Keep Calm and Learn Danish Already!
My test for the first Danish language module is coming up on the 21st, so as I study I thought I would take some time to write about learning the Danish language for those who are interested generally and for those who might find my blog because they’re thinking of coming to Denmark themselves. Now, all of this is based solely on my experiences (and some of it is based on hearsay) so take it with a grain of salt. This is just what I’ve been through with the language and what I’ve heard from other people.
This is actually the last year that the government is allowing 3 free years of Danish language education to foreigners. I think they decided that it’s too much to fund, so they cut it back to 1 year free education. I’m sure you can continue on after that, but you’ll have to pay yourself. Brian and I are grandfathered into the 3 year system because we started this year. Whew.
Each municipality does the language education in their district a different way. Here in Aarhus, everyone goes to the language school LærDansk. They’re also used in Copenhagen and I think many other cities in Denmark. They’re OK. My teachers have been really fantastic, and I’ve had a fine experience at LærDansk, but I know some people who have had more trouble with them. They have a bit of a reputation in the expat community for being disorganized. For example, I emailed them about changing classes more than a week ago and haven’t heard back yet. They also let you know when you’re starting classes literally the day before they want you to show up. But then, think of how many students they have to deal with, students who are constantly changing their schedules and going on vacation and moving to or leaving Denmark. It must be an administrative nightmare.
To start language classes, you have to send an application to the Jobcenter and get an official referral from them. They then communicate with LærDansk, and you should hear back in about 2 weeks about when you’re starting class and what class you’re going to be in. You usually have three choices: a morning class that meets 3 days a week from 8:15-11:45 am, a day class that meets 4 days a week from 12:25-3 pm, and an evening class that meets 2 days a week from 4:30-6:40 pm. They’ve recently added an online component as well. However, you only get up to 12 hours of instruction per week for free, so you can do the online class by itself or combination it with only the night classes. I think LærDansk has a special program set up for students at Aarhus University.
Different people have different theories about which class is best to take. I’ve heard that you learn the quickest if you take the day class because it meets the most often. But really, I think it just depends on your and your preferences. I’m currently in the day class, and I’m finding that it’s just too much Danish. I’m glad I took it for this first section so that I was able to quickly build a good foundation in the language, but I think I’m going to dial it back a little bit. And I’ve met some expats who have decided to not take Danish lessons at all. They know they’re only going to be here for a few years and would rather spend their time doing other things like socializing, networking, traveling, etc.
LærDansk has different divisions for each class, meaning that they try to put you in a class with people with similar educations and abilities. From their website:
The three Danish courses requires different levels of knowledge, which means that your educational background plays a role. Your amount of resources and energy also play a part in your ability to learn Danish.
Danskuddannelse 1 is for you who have not learnt to read or write in your mother tongue or who is not familiar with the Latin alphabet.
Danskuddannelse 2 is for you who have a school education from home perhaps with some vocational training on top.
Danskuddannelse 3 is for you who have higher education from home.
Danskuddannelse 1 will give you the linguistic and social knowledge to live and work in the Danish society.
Danskuddannelse 2 and 3 will also give you the opportunity to educate yourself further at both vocational and academic Danish educational institutions.
So usually what happens is that the night classes are filled with highly educated foreigners who came to Denmark for their jobs and the days classes are filled with their spouses or students, divided by current level of education.
The syllabus is then divided into 6 modules, and you progress from one module to another with a test at the end of each. I’ve heard most people go through Module 3 or 4, at which point you should have all you need to live your day to day life in Danish. I think above that is more like prep for University level Danish. I’m just about finished with Module 1. During this module, we’ve learned to introduce ourselves and talk about our family, we’ve learned to talk about our homes and the food we eat, and we’ve learned about present and past tense and some beginning grammatical things.
After each module, you take a test to make sure that you’re on track and learning what you should be learning. Our teachers have been telling us that the test, especially Module 1, is really no big deal, that it’s less about us and more about how much funding the school can get by keeping their students on track. But still, you get nervous.
The Module 1 test consists of 5 things you have to prepare: you have to be prepared to talk about yourself and about your family, and you have to read 3 easy reader books and be prepared to talk about each one. During the test, you’ll pick a card that tells you which of these 5 topics you talk about and then monologue on that topic for 2 minutes max. Then the teacher asks you questions about your topic for 1-2 minutes. Then, you ask some questions about a picture for 1-2 minutes. And that’s it. The test is 10 minutes max with all the getting settled and picking your topic and everything included. So like I said, no big deal. Once you get into Module 2, I think you’re tested on writing as well.
So that, in a nutshell, is how you learn Danish in Aarhus.
I’ve felt that just going through Module 1 has been a huge help in our day to day lives. I understand a lot more than I did beforehand, especially if I can see it written down (so when I’m shopping or at a restaurant). There’s still an amazing amount of vocabulary that I don’t have. It really feels like the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know, and that part is frustrating. And I’m no where near being able to understand most spoken Danish or to pronounce the language correctly. If you ask any expat here in Denmark talk about the language, they will tell you that pronunciation is the most difficult thing about learning it. Plus the Danes aren’t that used to hearing people mispronounce their language, so they usually don’t have very forgiving ears. But I’ve been able to get through some exchanges at the grocery store in all Danish, and it’s been a HUGE help learning all the numbers.
I’m choosing to look at the language as something that will help us more and more as we’re here to integrate and to get around. But it’s not something that we absolutely need to live and have a good time in Aarhus. Many people here speak English (really almost everyone), and that’s even more true if you move to Copenhagen. When we were just there and hanging around the Center, I feel like employees in restaurants and shops would greet everyone in English first because it’s so typical to have tourists and international people there. In Aarhus, being a smaller city, you’re always greeted in Danish, but everyone is very accommodating and will switch right over to English.
So choosing to learn Danish isn’t a matter of survival so much as it is a matter of integration. I think I’ve come over a little to the side of thinking that I don’t want to spend quite so much of my time learning this language if I know we’re leaving in 3 years. But I’m glad that I have this opportunity to learn a new language in its home country.
And really, Danish is quite fun. It has some wonderful words – like selvfølgelig (of course), lejlighed (apartment), chocolade (chocolate), flødeboller (a typical Danish candy, like a chocolate covered marshmallow) – and some crazy sentences like, Jeg tog to toge (I took two trains). (There’s some debate between Brian and I about whether or not the plural of train means you add an “e” to the end of “tog” because if you do then it changes the sound of the word and the sentence is no longer as fun. Ah the fun of learning Danish.) I really really really encourage you to type those into Google Translate and listen to how they’re pronounced. It’ll blow your mind.