Do People In Denmark Speak English

Do people in Denmark speak English? Everything you need to know about English proficiency in Denmark

Moving to a foreign country often involves a significant culture shock, and things can get particularly tricky if you don’t know the language. But what’s it like in Denmark, and do people in Denmark speak English?

Many foreigners struggle to settle into societies where English proficiency is low unless they learn to communicate in the local language.

And while your life is much easier if you can talk to others in English, even countries with good knowledge of the language are difficult to integrate into unless you learn the language.

Like the other Scandinavian countries, people in Denmark are known for their excellent English language skills — and in many cases, they also know one or two other foreign languages.

This article will outline how good English proficiency is here and discuss whether you can survive in Denmark without learning Danish.

Do Danes speak English?

If you want a better idea of how good a country is at speaking English, your best place to start is with the EF English Proficiency Index. The report ranks countries by their skills in this language annually; at the time of writing in June 2022, the most recent version is the 2021 edition.

When looking at the English Proficiency Index, all Nordic countries rank very well; Iceland isn’t included in the report. But Denmark particularly excels; with a score of 636, Scandinavia’s southernmost country finished third in the report.

The only countries with higher English proficiency levels than Denmark were Austria (641) and the Netherlands (663).

Of the other Nordic countries, Norway — which finished fifth with 632 points — was Denmark’s closest competitor. Sweden (623) was eighth, with Finland (618) coming in ninth.

Do People In Denmark Speak English

How many people in Denmark speak fluent English?

Is English spoken widely in Denmark? Well, yes — sort of. If you visit or move to the capital city, Copenhagen, you will have no problems getting around in English.

In fact, many foreigners trying to learn Danish report how it can get annoying when the locals switch to English while trying to practice.

Similarly, you won’t have problems speaking English in Aarhus. Besides being the country’s second-largest city, it also has a huge student population — thanks to its high-ranking university.

In tourist hotspots, you will similarly find that many people speak English. However, things become more complicated when you go outside of the larger towns and cities.

However, English isn’t spoken by the total population. Knowing Danish is incredibly useful if you visit one of the country’s more rural areas, and a lot of people in the older generation might not speak as good English as the younger generations.

Similarly, English proficiency is lower in Southern Jutland than in the likes of Sjælland; in cities like Sønderborg, you might find that German gets you further than English.

What is the official language in Denmark?

The official language of Denmark is Danish, a North Germanic language that is spoken by most of the Danish population. It derives from Old Norse and has much in common with the other Scandinavian languages.

In addition to the people of Denmark, Danish is still taught in Icelandic schools — even though the country hasn’t been a colony since 1944.

While Iceland is independent today, Greenland and the Faroe Islands are still part of the Kingdom of Denmark. In both regions, children learn Danish at schools and receive Danish citizenship.

Are other languages spoken in Denmark?

With Sweden just across the water and Germany to its south, Denmark has a lot of international influence — perhaps more so than either Sweden or Norway. You can see this reflected in the other languages spoken here.

In the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenlanders speak Greenlandic, and people from the Faroe Islands talk in Faroese. However, you probably won’t get very far using either of these in Denmark (unless you meet Greenlandic or Faroese people, of course).

Denmark is part of the Schengen Area, meaning it’s easy to travel from here to Northern Germany or Southern Sweden. In Southern Jutland, many people cross the border daily for work — and the German language is widely spoken in these regions.

Denmark also recognizes German as a minority language, and Danish is one of many minority languages in Germany.

Do People In Denmark Speak English
Credit: Kristoffer Trolle

Why do the majority of Danes speak English?

Now that we know which languages are spoken in Denmark and how good people are at speaking English here, we can move on to the next topic. So, why do Danish people speak English (for the most part)? We can look at multiple factors, and you’ll find the most important of these below.

The Danish education system

The Danish education system is perhaps the main reason Danes — particularly younger generations — are so good at speaking English alongside their first language. Danish children learn the language from a young age and typically do so for a significant period.

You’ll notice that different English words and phrases will feature if you listen to younger Danes’ conversations today. Some are swear words that we’ll leave out of this article, whereas others fill in gaps that you can’t translate to Danish.

