Why Learn Danish when everyone speaks English?

Why learn Danish?

In this post I'll give some reasons for and against learning the wonderful Danish language.

If you have made it to this page, you're probably having doubts whether it's worth it or not to learn Danish.

Perhaps you just moved to Denmark and wanted to find out more information about the language, before making the decision to actually begin learning it.

Maybe you're an aspiring polyglot who just likes the sound of it, and even though you have no intentions of visiting the country you just want to know if it's worth learning.

That's cool. All reasons are perfectly valid.

Here are some perspectives from somebody very Danish. I've been unable to trace a single drop of foreign blood in my ancestry, so for all intents and purposes I'm 100% Danish and have lived in Denmark for most of my life.

So here we go. Why learn Danish?

Why learn Danish

  • To make better friendships and deeper connections – Possibly the number one reason to learn any language. When you speak to a person in a language he understands (ie. English) rather than his native language, it's difficult to forge deep and meaningful relationships and connections. Many expats in high-level English countries report feeling lonely and not really truly accepted. This is especially important for people who relocate to Denmark for a longer period of time. Spend some energy learning Danish and you'll see huge benefits in your everyday life almost immediately.
  • You get fluency in 2 other languages ‘for free' – Danish, Norwegian and Sweden are highly mutually intelligible. While there can be some challenges due to regional accents and dialects most Norwegians, Swedes and Danes can communicate without any knowledge of the other languages.
  • It's easy. – Danish grammar is incredibly simple to master and with no case system or verb conjugations to worry about can be learnt very quickly. The only challenge for foreigners usually is the pronunciation, but even that is not impossible with some practice and training.
  • To read the Danish labels of world-class beers and spirits! – Denmark is a country with long-running beer and spirit history, and so we produce, arguably, the finest beers you can buy. From the base product of World-known Tuborg and Carlsberg to literally hundreds of microbreweries and micro distilleries. We also have award-winning whisky and rum, as well as the classic pure white spirit we call “Snaps.”
  • To read Hans Christian Andersen – Arguably the most famous storyteller, EVER. HCA is the most famous danish person to have ever lived. Having written such stories as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid he is by far our biggest cultural heritage. Although his works have been translated into all languages of the world by now, it is still nice to be able to read and appreciate the native language.
  • And much more! – There's famous physicist Niels Bohr, Astronomer Tycho Brahe, philosopher Kierkegaard and many, many more. Danish industry is very strong, popular mentions include LEGO, VESTAS and MAERSK and many other companies.

Although I can perfectly understand why you would prioritise other languages over Danish, I find that there are definitely enough reasons to get started with my native language.

Plus – you could talk to me in it, right? 🙂

Reasons for not learning Danish

For the sake of balance, even though I'm not entirely unbiased – here are some counter-arguments to learning Danish.

  • The country and population is relatively small – With about 6 million inhabitants and a bit more than that speaking the language it's not even making up half the city of London in number of people. Therefore the practical use you get out of it is not as great as say French, German or Spanish, which are all quite close geographically and linguistically.
  • Almost all Danish people will speak or at least understand English – A lot of English-native tourists are quite fascinated by the general level of English in Denmark, but Danes are brought up in a multicultural world where we have no dubbing on movies, video games and so on. This means that we get exposed to English at a very young age and that gets us to a level of fluency that is beyond many countries.
  • Danish doesn't sound cool – The swedes sing their language, Germans have this brutal, yet, delicate sound to it. The French have their own distinct sounds. Danish just doesn't sound good. We are mocked by Norwegians and Swedes, for sounding like we speak with a potato in our mouths and my former roommate from Turkey, told me we had weird ‘guttural' stops that were just plainly unpleasant.
  • Not a great vacation destination – Our weather is typical of northern Europe, so it rains a lot and it barely gets above 15 degrees Celsius outside the summer months, where we can barely scrape together 10 days of weather good enough to go to the beach. Prices are high, especially in tourist cities like Copenhagen so there are no bargains to be found either.
  • No defined interesting cuisine – Although we have a relatively good number of Michelin star quality restaurants, like Noma, the food served there is not something Danish people would identify as being typically Danish. The cuisine and culture surrounding food is quite simple.

So there you have it, 5 reasons not to learn Danish, from a Dane.

