Danish Language Blog

Why Danish? Posted by on Jun 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

Why learn Danish? That is a question the Danes themselves in particular seem to be pondering. When you visit Denmark, you’ll discover that most Danes are very eager to practice their English skills with you! The foreigner who’s having a love affair with the Danish language can have a rather hard time informing everybody that jeg vil gerne tale dansk – ”I would like to speak dansk”.

Although still spoken as a second language in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, Danish is in no way a minor world language like Portuguese or even German. Within the Nordic cultures, it seems to have drawn the short straw, too: It does not give access to the mountains of Norway or the wild woodlands of Finland and Sweden, and if Vikings turn you on, Icelandic is the language to go for. (It’ll let you read the ancient sagas.)

Yet from a certain point of view, Danish is a very important language.
It is the key to the Kingdom of Denmark, from jetset Copenhagen to cosy in-the-middle-of-nowhere village taverns to the infinite beaches on Jutland’s west coast. It may sound like havregrød i kog(boiling oatmeal porridge, so Danish poet Benny Andersen), but learning it will connect you with a world full of light-hearted humour, spot-on everyday metaphors, and the silent joy of being.

Danish has been the vehicle of many great minds, including universally enjoyed authors H.C. Andersen and Karen Blixen, and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. In fact, Spanish author Miguel de Unamuno learnt Danish precisely in order to read Kierkegaard!

The Italian guys I met in my hometown Århus a couple of years ago weren’t in doubt either: They wanted to learn Danish so that they could get in touch with all the beautiful, blonde girls that seemed to pop up everywhere!

I remember a Rumanian co-student who used to amuse himself repeating the word agurk (cucumber, pronounced more or less ”a-gooak”) over and over again. He told me Danish sounded like an extraterrestrian language, and he sure had a lot of fun trying to master it!

Before giving the stage to another Danish poet, Piet Hein, I just want to wish you held og lykke! with your Danish studies!


Denmark seen from foreign land
Looks but like a grain of sand.
Denmark as we Danes conceive it
Is so big you won’t believe it.

Why not let us compromise
About Denmark’s proper size?
Which will truly please us all
Since it’s greater than it’s small.

(Piet Hein)

What is your motivation to learn Danish? Tell the other readers by adding a comment!

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Axel:

    I speak Swedish but am learning Danish because I moved to Copenhagen a month ago. It’s a respect thing. I can speak Swedish here and communicate acceptably well (at least in the area around Copenhagen where people are used to hearing it), but since I’m going to be here for awhile I want to learn Danish. I’m fascinated with how the pronunciation is so different from Norwegian and Swedish. Also, it’s a challenge to speak a language grammatically so close, but yet so different, from Swedish. (It seems the pronunciation is actually closer to Old Norse in some ways than Norwegian or Swedish.)

    I definitely agree about finding it difficult to speak/practice Danish. At this stage if I go into a shop and start speaking Danish, whoever is working there will often respond in English. On the other hand, if I go in speaking Swedish they always stick to Danish…then I can gradually switch to Danish, too. I guess I have to prove my Scandinavian “street cred” or something.

    I find all this interesting in light of Denmark being so focused on immigrants learning proper Danish and assimilating. Not easy if everybody switches to English whenever you open your mouth.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Axel Yeah, you’re right, there’s a kind of double standard going on: Many of my fellow Danes seem to be wanting foreigners to speak Danish, while they themselves enjoy switching to English whenever they can. Don’t really know what’s happening… I’ll be happy if I figure it out some day! 🙂

  2. Nicolas:

    I am writing you in English, French and German.
    I am really disappointed that people from Scandinavia speak only English as foreign language but not others. I am keen to learn your languages as a sign of respect etc. How to learn and distinguish Danish and Norsk pronunciation etc. and where on Internet
    How to download http://www.dr.dk/

    Ich bin sehr enttauscht dass Sie aus Skandinawien nur Englisch als Fremdsprache benuetzen. Ich bemuehe mich skandinawische Sprachen zu erlernen aber wir Daenisch und Norwegisch auszesprechen zu erlernen und wo am Internet Wie soll ich und kann http://www.dr.dk/

    Tres decu que vous les Scandinaves parlez seulement anglais comme la langue etrangere
    En signe du respect et d’admiration je desire apprendre vos langues mais comment s’emparer de prononcition danoise et norvegienne. et ou sur l’Internet ? Comment
    telecharger http://www.dr.dk/ et nrk.no/

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Nicolas Yes, I agree: With so many interesting languages in the world, why stop at English?
      Ja, ganz einverstanden. Es gibt so viele interessante Sprachen auf dieser Welt – warum sollte man sich mit einer Fremdsprache einschränken?
      Sí, estoy totalmente de acuerdo. ¡Con tantas lenguas interesantes en este mundo no hay que quedarse satisfecho con el inglés!
      (Je sui desolé, mais ne parle pas français!)

      Don’t know about dr.dk and nrk.no, though, I guess they have some plugin installed preventing you from viewing those online tv stations from abroad.

  3. Nicolas:

    I am from Sarajevo, now in Toronto. I am mad after foreign languages. Trying danish, but you know how it is to read Danish, to pronounce, etc. Can this blog be more elaborate in those regards?! and especially similar words in Norsk and Dansk pronounced etc

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Nicolas Hello Nicolas, there are pronunciation-themed posts in the pipeline, so stay tuned! I can’t promise you a comparison with Norwegian, though, as this blog is mainly about Danish (but I definitely won’t exclude it either). Yes, it takes some exercise to get around the Danish pronunciation. (For that reason, I have focused on other aspects of things Danish – otherwise curious new learners might feel a little overwhelmed and confused, I guess!)

  4. Bjørn A. Bojesen:

    Alisa Hellemose Hansen added this comment on the previous blog address (www.transp…):

    My mom met a Danish guy about 28 years ago. There is a picture of him holding me when I was just 2! My parents divorced in ’98 and mom ended up marrying this Danish guy, who then adopted me in 2007. I was given the opportunity to earn my medical degree in Denmark, so now I live in Fjerritslev and am studying Danish in Aalborg. It is so hard! But I want/need to learn it in order to attend med school. Also, I believe you should speak the language of the country you are in. It is difficult though, because I also find that Danes are eager to speak English with me. One day, I’ll speak such great Danish, no one will ever guess I was American 😉

  5. Bjørn A. Bojesen:


    That’s a great story – keep up your Danish studies, and I’m sure one day the people around you will be surprised when you tell them you’re *not* from Fjerritslev! I think the dialect in the Aalborg area is quite nice, BTW… 🙂