Danish: From Zero to Hero

Tips, tricks and tales of how I went from Zero - to a goddamn Danish speaking hero, and how you can too!

When did it happen? How did I go from cups of tea and ‘top of the morning to ya’, to 'rød grød med fløde’ and ‘God morgen! Har du det godt?’’

Let’s start with the basics.

About me: 21, handball player, singer-songwriter/poet/stand-up comedian/walking cliche, moved to DENMARK BABYYY in 2018 (originally from the land of Brexit and the best damn biscuits n’ tea in the world), fluent in danish!

Had I ever learned a language before? HELL TO THE NO.

Did everyone tell me that danish was super hard and that most internationals can’t speak it even after 4 or 5 years? YES

Did I care? Honestly - a little. It was sometimes quite daunting to think about it all.

Trick 1: Have fun with it!

I moved to Denmark to play handball and I knew that as a line player it is important to be able to speak a bit of Danish to chat with the defending team. So, naturally, I learnt these two Danish sentences.

‘Jeg elsker dig’ - I love you

‘Jeg vil smadre dig’ - I want to smash you

The look of pure confusion on the guys faces as I somehow spat out those sentences playing handball was only improved when I capitalised on that moment of confusion, caught the ball and scored. I have yet to learn a useless Danish sentence (apart from ‘rød grød med fløde’ [Danish red berry pudding], but I have a personal vendetta against that phrase).

Don’t waste your time learning sentences you feel are boring or you won’t use.

Do learn stupid pick up lines that you find funny. (I might write a future blog post for all of my favourite ‘Fun Things To Say To An Unsuspecting Danish Person’)

Ultimately, in your first six months to a year of living in Denmark, expectations are low for your ability to speak Danish.

Ride that beautiful wave of low expectations and just learn all the fun sentences your heart desires. If you like learning it, you will remember it.

Trick 2: Love thy neighbour (but love them more if they’re danish)

Ultimately, the best and most accessible language help that is available, is normally no further than a couple of metres away.

While most Danes are useless when it comes to explaining why or how the grammar works the way it does (still not sure anyone gets it). They do carry with them an intuitive understanding of the language, beaten into them from birth. Use them, abuse them, say ‘Tusind tak’ (a thousand thanks) and go on your merry way. I cannot stress enough how much danish people love teaching foreigners sentences, they just get tickled pink hearing us foreigners contort our mouths in the unnatural ways that Danish requires. Take for instance this sentence.

“Får får ikke får, men får får lam”

(Ask a danish person what it means, and to say it - mind blown ...)

Mouths shouldn’t move like that??? Where is my tongue meant to be??? Are lips even designed for this???

All questions you can ask speaking danish, and on a third date.

Trick 3 (the hardest one of them all): Don't give up if it takes time

It doesn’t happen all at once, but then one day it sort of does. You will wake up one day, go to work or school and hear an entire interaction between two real-life Danish people and you will understand everything they say. You won’t remember exactly how or when you learnt all of those words in that combination, but your beautiful marvellous brain will figure it out for you.

It will happen. But only if you don't give up. The only thing you need to do to get to that ‘eureka moment’ is to give it a bit of time every single day and every single opportunity you get. Don’t give up! No matter what comes your way. If you stop for a month because you’re busy with school and work, and just living life then don’t worry!

It is never too late to get back into it! So long as you keep doing the small easy things day in, day out, eventually and somehow all at once, you’ll get where you need to be.

Quick learning hacks: maximum reward from minimal effort:

Change your Netflix subtitles to Danish (or danish shows with English subs if you’re brave): I came home from a 4-week trip home to England and was told by my danish friends my danish had got substantially better. The only studying I had done: Netflix.

Listen to Danish Music: If you aren’t listening to Rasmus Seebach, The Minds of 99 or Poul Krebs, then today is the day you start. Go to your preferred music platform and bop your way through your day to some Danish bangers and learn Danish basically by accident. You get bonus learning points if you take some time to read and translate the lyrics of your favourite songs. I did that with the song, ‘Alle skuffer over tid’ (‘everything disappoints over time’) by The Minds of 99, I learnt some good vocab for dating in Denmark!

Ask your danish friends to talk danish around you and to you sometimes: This one sounds sucky, and it can be at the start, but there is nothing more motivational than being sat around a group of your friends and knowing you want to be involved in the conversation but not quite knowing whats going on. Push yourself as soon as you feel ready and you will quickly see results.

At the age of 87, Michelangelo said this:

"I am still learning"

There is technically no evidence to suggest that he wasn't referencing his struggles with Danish. Learning is a journey. Start Danish today!

Bonus info: You can take Danish lessons on campus for free. Check out all the info on the website.

Written by: 

Rob P, AP IT and Technology

About Rob: An electric skateboard fan, VR enthusiast, and ready to change the world through IT - you can chat with him here.