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.

31 thoughts on “Sprogskole

  1. I should add, two of my favorites, the book that was used for me which had a dialogue about “that old man” who was all of “48 years old” . . . where I have been reading and getting depressed by the many many job ads (including one from Rigshospital) seeking “young” applicants and/or boasting of a “young miljio”; and the other being the dialogue saying poor (dark-skinned man) who will simply have to accept that although he was a doctor in his homeland, he has to work as a cleaning man in Denmark. Obviously, the land of opportunity.


  2. Uhh – you definitely nailed it here! I have learnt that the teacher gets a bonus if we pass our exams, so really teaching is ‘teaching for the exam’ and not to be able to deal with life here.

    I was also quite shocked when I received the expectations of Modul 3.1. Apparently we should be able to talk about “our job back home and our wishes for a job” and/or “our education back home and our wishes for an education here”. These were the first two points, and no indication that we might actually have a job/are in education (everyone in my class has). As you say it is great that it is free, but that is about it. In my town there is only one school supported by the komune, so no interest in improving their service. We do have other schools we can go to, but would have to pay ourselves.

    Like your comments about the straw immigrant. I look forward to meeting one of them :).


    1. I’ll be sure to take a picture if I meet him.

      That is VERY telling that they think that no immigrant might already have a job/education on the go. Where do they get their research from?


      1. From tv? I had a discussion last weekend with a Dane who was pouting a lot of numbers at me, and when I asked him what evidence does he have for what he is saying he told me: “They said so on tv!”
        I despair!


      2. He didn’t cry (unfortunately, being with my in-laws made me limit my Mediterranean temper a bit) but let’s just say that he shut up and will hopefully think before he speaks again (at least to me – not sure I can cure him with all people!)


  3. Sprogskole.. meh!! (Fortunately for me), I had some good teachers, or maybe being lumped with 3.6 and 3.5 people when I was only a self-taught 3.0 and FEARING being kicked out of the group like the three Burmese guys were (back down into level 2.whatever) helped me get abreast really quickly. I like that we were able to do the module tests at our own pace, and nag our teachers into letting us do the test. What I resent most is the hidden agenda, of grooming and expecting people to be ELATED that they’re finally qualified enough to take an AMU or SOSU education, drive a bus, or open a kiosk.. because.. you know.. that’s-what-successful-and-fulfilled-immigrants-in-Denmark DO.


  4. Yep you said it. The Danish class wasn’t mean for YOU. Not you, you’re a good educated immigrant, they’re talking about others #sarcasm.

    That aside, I’m glad you put it into writing so I’m not walking alone in this rocky road called the ungrateful path.

    I’m lucky that in Copenhagen they have private schools. You have no idea how much I fought to be put there – by trying to scare me into paying for it out of my pocket – hey hey lady, I know the rules, kommune will have to pay no matter what schools I chose – so the scare doesn’t work there and the kommune grumbling but paying the exorbitant fee the private school apparently charges.

    I’m spared from the cleaning job cover letter, but still have those readings involving Ahmed getting accused of stealing in some shop. Heldigvis, har han kvitteringen! Puuuhaaa.


    1. And he only went in there to buy a blouse for his wife who needed cheering up from culture shock. I really would like to read the sequel where she asks for a divorce.


      1. OMG! I was talking to a fellow immigrant last night about this and she remembered this story too! Apparently it’s a must-read book for immigrants, huh? LOL


      2. Awww…We’ve already progressed from ‘red books’ to ‘green books’ at sprogskole. I am guessing I must be positively surprised that our books consisted of a couple moving to Paris for a year to work there? (though they did return). That’s progress though I guess in this context?


      3. Yeah but she cried like a little bitch for about half the book because she’d be SO FAR away from her stupid family. I had just got into the country and didn’t know anyone and it just ENRAGED me! lol, maybe took that a bit too seriously…


      4. Et år i Paris! I HATED THAT BOOK! Seriously, I’ve just moved 9 time zones away from everyone who knows and loves me to gamble on a guy I’d known for a MONTH in a land that I had only a passing familiarity with and she’s whining about a YEAR in PARIS??? ARGH! It made Jan kører busen look like a quality British drama in comparison. I didn’t get to read about Ahmed, though. I would have had a great time ranting about how a damn blouse does NOT cure one of culture shock. MEN!


