All of your business: Why learn Danish?

Sometimes people ask me if it’s necessary to speak Danish to live and work in Denmark. The answer’s probably no. When I first started learning the language someone said: “I thought everyone in Denmark spoke English. You’d be better off learning Mandarin.”

Not irrelevant
There is a certain logic to this. I have spent the majority of my career in Denmark in very international workplaces, where the working language is English. This is not uncommon – it is the case at some of Denmark’s biggest companies. I know some people who’ve lived here for the best part of a decade without learning Danish – it’s possible.

I recently started studying at a Danish university in a course taught in English. My class is a combination of international students and Danes. Since all teaching is in English, you’d think Danish would be irrelevant. But it’s not.

Splinter groups
I often find myself as the only non-Dane in a group of locals. All the work-related talk and the group conversation is in English. But then two of the group members at the other end of the table start talking between themselves and quickly switch over to Danish. If it’s a really exciting topic others might join in.

For most expats working in Denmark, Danish isn’t needed professionally but it’s very helpful socially – if nothing else, then to understand roughly what’s going on in these conversational splinter groups. There’s an element of socialising in every job and in many Danish workplaces this is quite pronounced (Danes will eat breakfast together at work at the drop of a hat).

Free classes
Not everyone will have time to prioritise language classes, but for those who do, there is very a good provision for learning Danish. The government funds classes during the first three years of your time in Denmark and a lot of companies and educational institutions have special classes for their employees and students.

My advice is that taking advantage of this pays off. If you live in Denmark, it’s definitely more useful than Mandarin.