Do you need to learn Danish to live in Denmark? The answer is No, and Yes.
You can work, live and study in Denmark without learning Danish. I know a number of British, American and French people that have lived here years without learning the language. There are companies who use English as their first language, and a few who will allow you to work in a Danish speaking office without Danish. However after eighteen years in Copenhagen my advice would be learn it, and learn it as quickly as possible. No matter how difficult, annoying or time consuming it feels, and stick with it until you are fluent. Also don’t be tempted to drop out of a course with a view to returning, as you won’t and you will regret it.
The Danes are speaking the English very good
Pretty much everyone in Denmark, old and young speak and or understand English. But as polite and helpful as Danes generally are in speaking English, it can be wearing for them. And you are in their country.
Do you want to sit at a meeting or meal with five Danes, and everyone speaks English because of you? Do you want to be doing that five or ten years after you have lived in Copenhagen? No you don’t, so learn their language.
It’s a long hard struggle to learn Danish
It is difficult learning Danish. As you start taking tentative steps to speak Danish you meet the frustration of speaking Danish only to be answered in English, by someone with a smug grin on their face, who appears to be rubbing your nose in it. They are in fact just trying to be helpful. That one happens a lot at the beginning, but it eases off as you improve.
Is it a waste of time learning Danish?
One of the arguments for not learning Danish is ‘what’s the point, only 5 and a half million people speak the language’. I’ve heard this a few times. Well unless you generally talk with a couple of million people per year, I really don’t think that argument is anything other than an excuse for laziness.
Some people have a natural ear for language, and a have a memory that suits language learning. For others like me, it’s just hard painful work. It took me five months on a part time course (at Studieskolen in Copenhagen) to get enough Danish to blag my way through a job interview in Danish. This involved quite a bit of nodding along, and occasionally repeating the last word they said in a vague attempt to look like I understood what they were talking about. It takes a little time to build up the fluency, but you will only pick it up after first doing a course. The idea that you will pick up Danish through osmosis, aint gonna happen, just as, ‘I will learn Danish later’ isn’t going to happen. Do it now.
Some of the Danish language schools
www.kbh-sprogcenter.dk Copenhagen Language Center
www.studieskolen.dk Studieskole (Is the one I went to)
www.kiss.dk Københavns Intensive Sprogskole – Copenhagen’s Intensive language school. (Always wondered if Gene Simmons teaches there. In full make-up)
Iain Cameron is a Copenhagen based freelance graphic designer, web designer and illustrator. Here is my About me page.