This is going to sound ungrateful. And indeed it is. Very ungrateful. Churlish even. Never mind. You cannot hope to change the world by being thankful and gracious all the time.
The free state Danish language tuition for foreigners has some serious flaws. There. I said it.
One of the best things about it (that it is completely free), is also its downfall. Now, you will not often find me singing the praises of free market capitalism. But. If you have a free language school in every town then you will not find any private tutors, private schools or indeed any other way to learn the language. It becomes a monopoly.
This has some interesting knock-on effects. Primarily, there is the “Ryanair Customer Service Effect” where the teachers and administrators start thinking “Fuck you. You didn’t pay for this. I will do my photocopying during the lesson/I will write to you in Danish before your first Danish lesson/I will not plan your lesson and instead play it by ear.”
The rolling class entry means that there is never a Danish 101 lesson. People start when they start and in small language schools, this can mean absolute beginners are plonked with people about to finish. I was in a “Bad Accent” group. An idea so totally crazy, it took me months to work out why some people got to go to another class after passing a test while I had to stay. I had a bad accent. Obviously what would help me is being with OTHERS with bad accents. You know, so we can help each other in group speaking activities. The upshot was that no one had any idea what anyone was saying at any point.
Another issue is that one agenda is shoved down your throat from the start. This agenda is what I like to call “Dirty Immigrant: Know your place.”
An important thing to bear in mind about me is that although I am not all sunbeams and unicorns about everything; I did come to Denmark with a spring in my step and hope in my heart. Sprogskole was the foremost experience to turn me into the bitter kernel of a woman that you are familiar with now.
I was so excited about learning Danish. I love learning languages so hard. It is my hobby. I was so excited about living in Denmark. I wanted to integrate. The first thing I bought here was a red coat so I would fit in, for heaven’s sake! I wanted to learn Danish, get up to speed, become like goddamn Princess Mary and be this wonderful immigrant who had Danish friends and did not bat an eyelid in the bakery.
Disappointment was almost immediate but as I was in honeymoon mode, I made excuses and allowances and tried to blame myself. It took a long time before the penny dropped and I worked out why I was feeling iffy about Danish class and speaking Danish.
My first few lessons were from a book called Tempo. Our teacher taught us some starter phrases. As the chapter was about daily routines we got things like “This is Ahmed.” “This is the Jensen family” “Jan eats cornflakes” “Mette works in an office” “Anne takes a shower”
As I was learning how the language was pronounced, I was happy to go along with it but in fraught social situations where (and this happened multiple times, so bad apple NOTHING), men shouted at me to “Speak Danish!” I would curse my teacher. What use is “Mette helps Anne have a shower” when you are expected to be able to say at least “That’s interesting/I agree/That’s funny!/I don’t know” ?
Only when I had to tackle for homework “What is the daycare for YOUR child like?” did I realise what was being attempted.
They assumed that all immigrants had families. They assumed all immigrants would need to know the correct way to raise their families. They assumed that I would need schooling about daycare and how superior it was to all other alternatives.
Then that teacher left and we got a new one. She was a lovely person but a terrible teacher. She would probably be better at teaching if she planned her lessons but I am not sure she really does, beyond the cursory “Better photocopy that for this evening”
Her first lessons with me were pitched at too high a level and there were many occasions I was sure I was going to lose my shit. Start crying. Storm out. In fact, one day, I think I did go home at break. She never taught vocabulary, the whole time I had her. She would just give us grammar exercises (without pre-teaching), discussion activities and newspaper articles. She also taught us a LOT about The Danish Way.
We had lessons about volunteering, women working, childcare, the geography of Denmark, the immigrant problem, Danish holidays and traditions.
Nothing practical for balance. No “shop Danish”, “restaurant Danish”, “call centre Danish”. You are expected to have a Dane to help you with that stuff.
My reading books were all about immigrants having issues or crime. Getting accused of shoplifting, feeling left out until they got a job, getting racially abused at work. The one book I read about Danes had the main character getting raped on holiday in Poland!
Of course she taught us like this, it was what was on the test. We had to be able to describe pictures, so we practised that. We had to be able to apply for cleaning jobs, so we practised that. We had to discuss our opinions and come to a consensus, so we practised that.
Work made it impossible for me to attend regularly, so I went on a hiatus. When I came back, everyone was at the same level and I had improved. So I quit.
Now it is impossible for me to get Danish tuition at a reasonable price. I pay for language courses, so I know the going rate. I tried to get into VUC and one module was several thousand kroner (3000 USD) because I had a higher education. Not in Danish but still, it counted against me. I tried to enroll in one of the distance learning places but ONE lesson is 160 USD! I do not mind paying but I have no idea what drugs these people have been smoking to charge so much.
For the longest time, I protected the “Denmark is Fabulous™” Bubble with “Yeah, but this is F-town. It’s a shitty nowhere place. Of course my Danish school is going to suck. It’s unfortunate but there we are. It’s just bad luck.”
Then I got foreigner friends in other towns. And it’s endemic. There are pockets of good tuition and good practice. Some of my friends got it a lot worse. If they don’t rate your country, they can put you in a group with “Your English is not good enough to learn Danish with the other educated immigrants.” If you end up in that class, you may get treated a lot worse, with threats about your social worker being informed if you are late.
Of course, bad practice is bad. Bullying is bad. Bad teaching is bad. However, even in the best classrooms, with the best supportive professional teachers; they still have to teach “Dirty Immigrant: Know Your Place!”
They still have to teach the Danish Way and how the foreigner fits into it. The assumptions that underpin what we are taught are very telling. The classes are to help us integrate “by getting a job”. The jobs we are expected to want to get are entry level. There is little recognition that some immigrants already have jobs. And some immigrants might be qualified and experienced enough to be able to apply for professional or managerial posts. There are no lessons about fitting into a workplace once you have a job or interview techniques. Maybe they assume we will never get that far?
Then there are the lessons about the importance of women’s rights, democracy, contributing to society and childcare. We are not expected to have equally valid viewpoints or perspectives. We need to be taught from first principles the basics of civilisation and we need to realise that the Danish Way is the only acceptable one.
When I have had conversations with Danes about these issues, they almost always put the blame elsewhere. They almost always say that these lessons are not designed for me but “a specific kind of immigrant”. I am almost certain this type is a figment of the Danish imagination. I believe these to be straw-immigrants. They hate women, working, voting, contributing and their own children. They need to be tamed because their previous culture was so backwards. They are not REAL people, they are more like animals but they can be trained. And when they are housebroken, then and only then can they get a job as a cleaner or paper deliverer.
I honestly think that the language school system is one of the most damaging parts of the integration process and it is frustrating because it could be so much better.