Denmark is also home to several excellent universities, such as the University of Copenhagen. It’s a great place to study, and Danes receive money from the state to study at a higher level. A lot of Danes study their higher education courses in English.

Pop culture

The world has become increasingly globalized, with the internet and social media playing particularly large roles in this respect. And since many Danes consume popular music and films from countries like the United States and the UK, they get exposure to the English language daily.

While Denmark has many popular music artists producing music in their mother tongue, you’ll also notice that a lot do so in English instead. Examples include MØ, Martin Jensen, and Lukas Graham.

International exposure

While Denmark has a very productive economy, the market is very small — and only focusing on a single country will limit many businesses’ opportunities for growth. As such, you will find many large Danish companies making moves worldwide — such as Carlsberg and MÆRSK.

When communicating with clients in other markets, English is typically the lingua franca. Moreover, many corporations use English as their official language. People working for these businesses will normally speak their second language daily.

But why else do Danes speak English? We can point to the large community of international students who get degrees in Denmark. Many communicate with their course mates in English, and many stay after their studies have concluded.

Do People In Denmark Speak English
Credit: Artur Warchavchik

Can you survive in Denmark with English?

If you only plan to visit Denmark for a short period, you can easily get away with not learning Danish — though knowing a couple of phrases helps. However, you will make things needlessly difficult for yourself if you choose to settle here without picking up the language.

Surviving in Denmark without Danish is possible, but you can — in most instances — expect to live a pretty lonely existence. Below are some of the main reasons you should learn Danish.

Many official correspondences are only written in Danish

When you first move to Denmark, you might find it surprising that you will receive many official correspondences in Danish — and only Danish. Sometimes, that includes important immigration documents that require your attention.

Many banking services largely communicate with their customers in Danish; Danske Bank is a notable exception. If you receive letters from your local municipality or the government, you will most likely get these delivered to your e-Boks in Danish.

Doing administrative work is irritating at the best of times, but you can expect it to become even more annoying if you have to constantly fire up Google Translate.

Danes usually speak Danish together

Do Danish people speak English when with each other? In most cases, the answer is no. As a foreigner, you might feel left out if you cannot follow along with the conversation unfolding in front of you.

Sometimes, someone will switch to English or translate for you — but knowing Danish is better.

If you don’t know Danish, you will find it incredibly difficult to make friends with Danish speakers. You will find plenty of native English speakers, but you’re better off learning Danish as soon as possible when you move here.

A lot of Danish TV shows are in Danish

Many people looking from the outside think that Denmark is pretty bland. However, if you move here, you will learn that’s far from the case. Denmark is a quirky country with several unique forms of media, including various Danish television programs.

Denmark has its own version of the Great British Bake Off, and you might have heard of hit series like Borgen that have taken the world by storm. While you can switch the subtitles to English, it’s much easier to get the inside jokes and colloquialisms by following along in Danish.

Many job opportunities require that you know Danish

Do people speak English in Denmark when working? Again, it depends. Even if you moved here for a job offer, you might decide that you’d like to try something new in the future. And when that happens, you will find your opportunities incredibly limited if you only know English.

Even in roles that require English as the main language, you will probably get preferential treatment if you prove that you can speak Danish. You also need to remember that speaking English doesn’t make you automatically stand out, as many Danes can do that as well.

Understanding the Danish culture

Moving to a new country is an adventure; the most exciting part is learning about a new culture. While you’ll undoubtedly pick up a lot even without speaking Danish, you cannot truly understand the Danes until you know their language.

When you learn Danish, you will understand why the Danes live how they do. You’ll learn why they’re so direct and insistent on having a good time.

So, do people in Denmark speak English?

In short, yes — but you should still learn Danish if you plan to live here long-term.

If you’ve found yourself asking, “do people in Denmark speak English?”, we expect that this article will have answered your question. The Danes are some of the best English speakers in the world, even if it’s a little trickier to get by in more rural parts of the country.

While you can survive in most parts of Denmark without speaking Danish, learning the language is a good idea if you’re aim is to stay here for the long term. While the Danish language isn’t among the easiest languages to learn, the rewards are huge.

If you decide to move to Denmark, you’ll find plenty of historic and charming cities throughout the country. To find out which fits your personality best, consider visiting them all.

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