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.