      5. Jan kører bussen was ok until he gets to the psychologist and realises that “it’s okay to cry” because previously he had believed that it was unacceptable for men to cry.
        Oh, Danish state, I see what you did there, now I am a better man for it!


  5. I’m so sad to hear this, and my impression is that there is a huge difference between schools and teachers all over the country. And refugees cannot move to another kommune during the first 3 years. And who makes a survey of the level? And who would take the complaints seriously?
    But is it really true, as I understand Kutubuku, that you can insist on getting the kommune to pay the fee for a private school?


    1. Michala, back then you can. I don’t know if they still have the same rule. Basically the rule was the kommune was obliged to pay wherever you chose to study your Danish.


  6. Biting the hand that feeds you hey, well please leave them with one finger so they can at least pick their noses. Seriously correct in most instances and there are some top teachers and deffo some bloody awful ones. The “Bad Accent” class is so true, even though I amazingly escaped that one I did notice it and the fact that a French student promoted out of it with no change, shows how successful that scheme is (no disrespect to the French or Asian colleagues out there, but Danish “udtale” must be a personal nightmare) I personally thought I should be in that class but no way was I going to say that I should be. I am now “proudly” sitting at the 3.5 level, whereas my French colleague was demoted to 2.4 level “Bad Accent” promotion setting him/her on a roller-coaster ride, French colleague is a civil engineer for God’s sake and works full time…Puha. Personally the system as buckled under my own knowledge of how it works and I gladly pass info onto other “kursister” who I think are getting a raw deal. There are certain “kursister” though that just will not grasp the fact that the “Sprogskole” is free, they think the administration costs are actually the costs of the entire module….wrong and of course they do get a shock when they have been AWOL and been thrown off the course. Top observation on the Danes putting the blame on the “differing” immigrants needs. Reminds me of when I applied for a cleaning job and was refused because I was not a female Dane or Eastern European, he did smile though in the hope that I would understand. God Påske


      1. LOL I’m the wrong colour to drive a bus apparently, but i’ll bear that in mind next time I pass one of the many solarium’s dotted around the place. Can you imagine the sell ” Improve your bus driving chances, only 10kr. for 15 mins” 50kr and your in, dårlige udtale ingen problem. F##K what to do about my blue eyes?…Adolf would turn in his bunker…;


  7. My sprogskole has been all over the place – it’s in a little backwater, so we first had teachers who didn’t have teaching educations. I guess the idea was “well, you speak Danish, you should be able to teach it!” (This isn’t a Only-In-Denmark [not the blog] thought, I get “oh, you speak English, you should teach it, I bet schools in Denmark would just snap you up!” all the time.) Then the school sent the teachers to school to learn how to teach Danish. One of my teachers, IMHO, was way better before they taught her how to teach and (more importantly) what to teach. The System told her we needed to discuss pictures, so she used famous works of art (or even not so famous works of art) to teach us colors, directions, adjectives and how to discuss various opinions and ideas. I think she got told off. But when the school wanted to combine all of the students in one class (there’s only 23 of us studying – in all, so they could save LOADS of money by putting everyone from 1.1 to 3.5 in one class!) she raised hell. Still, having the mix we do (people from 1.5, 2.2 and 3.2 onwards) have does create major problems. The lowest students don’t understand what’s going on and it’s too basic for me. And we all have lousy pronunciation. The school really wants us at the top end to do distance learning, on line. Because YouTubing myself speaking Danish is TOTALLY going to result in great Danish skillz. Oh, and then we get to correct each other. Because the blind leading the blind is a GREAT teaching method.

    But then they can fire the teachers and save the MONIEZ! All the kroner in your bases belong to ME!


    1. @Archaeo Hmm.. if you have to go to S.borg for classes ANYway, why not S.borg AOF? A couple of them are turds, but I was overall satisfied. (Thankfully I only had the turds as substitutes, not actual teachers)


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