Get started learning Danish

Here are some of my favourite methods

DanishClass101 (audio, video, paid)

why learn danishI highly recommend DanishClass101 as a great way to get started. I've been using this service to learn Russian and Hungarian and it has a LOT of lessons from complete beginner to upper advanced levels. It's an audio-based method so you get a stronger feeling of the tricky pronunciation from the beginning.

My favourite reason for using DanishClass101 is because you can download all their lessons and put them on your phone or other mobile device to listen to while commuting or travelling. This gives it a lot of flexibility and allows you to work on your Danish even if you have a busy schedule.

Duolingo (course, vocabulary, free!)

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Did you know there's a Danish Duolingo course too?

It's a great way to learn on your phone. Simply download the free Duolingo app and you're on your way to fluency in Danish.

Duolingo will not get you to intermediate levels in Danish without any other methods, but it can help you stay motivated and make you spend those small downtimes we all have with something constructive.

Held og lykke! (Good luck!)

I hope that answered your question of ‘Why Learn Danish?' If you have any questions about Danish feel free to add a comment below.

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  • Gustavo Trajano de Moura says:

    I started learning Swedish a couple of months ago, and I would definitelly also learn Danish. Even though it may sound weird at first, the “potato sound” is actually nice.The only problem is that I can’t find material for it anywhere. Do you have any suggestion?

  • Marianne says:

    If you are going to learn a Scandinavian language, Danish has to be it since it is invariably easier to learn the other two (Norwegian and Swedish) after having learnt Danish, rather than than the other way round. This is because of the difficult pronunciation and listening comprehension of Danish. Just because you understand Swedish does not mean you will be able to understand spoken Danish.

    • Chris Broholm says:

      Hello Marianne,

      Thank you for stopping by! And yes I wholeheartedly agree. Danish is like the middle ground and you can choose to go to Swedish or Norwegian after. But we have to be careful not to downplay the difficulty of Danish though, particularly the pronunciation is very funky for new learners of the language 🙂

  • Marvin Sy says:

    I hear that Norwegians understand Swedish and Danish better than Swedish and Danish people understand each other, is that right? Something like since it is found geographically in the middle of the two countries, then it would be the middle ground of the two extremes.

    Also, could you write a blog about some important and noticeable difference between Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, or the advantages of learning one of them over the other? Thank you very much. 🙂

    • Chris Broholm says:

      Hello Marvin, thanks for stopping by!

      Yes it is my belief that Norwegians might understand swedes and Danes better than they understand each other. I still understand both as a Dane, but they use some different vocabulary that might be completely foreign or just rarely used in Danish.

      Thank you for the idea about exploring the differences! I will write it on the to-do list!

      All the best

    • Veni Vidi Vici says:

      Worst case scenario you can always use English as it is spoken by large percentage in all 3 countries. I am definitely in Group A of Language Learners because learning a new foreign language is a serious investment in resources especially time I prefer more bang for my buck as we say here in the USA…

  • Philip Jones says:

    I went through the Pimsleur Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish intro courses a few years ago just out of curiosity (My mom’s side of the family is all Swedish and Danish). To me they sounded about as different as say the English dialects of British Oxford, American Southern, or Rural Australian. However I have always been curious how different they sound to a native speaker.

    • Chris Broholm says:

      Hey Phil, the way I see it as a Danish speaker is that norwegian (bokmål) sounds kinda like the difference between american and british english. Slightly different accent and vocabulary but mostly intelligible. Danish and swedish however is a little different, to me that would be the difference between say the queens english and the thickest scottish accent you could find speaking fast. If you ask them to slow down a bit you understand a lot of it, but definitely a bit of a leap from Norwegian.

      Hope that helped! 🙂

  • Saim Dušan Inayatullah says:

    I don’t understand the utility argument. Mandarin has many more speakers than Moroccan Arabic, but which is more useful? The answer is pretty clear in my case – Moroccan Arabic, without a doubt. I live in Barcelona, a city full of Maghrebi immigrants, and flights to Morocco are much cheaper than those to China. If the concern is learning as many languages as possible, then one’s own proximity to them must be more important, not the actual number of speakers around the world.

