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Speaking the LanguageBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Denmark - Speaking the Language
As the English language is mandatory for all Danish students, they start learning it from the first grade in Folkeskole. In the fifth grade of Folkeskole, a third foreign language option is offered to everyone, which is German or French in most cases. The majority of students choose to study German. Around 47% of Danes report they are able to speak conversational German. The third most widely understood language is Swedish, with 13% of Danes reporting that they are able to speak it.
German is an official minority language in the former South Jutland County, the part that is now known as the Region of Southern Denmark, which was part of Imperial Germany before the Treaty of Versailles was signed. There are between 15000 and 20000 ethnic Germans living in South Jutland today, of whom almost 8000 use either the Standard German or the Schleswigsch variety of Low Saxon in day-to-day communication.
Schleswigisch is very different from Standard German and can be quite difficult to understand by speakers of Standard German. Outside the area of South Jutland, the members of St. Peter's Church in Copenhagen use German in their church and school. The German minority has its own system of primary education, having German as the primary language of instruction. This also includes the system of libraries across South Jutland. There is even a German high school, located in Aabenraa. Apart from this area, there are also 28,584 immigrants from Germany in Denmark, according to 2012 census.
Faroese is a North Germanic language like Danish, and it is the primary language of the Faroe Islands, which is the self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. This language is also spoken by some Faroese immigrants to mainland Denmark. Phonetically, Faroese can be seen as similar to Icelandic, and the Old Norse language which was spoken in the Scandinavian area more than a thousand years ago.
Greenlandic is the main language of the 54,000 Inuit who live in Greenland. Greenland, like the Faroe Islands, is a self-governing territory of Denmark. When it comes to Greenlandic in Denmark, roughly 7,000 people speak this language on the Danish mainland.
When it comes to numbers, the following list shows how many people in Denmark speak each language as a native or learned language:
01. Danish – 98,39%
02. English – 52,95%
03. German – 30,5%
04. Swedish – 6,75%
05. French – 6,37%
06. Spanish – 3,29%
07. Italian – 0,87%
08. Arabic – 0,64%
09. Dutch – 0,52%
10. Turkish – 0,4%
The Danish language is a northern Germanic language which has an alphabet consisting of 29 letters. It uses the basic 26-letter Latin alphabet plus the three additional letters Æ, Ø, Å. Danish is also known as Dansk. This language is also used by almost 50,000 Danes who live in the northern region of Germany, where it has the status of a minority language. One of the most difficult words to pronounce in Danish is "speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode", which means "Period of plan stabilising for a specialist doctor's practice."
Starting Danish lessons
Danish is taught at several universities around the world. There are also both private and public organizations that offer lessons in Danish at various levels. When trying to learn Danish in Denmark, there are many types of courses which are available, and some of these are even free for those who have a CPR number or a work contract.
In recent years there has been a growing influx of English words into the Danish language. This is very helpful for English speaking people in Denmark. They can easily recognize various words in newspapers or in everyday language, such as computer, cyberspace and teknologi. Numerous words of Latin and Greek origin can be found in Danish texts, such as relevans, hospital, demokrati, and so on. Danish grammar is quite simple and it is similar to English grammar.
Foreigners typically find pronunciation the hardest part of learning Danish. There are three main reasons for this:
- the language has many vowels
- the Danish glottal stop
- the huge difference between the spoken and the written language.
Those who wish to learn Danish should be aware that the difference between the written and the spoken language can be quite frustrating at first. Many words are not pronounced in the same way as they are written and numerous endings are not pronounced at all. If the purpose of learning Danish is everyday oral communication in Denmark, it's best to choose language course that focus on speaking. Attending supplementary conversation courses is always a helpful choice.
However, it is possible to move to Denmark without speaking Danish. This is mostly because the Danes speak several languages and are usually happy to use them. Almost everyone in Denmark speaks English, many speak German and one out of ten people is able to speak some French. There are also those who speak Spanish or Italian as well.
There are numerous courses in Danish language and culture at different difficulty levels during the whole year. It is always possible to find one that matches your specific level and needs. In the summer, intensive language courses are offered as well. Depending on needs, interest, qualifications and time, these are the available options for those who wish to learn the language:
- Municipal education and language courses
- Private language schools and courses
- People’s college language courses
- University language courses and other courses offered by higher education institutions
Municipal language schools
Many municipal language schools in this country offer free Danish courses for foreigners. The Danish “kommuner” are obliged to offer courses in Danish language and culture for all foreigners. The Ministry of Education decides the level and the difficulty of the courses and tests and it empowers every language school to offer particular courses. Municipal language schools have offers that vary from basic courses for those with a limited schooling to courses for people with higher education. Most of the courses take 18 hours a week. There are some schools that offer more intensive courses and some that match the individual needs of the participants.
Language at VUC
The municipal adult education centers are institutions that offer courses in all public subjects to adults at the "folkeskole" and "gymnasium" level. Adult education centers, also known as VUC, offer courses to all Danes and Danish speaking foreigners.
Private language schools
If expats opt for private language education, they should know that there are private schools and private tutoring options available. Those who need more intensive and individually tailored lessons should contact one of the municipal language centers to find out more about opportunities that might match the desired level. In Copenhagen and its suburbs, just like in other bigger cities, a huge amount of private language courses are offered. To find out more about these, it's best to contact your koommune or look at the yellow pages under the language section, “sprogundervisning”.
Most universities offer language classes to foreign students and visitors. Numerous universities offer crash courses in Danish language and culture at the beginning of the school year, during the semester or even as the part of the arrangement at summer schools. It is best to contact the specific university’s international office to find out more about the selection of courses, admission requirements and potential fees.
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