Teaching in English: is Denmark up to the challenge?

Recent articles on the status of English in Denmark indicate that not only is English here to stay, it is necessary for Danes in a globalised world.

Research suggests English is not about to overtake Danish as the national language. Dialects may die off, and Danish may be bastardised by the adoption of English words like ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ becoming accepted Danish words.

Danes enjoy speaking English and are comfortable with it, so why not adopt English as the other language of use in Denmark?

Why prevent state schools from teaching motivated able pupils, in English, in all subjects just because of the paranoia of Dansk Folkeparti. Their future studies and jobs will require a high level of spoken and written English, and it is best learnt in school as early as possible. This is exemplified by bilingual communities within Denmark and Europe.

So if linguistic ability is a prerequisite for functioning positively within a society, is it not essential for Danes to be well prepared for a future in which English will be essential?

Learning English …

The relevant question, then, is how and when to introduce English as an integral and integrated part of Danish schooling, rather than debate whether it should be curtailed.
An initiative at that local level that introduces English in kindergartens, and an inclusion of English from the first year in schools, needs to be supported throughout the educational system. This will help at university level because students won’t need to wrestle with the language, and lecturers won’t need to simplify their language.

My 16 years experience as an efterskole teacher is that pupils in grades 8 through 10 are eager to use and improve their English. I have taught humanities and geography in English to all three grades for the past five years, and the exam results of these classes show that, with a average of over 11 (top mark is 12) in English, the criteria for success lies in the platform we offer. Students develop a broader vocabulary ,and other subjects become more interesting because the pupils are learning through an area of strength. Consequently, results in other subjects improved.

There remains the question of the political will to implement a new approach and who can then service this need. There is a growing number of politicians, backed by pundits and executives, calling for increased labour market productivity, and they are aware that improved English will be one way to accomplish this. The time is now, otherwise productivity will continue to slump.

… while living in Danish
To implement a fundamental upgrade of English there has to be a clear strategy and support from relevant ministers and businesses. The country’s international day schools, set up to facilitate families of highly-skilled foreigners, are attracting increasingly more Danes. These schools follow a British-style system with Key Stages and Cambridge Examinations going towards the IB or possibly A levels. Danish parents clearly seem to see a need for a more academic and disciplined approach to schooling.

It’s unfortunate, however, to see Denmark adopting a British style of education; this is like the Danish football team playing a British style of football. The answer is to adapt the opportunity offered by the Cambridge Examinations to a Danish style of teaching.

To this end, one hybrid efterskole has appeared that will be seeking to accomplish just this. When it opens this autumn, The International, affiliated with Vedersø Idrætsefterskole, a sports academy, will be run as a boarding school offering tuition in English only. It is adopting the Cambridge Examinations system, but it is setting everything within a Danish environment and seeking to draw on the strengths of the efterskole.

The school will be open to Danish and foreign students, and offer them the chance of a Danish efterskole year while at the same time being able to study in English. This will offer them the best of both worlds. This prototype is a very good example of how schools could be set up if we are to ensure that Danes are well prepared for the Denmark of tomorrow.

Rory Blackstock is originally from Scotland and has worked for the past 16 years as a teacher at Danish Efterskoler.