The Hardest Language

Another conversation with a Dane, a miniature one, that I had not met before. She was saying it was cute when I spoke Danish and of course, of COURSE, it got on to “say rød grød med fløde” and I swallowed hard (I can say it, but it is not the point) and I said

“Jeg kan ikke lide kogt bær og mejeri er ikke lige mig,” just like the podcast told me to.
And she and her friend looked at each other and pretended they did not understand, so I wrote it down and they claimed that “dairy” isn’t a word (but it IS), and so I gave them my iPod and let them listen to the podcast.

The introduction is quite sweet “Language Learner Enemy #1 is someone who tries to make you feel silly for trying to speak the language”. And they sunk in their seats and looked a bit abashed, just a bit… Like their minds had opened up a crack and how it feels to be foreign occurred to them for the first time.

And then the girl said “Danish the hardest language” and I said
“Yes, because of the Danes”

Let’s look at it from the outside. It has the same alphabet as my language, a lot of the same vocabulary, minimal grammar … all very user friendly. There are fewer words to learn and only a small proportion of possible words are actually spoken.

It should be a breeze. Easier than French (grammar is hard, lots of words), German (grammar is CRAZY), Dutch (pronunciation is tricky), Japanese (alphabet, grammar, voices for different situation, vocabulary), Swahili (all that new vocabulary), Welsh (pronunciation and grammar). All of those, that I felt like I had learned at one point or another.

But when I try, I am repelled. And at the sprogskole I am taught how to apply for a job as a cleaner or how great democracy is or how to talk to my non existent kids. So, anything I have learned to speak in my actual life, I have learned on my own and it is prone to mistakes. And I swear to God, I have been misunderstood simply saying “Tuborg”
“HVAD SIGER DU!??”

The language is not so difficult but the mental problems a lot of people have here make it so. And if you are a Dane thinking “I do NOT make it hard for someone to speak Danish to me” then I will bet you have friends that you know for a fact do so. This stuff is commonplace enough to be called “culture”.

It is a nice cultural myth, though, that this language is The Hardest, must give a lovely rush of “I AM A CLEVER BOY/GIRL FOR LEARNING IT AS A BABY” when someone thinks it.

So, it is up to you. You want foreigners to speak Danish within four months of landing here (judging by when a lot of people switched over in my experience)? Then you listen respectfully when they speak to you and you TRY to understand.
In a few years, they will be perfect but in that time, they will mangle the vowels and smash the syntax. And if you want them to be perfect, you have to change how you listen.

How else do you think the 390.1 million people who speak English as a second or third (or more) language manage it?

Or you could keep on being obnoxious when someone makes the effort and keep the “Hardest Language” badge but realise that people will probably not learn it to a high level.

It’s your country, decide for yourselves.

14 thoughts on “The Hardest Language

  1. nicely written.

    will write somewhat a “reply” to this post in my blog later.
    have been thinking about writing a post about language and immigrants here in norway anyway

    Like

  2. mejeri IS dairy, but the place of production. mejeriprodukter is also dairy, but the consummable kind.

    So cool you had the podcast at hand! Now they know. How else are they to learn, when all Danes are raised taunting foreigners in this manner?

    I’m currently really trying to work out exactly what it is that makes Danish in foreign accents so hard for the Danes to understand. Their attitude is certainly not geared towards it. But I don’t think the language should be completely off the hook. When I first moved here, I had such trouble differentiating between words like “tog”, “torv”, “to”, “tåge”. To foreign ears, they’re almost the same, but the meanings are so different. So there are instances when precise pronunciation is key to understanding the proper meaning. Yeah, it sucks. Wish I’d have been half Swedish, instead of Danish. They’ve got a handle on their vowels!

    Like

    1. I have experienced almost exactly the same, except I also have issues with the old sometime (surprisingly, less and less though). But I think it’s mainly the ones that are not so good at English that give me a hard time about my Danish.
      I have fantastic conversations with my 40something year old Bakery lady. I chat with her for long amount of time because she is a Dane who makes a total effort to understand what I’m trying to say. She also happens to employ quite a few foreigners, but she lived in the U.S. for a couple of years, and though she won’t speak English with me I can feel that she is an empathetic person. I think this deals with empathy, the ability to try to reach into yourself and wonder “How does this person feel as they try to communicate with me? How do I reach back?”

      Like

  3. I think it’s a matter of ignorance when some Danes couldn’t “understand” foreign accented Danish.

    They simply chose not willing to understand and blame us for not pronunciating it correct. My MIL for example, she’s 62 – doesn’t speak English but she’s very nice toward me. She knows that the only way she can communicate with me is through Danish so she “learned” how to understand me with my f*cked up accented Danish at start and yes, we could communicate just fine.

    Like

  4. “The language is not so difficult but the mental problems a lot of people have here make it so”

    i love that: ‘mental problems’. Hit the nail on the head there.

    I have had that ‘that isn’t a word in danish’ a few times, if they don’t get it, it doesn’t exist. A lot of Danes hardly know their own language. Not the big words anyway. i make a point of learning the bigger danish words and like to throw them in, in context as much as possible, but hey, what the hell, often out of context too.