    In the same sense, foreigners here in Barcelona often say that learning Catalan is useless because it has relatively less speakers than heavyweights like Spanish, Mandarin, Bengali or Hindi (well, as hopelessly Eurocentric people they totally ignore the “huge number of speakers” of Bengali and Hindi, but that’s already another issue). But Catalan is the mother tongue of 30% of the city, spoken as a second language by most of the population, found all over the place on signage and present on local television. Thus, Catalan is endlessly more useful in Barcelona or the Catalan-language area (Valencia, Palma, Girona, etc.) than Mandarin or Portuguese despite the number of speakers.

  • Hisuin says:

    In my opinion, the fact that all Danes speak English is a big advantage in general (I wished we had something like that!), but it is a big drawback for students learning Danish. Since it is difficult to both pronounce and understand, everybody will be nice and change to English when one makes the effort to try to say something in Danish. As a conclusion, the student just reaches a basic level (if it even comes to that), because English is just enough to survive in the country, which is a bit of a pity.

    Based on personal experience (I lived in Denmark 9 months as an Erasmus), despite the “potato-in-the-mouth” pronounciation, you get to like the language in general, and as a trade-off, the grammar is quite easy :). Unfortunately I had to stop learning it (German became a priority), but I hope to go back to its study some day.

    It was nice to discover your blog! Keep up the good work! 🙂
    Cheers.

  • Mohamed Taqi says:

    Thanks for the article. I’d like to tell you why I do want to learn danish, and why I stopped learning it with the intention of getting back to it later on.

    My native language is Tamazight, I learned Arabic, french and english and I’m now fluent in these languages.

    I also started learning Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew for more than 5 years now, and I’m doing well with these languages too.

    I classified the 18 languages I want to learn, and Danish is one of them. Why did I choose danish between my favorite 18 languages?

    The answer is that, unlike what you just said, I adore Danish pronunciation, I like the way you guys pronounce the “et” or “d” in most words (like in fokolet). You’re wrong when you say that danish has nothing special (like french and english does), in fact, I see that that sound is really special, and beautiful too..

    I think Danish sounds better than most languages, between 1 – 10 , I’ll give it 8 points.

    Why did I stop learning Danish?

    I started learning danish, but stopped after just 5 months, because I want to learn asian and semetic languages first (As I’m looking for challenging languages more than aiming for easy languages like spanish)… I think that european languages won’t be quite big challenge for me because I already know French and English, I can understand spanish speakers too. This is the first reason.

    The second reason, is that when reading danish, I find it difficult to guess how I can pronounce the word, and also that I can’t make that special sound… I can speak chinese easily with its accents, but Danish pronunciation is more difficult for me than chinese.. when people speak danish, I don’t get anything because most of the letters are not pronounced.

    The third reason, is that their are not many resources for learning the language, unlike chinese, japanese or hebrew… Danish lacks free resources. (yes, there are websites like primesleur.com, mylanguages.org) but I don’t find any free resources that teach only danish. Which makes it difficult to learn.

    When I write “learn chinese or japanese” on google, I find more resources than for “learn danish”.

    I think danish people are not really interested in other people learning their language, it’s just how it sounds like.

    Thanks again

    • QueerBen says:

      https://www.duolingo.com/ they just recently launched the beta of Danish course, it might not make you fluent in Danish but you’ll certainly learn the basics for free.

  • Jasper Simon says:

    Well, it also depends where you come from…

    I’m from Germany, so I learned English, French, Italian and Danish. Of course I also traveled to Italy, France and Denmark several times. If I would live in Japan for instance, I would have learned totally different languages, propably Chinese and Korean and of course English too.

    I actually like the way Danish sounds very much and yes it also helps you with Norwegian and Swedish.

  • Hornbori says:

    That movie “Du Er Ikke Alene” changed my life. I’d learn Danish just to watch it without subtitles.

  • Sophie Jenkins says:

    I am learning Danish and oddly, I find it the easiest of all of the Scandinavian languages. I also found the accent/pronunciation easy to get used to. This may be because I am originally from Northern England and the accent, pronunciation and many words in Danish are not dissimilar to those found in various Northern English dialects. Look up ‘the survey of English dialects’, this is a collection of recordings of English dialects and their accents recorded around 50 years ago. Some of the speech is so hard to understand that it makes Danish look easy in comparisom. Norwegian and Swedish also have these similarities but not to the same extent.

    • Veni Vidi Vici says:

      Old Northern English saying: If you pay the Danegeld then the Dane never goes away…

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