At Work and at Play | Speaking Danish – why am I so bad at it?

Having been in Denmark for four years, sometimes I wonder why my Danish is so bad. I have taken years of lessons, yet my skill with (especially spoken) Danish remains distinctly below what I would ordinarily expect from myself. I am bilingual in French and English and I have learned Spanish, Italian and Japanese to a higher level than my Danish, so there must be some difficulty here that I never had elsewhere.

I am always so busy. My husband is not Danish. Everyone speaks such good English. Danish pronunciation is so difficult. Are these just excuses? Danish is a Germanic language and certainly does not come easily to me. However, when I was a foreign language assistant in Japan, I had absolutely no connection to the language, and yet I learned. I was younger then and certainly had less on my plate, but when I think of the many people who make no attempt to learn Danish, I feel as though more is at play than being busy with family and work, or having difficulties saying rødgrød med fløde. I was also able to start my preschool with my limited Danish ability, and I don’t feel that I was at a disadvantage. Of course, I got a lot of help from the Danes who work with me and from friends, but I still feel that I should be a better Danish speaker.

Everyone here speaks English. Ah yes, that one. This argument certainly holds more water. As this is not the case in Japan, for example, where English is not spoken widely, there would be no choice but to learn Japanese. Even in France or Germany where English is more widely used than in Japan, there would still be more need to learn the local language. This is harder here as everyone will automatically switch to English if they see you struggling or if you say something they don’t understand. But just because it is easier to speak English here (and let’s not complain, it is definitely a good thing), it still doesn’t mean that we should throw in the towel with Danish.

So enough with these excuses, which are overused so that we do not have to challenge ourselves, and perhaps because we enjoy the easy way a little too much. And let’s speak some dansk!