    My grandmother learned Danish here in three months, in order to spite her nasty piece of work Danish mother in law.

    It is possible. And she proved that she was cleverer in Danish than the Danish.

    So she learned it and then they left and they never came back except to say: “We are glad we left Denmark.”

    See, I could write the book.

    I like to say, my family has touched base here over the centuries, but we are not of Denmark. none of us ever really fitted in. We made our own way. What makes me wonder are the people who DO fit in? Or the ones trotting after their danemen hoping for their mother in laws to think they are the best ever choice as a daughter in law. Sycophants! What are they LIKE? LOL.

    Or the people who ASPIRE to fit in or claim to be fitting in but spend about three months (combined) a year out of Denmark on HOLIDAY?? And the rest of the time telling ‘unintegrated immigrants’ to fit in. Piss off you silly snobby idiots! Is all I can say. To them, the elevated expats I say: piss off back home. You are not really here anyway, and you are cruel to others.

    And danedanes all so puffed up and proud: ‘OUR country’. Erm, no, mate, actually, technically: MY country too. Hahahahaha. So technically I have a right to speak what I like. I CAN speak Danish. I can, but I prefer not to. So effing what? My choice, and I can still get around just fine. I lapse into Danish when I find someone can’t speak English at all. But I insist on speaking English to Danes who are able to understand it, because they really should learn something new. And because I won’t submit.

    What makes me laugh are the tussles I often have with people who are affronted by my use of any language except Danish to communicate with them. (I will even try norwegian.)

    I know they can speak English because i have heard them brown nosing with colleagues or when presenting stuff to VISITING internationals. But because they see me as a ‘resident’ (little knowing of my right to be termed ‘Danish’) and as such in need of ‘integration’ they insist on replying to every english sentence in DANISH. In a firm and calculated way.

    LOL, and I just keep speaking in English, because it gets funnnier and funnier watching them use all their pompous strength not to use one word of English with me.

    I like to try and make the conversation turn to words that are English and now commonly used in Denmark just to see them use these, but they strain and strain to keep it clean. LOL.

    I know three people for sure who are doing this with me, and they are supposedly ‘liberal’ alternative types. What a joke. They are all brain washed, and they probably don’t like me, but who cares?

    My buddies got my back. But I can just as well do this alone.

    Like

  5. It varies very much with where you are, I think. I lived in Rosenhøj near Århus for a lot of years, which is technically a ghetto – there, you hear all kinds of accents and all degrees of speaking/not speking the language well, so people have to be more tolerant of how it’s pronounced. At least some, anyway. Also helps that the different immigrant groups use Danish to communicate with each other, once more in a large number of different accents.

    That said, I completely believe that some people would behave that way; it’s really very stupid, because as you say, Danish must be quite easy for English speaking people to learn. I’m sorry to hear the only thing that makes it hard is my compatriots’ lack of tolerance :-(

    About dairy: copenhagenfollies is right, things to eat made out of milk are “mejeriprodukter”. “Mejeri” is the place they make the cheese, skim the milk, etc.

    Like

    1. hahahaha Rosenhøj is rough as fuck!

      It was way rougher than any place and was way rougher first.

      I’d never put a child on a bus that would end up in Rosenhøj. There are places in industrial Skanderborg too, that have the Rosenhøj feel. Horsens is a walk in the park compared to some of those end of the road places. I laff when people make out like there isn’t poverty in Denmark. Of COURSE there is, but it is much better hidden.

      Like

      1. but babs, surely poverty in DK is incomparable to that in Indonesia for example or in another country. Perhaps, that’s a reason why people claim there’s no poverty in DK.

        I saw once a documentary made by DR about how “poor” a family is – that the parents couldn’t afford to buy xmas presents to their kids – when the dad was actually puffing his cigaratte throughout the interview. He could’ve saved his smoke money and get some nice thing for their kids!

        Another documentary is about this woman who received money from her neighbours because she couldn’t pay her rent, when in fact she was wearing – TADA – Christian Dior glasses.

        Aww shucks.

        In Indonesia, poverty means that you go to sleep with empty stomach, have only a pair of clothing in your wardrobe and brush your teeth with water from the brownish river.

        Like

      2. Poverty in Denmark is not like poverty in Indonesia or India. In Denmark, poverty means barely being able to eat (at least not properly), barely being able to pay the rent and not being able to clothe yourself and your kids properly.

        This is of course not as bad as having to brush your teeth with water from the river, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Last year, nearly 4,000 families were evicted for not being able to pay the rent.

        Like

  6. Danish is SUCH A HARD language. But Wheee!!!! I can speak it. *smug*
    You immigrant, are not capable of learning this hard language. You simply don’t have it in you, dont you understand? It’s HARD. Now go and learn how to be a nice bus driver and teach your ovaries the meaning of democracy.

    Like

  7. Lately when people ask me, “Isn’t Danish difficult?” I answer:
    “Not as difficult as the people.”

    Like

  8. P.S. I love that you played that girl your podcast. I told the hubs about today and he had a good laugh. A triumph for us foreigner, really. Denmark: 45 Foreigners: 1
    But there is still time to catch up!!

    Like

Comments are closed.