How Many Steps Back Does It Take?

Ugh, guys, learning a language can be so frustrating. So frustrating! I’ve never thought of myself as a language person – someone for whom learning languages is fun and easy – so that was my biggest fear about moving to Denmark. Also, I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and the try and fail method of language learning that you just have to go through to get to fluency was not made for someone who is a bit of a perfectionist. I knew this about myself going in, so I’ve tried to just grit my teeth and push through it, accepting my mistakes and laughing them off. It hasn’t been nearly as bad as I feared, particularly because we can get by with speaking English. These days, we usually speak some muddled version of both childish Danish and simplified English depending on where we are, who we’re talking to, and our mood/confidence level on any given day.

But it seems like every time I start to feel like I’m getting somewhere with Danish, I take five thousand mega steps back. First, it was Christmas break over which the language school was closed. So I went for a whole month without speaking Danish at all. Coming back after that was…challenging to say the least. Most recently, it was our Easter trip. We were gone for a measly 10 days, and yet it still feels like I’ve lost the flow. I’m no longer in the zone.

I’ve never learned a language like this before – in the country with the language all around me – but it turns out that regularly hearing and seeing that language, even if just for a few minutes a day, is a huge help in quickly learning it. And being removed from that environment really drags down your progress. Who knew?!

So I’m just dutifully doing my Danish homework and trying my hardest to speak Danish when I can. It’s especially hard right after coming back from a break like this because I can hear myself stumble and falter, and even words and phrases I know I know don’t come easily to my tongue. But I’ve been through this before, and they do eventually start coming more easily. It’s just “grin and bear it” time.

This is me when I try to speak in Danish lately. My brain short circuits!

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17 thoughts on “How Many Steps Back Does It Take?

  1. Have been following your blog for a month or so and am really really enjoying it. This post about the difficulty of learning a language is a bit different – very brave of you to articulate, in this public way, the struggles of learning a new language. Touching and inspiring. Wishing you best of luck!

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    • Thanks for reading my blog! I’m glad you’re liking it 🙂 I try to be honest and open when I blog in case others are going through similar experiences. Plus, I get a lot of readers who are thinking of moving to Denmark, and I want them to know what that experience is actually like, for me. I really appreciate your comment. I’ll do my best to keep at language learning!

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  2. It’s the same with the kids at school… a break and they lose the flow! Just get in there and do it. I think anyone who tries to learn another language deserves deep respect!

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    • Good point! That does happen to kids too. That’s why we always tried so hard to get them involved in summer reading programs at the library I worked at in the US, so they would stay sharp. I guess I should be doing my own homework over breaks 🙂

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  3. Good for you for trying and taking a class! It is really hard to learn a language.

    I’ve been living in Korea on and off for about five years. I never thought I would be here this long. After the first two years, I didn’t think I would come back, so I tried to learn a little but kept thinking that it wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway. Turns out, I could’ve learned so much over the past five years. I’m a little ashamed at how little I have learned, but I am increasing my efforts now by actually joining a class and meeting up with a language exchange partner. Even if I’m here for just another year, I want to learn as much as I can.

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    • Denmark makes it easy since they give you a certain amount of classes for free. So even though we’re only going to be here for three years (I think!) and can get by with English, we still both take Danish classes. It is nice and makes living here a bit easier, less foreign. It’s just such a unique process, learning a language. Nothing else is quite like it. Good luck with your Korean!

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  4. I will be in Danmark in September to run the Helsingborg Marathon and spend time in Copenhagen. I know on a little Dansk. Do Danes appreciate a foreigner at least trying to speak their language? I will try, but fear I will mess it up and worry a question or comment will be given back that I have no idea what is being said to me. Or should I just keep it easy on everyone and speak (Southern) English? Tak

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    • Hi Kelly. You’ll probably find that many Danes will switch right over to English if they know that you are more comfortable in that language. In my case I think many times it’s easier for them to just speak English than to try and get through my garbled, grammatically incorrect Danish! 🙂 But they definitely appreciate you trying to speak Danish or throwing some Danish words in there. It shows an appreciation of their culture. Plus I don’t think many Danes get to hear foreigners try and speak their language very often 🙂 I have noticed, however, that sometimes at stores it’s just easier to go with Danish, especially if you know enough phrases to get through a transaction. There the “I don’t speak Danish” conversation just takes too long. Good luck with the marathon!

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      • Thanks! I don’t really know much about the Danish royal family, so I don’t have much of a take. But it would be a really good blog post. I’ll have to do that one some time… Mostly, they seem nice and approachable. They tend to mingle with the average person more than you would expect. And they do normal people stuff like compete in the Iron Man (OK, normal for some of us, definitely not for me!). But I’ll have to do a more extensive post on that topic!

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