on the side so that it’s clear that it’s grammar and not vocabulary. In this way, I can get a very accurate list of all the new words I learned that day, so I know specifically what my issues are and what I need to review. I periodically review this notebook outside class to hammer it in.
Flash Cards. In the same vein as word lists, take those words or phrases from your word lists and make them into flash cards. Reviewing these flash cards out of order helps you ensure that you're not memorizing words in specific orders, but can actually use them and remember them in context.
A regular habit. If you aren’t learning regularly, you start to lose what you’ve learned. Keeping up a regular habit, just like with exercise or any other intellectual activity, prevents that skill from decaying.
Practice outside of normal learning times. Ultimately, the more work you put into it, the better. I can’t count how many times I ended up idly clicking on the Danish news sites, or putting on Danish subtitles while watching English television shows. Similarly, I remember when I picked up French copies of all the Harry Potter books, or put on French television, to give myself a bit of practice outside my normal classes when I was living in Strasbourg. These little bits of practice may not account for much individually, but they add up.
Ultimately, learning a language properly always takes a lot of time. Some people learn faster or slower than others. However, best practices ensure that you limit the amount of time required. Even a harder language can be learned with the right focus, organization, and period of time.
- Flow State For Maximum Performance
- Deep Work For Intense Productivity
- Progress VS Perfection
- I Don't Think We Should Glorify Hard Work
- The "Easy" Way To Master Any Skill
- Motivation Isn't A Willpower Stat
Are you interested in perfecting your deadlift and building legendary strength and muscle? Check out my free ebook, Deadlift Every Day. Or maybe a well-rounded beginners program for those looking to build strength, muscle, and endurance? Check out my other free ebook, GAINS.