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Is Danish hard to learn for English speakers? The Danish language basics

Is Danish hard to learn? It probably depends on who you ask. For someone living in Sweden, learning Danish would be extremely simple. Many of the Scandinavian languages are similar, so it’s easy to pick up a new tongue as you hop between the Nordic countries.

For English speakers, however, learning Danish might be a little tougher.

Danish is one of the trickier Scandinavian languages to learn, because of the unique speaking patterns. This tongue is spoken more softly and quickly than most Scandinavian languages, and it’s also much flatter in sound than English.

Here’s your guide to the challenges you might face as you learn Danish.

How hard is it to learn Danish? Is Danish easy to learn?

Compared to many global languages, Danish is a lot easier to learn than you’d think.

Danish is a Germanic language, which means there’s a lot of commonalities between Danish and English. The two languages share similar histories, which should mean you pick up on things like grammar and words pretty quickly.

Danish only has around 9 verb forms, including the passive, which is familiar to English speakers, and less common to the rest of Scandinavia. According to the US Foreign Service Institute, Danish is a Category I language, making it one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. 

Experts suggest you’ll need about 24 weeks of study to reach a good level of Danish fluency. Of course, the speed at which you learn Danish depends heavily on you.

The easy parts of learning how to speak Danish

While there are people who struggle when they learn to speak Danish, many regard it to be quite a simple language, particularly for English speakers. As part of the Germanic language family, Danish has a lot of similarities to English, and follows various patterns we’d be familiar with.

Even the passive verb form is available here, which isn’t always the case among other Scandi tongues.

If you’re keen to learn Scandinavian languages and want to explore all of your options, Danish offers a fantastic starting point. Swedish is the language closest to Danish, and both Danish and Swedish are North Germanic languages — making Danish simpler.

There are actually hundreds of “cognates” between Danish and English. This basically means there are a lot of words which look and sound similar between the two tongues. Since you’re already quite familiar with English, it should be easy enough to “guess” which words mean what.

For instance, you can probably guess “bringe” means “to bring”, and “efter” means “after”. Throughout your education, a lot of concepts will simply click into place.

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How hard is Danish? Is Danish a hard language to learn?

Making the choice to learn to speak Danish can be an exciting step forward in your multi-cultural journey. It can even improve your chances of moving to the happiest country in the world.

However, there are some tricky parts to Danish too. For instance, Danish pronunciation is probably the most significant challenge for most people.

Danish adds new letters to the standard Latin alphabet, like Æ, Ø and Å, and the “r” sound is a little different too. There’s also something called a “glottal stop” in Danish, which is a way of pronouncing specific words.

The untrained ear would probably think “hun” (she) and “hund” (dog) sound the same. However, hund uses the “glottal stop” which makes it sound different to Danes. It’s the pronunciation which will catch you off guard if you’re new to learning Danish.

Notably, when you’re learning Danish language basics, you may also struggle because it’s hard to come across a lot of native speakers you can learn from.

Unless you’re learning or going to university in Denmark, so you can chat with the locals, you probably won’t find a lot of Danish speakers close to home.

There are only around 6 million Danish speakers in the world — so you really do need to visit the country if you want to hear the language in action.

You’ll probably find it’s much easier to learn to speak Danish if you can find a course with videos and pronunciation guidance to help you get a sense of how to form certain words.

Other ways learning Danish is hard

Danes use a lot of different language quirks which might be tough to grasp as a beginner. For instance, in English, we count our numbers based in tens, whereas Danes count in 20s.

This means words like “Halvtreds,” or fifty, means you’re halfway to the third twenty. While 60 is third twenty, and 70 is halfway to the fourth twenty.

You’ll have an easier time coming to grips with the numbers in Denmark if you start treating numbers just as words and look less at the numerical side of things. Don’t worry about the counting logic — as you can always write numbers down on paper anyway.

Another tricky thing is there’s no word for “please” in Danish — despite the country being full of polite and friendly people. In English, we use the act of saying please and thank you to express our gratitude for something.

In Denmark, the locals believe it’s more what you do which matters, rather than what you say. This means the Danes don’t need a word for “please.”

Instead, you can use the word “thanks” to say you appreciate someone doing something with you or completing a task. For instance, if you’ve had a great day with your pals exploring Denmark, then you might say “Thanks for the Day,” which would be “Tak for I dag.”

Danish sounds and feels a little different for linguists who are used to the English language. There’s a difference between how something is written and how its pronounced, and the fast-paced speaking nature of Danes means you might struggle to catch up at first.

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Learn to speak Danish the easy way

Learning any new language is a challenge if you’re coming into it as an absolute beginner. While people throughout the Nordic countries would have no problem jumping into Danish, English speakers can find many new letters and pronunciations to be a little overwhelming.

The best thing you can do is prepare yourself to learn by stocking up on:

  • The right books: Vocabulary workbooks like this one are excellent for working through some of the Danish language basics as effectively as possible. However, we do recommend going beyond books with your learning when you can.
  • Videos and guidance: Accessing a video course or speaking to a Danish tutor so you can practice the language will make it much easier for you to get to grips with it. The pronunciation is definitely the toughest part.
  • Practice: The more you practice using your Danish words and phrases, the easier they’re going to feel. Don’t be embarrassed by your mistakes when you make them initially. Remember everyone needs to start somewhere.

Compared to other languages, you should be able to pick Danish up quite quickly if you’re willing to devote the right amount of time to the process.

Like most languages, you’ll discover some tricky parts to learning Danish from time to time, such as the fact Danes tend to speak in quite a monotone manner, but you will get past these issues.

Why learn Danish? Learning to speak Danish

Speaking another language, particularly one like Danish, can transform your life and open the door to new opportunities. You’ll also benefit from learning Danish if you’re planning on spending more time in Scandinavia.

Although there are challenges involved in learning Danish, it’s among some of the easier languages to learn if you’re looking to expand your vocabulary.

As mentioned above, you’ll also need to grasp a decent amount of Danish if you’re planning on moving to the country to enjoy some of the many benefits it has to offer.

Another big benefit of learning Danish is, once you’re fluent, you might even find you have the confidence to start learning other Scandinavian languages too. Grasping Swedish once you know Danish is a breeze!

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