Danish Language Blog

Ord is Word! Learning Danish Through English Part II Posted by on Oct 13, 2011 in Vocabulary


Queen Margrethe’s Royal Life Guards in Copenhagen wear bjørneskindshuer – bearskins – just like their British colleagues at Queen Elizabeth’s London quarters.

I recently got a reaction to my claim that Danish is an easy language to learn for native speakers of English. I can understand that for a new learner who has just started looking at the language, this may seem to be taken out of the blue. It certainly also makes sense to me that listening to a couple of Danes jabbering away in a stream of indistinguishable vowel shades may very well make you reach out for the panic button: Oh my, how am I EVER going to learn this language?

But please do take a look in your dictionary, and you’ll find just so many words you already learnt as a small child, only ”dressed” in different spellings:

allerede – already
begynde – begin
dag – day
grøn – green
blå – blue

rød – red

grå – grey/gray

hvid – white
brun – brown
øje – eye
se – see
næse – nose
øre – ear
høre – hear
tunge – tounge
spyt – spit (the substance)
lunge – lung
arm – arm
hånd – hand
finger – finger
ring – ring (like a fingerring)
knæ – knee (but in Danish the ’k’ is still pronounced!)
– go
bryst – breast
hår – hair
tage – take
have – have (in spoken Danish, the last two are usually shortened to ha’ and ta’)
føle – feel
tænke – think
synge – sing
sang – song
bage – bake
bager – baker
kage – cake
fisker – fisher
vi kan – we can
vi – we may
vi vil dansewe’ll dance (in the future)
broder – brother
moder – mother
fader – father (these last three are usually shortened to bror, mor and far)
søster – sister
familie – family (OK, this one’s a cheater: Both English and Danish borrowed the word from French…)
kat – cat
ko – cow
mælk – milk
svin – swine
orm – worm
træ – tree
løv – leaves (foliage)
græs – grass
plante – plant (cheater as well, I guess the word comes from Latin…)
hus – house
dør – door
vindue – window
kniv – knife
æg – egg (these last three words were actually left by the Vikings in England!)
hård – hard
lang – long
bred – broad
lille – little (think about Li’l Kim!)

Then there’s also the words who look similar but have a slightly different meaning (as they are helpful too I’d rather not label them ’false friends’):

hund – ’dog’ in the general sense, not just ’hound’
fugl – ’bird’ as well as ’fowl’
mad – ’food’ of all kinds, including ’meat’

Of course, the pronunciation is quite another story…
But at least learning the basic STRUCTURE of Danish shouldn’t be that frightening. In a future post we’ll be looking of some of the grammatical similarities between Danish and English.

Now you go home and try to make a similar list of everyday word-twins between English (not Latin, that’s cheating!) and Spanish, then Arabic, Japanese… 😉

Keep learning Danish with us!

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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. paul darwent:

    Many years ago I was looking at a book of middle English, an earlier form of English.The text appeared to be incomprehensible but if you read it as a form of distorted Danish it became understandable. Probably there was a time when when the languages split and went different ways.

  2. Mianna:

    It’s true that Danish has much in common with English, both in terms of grammar and vocabulary. As a native English speaker, it was refreshing for me to read this blog post and finally see someone say what I’ve been feeling all along. It takes a lot of work to learn Danish, yes. But, overall, I do not find it *hard*.

    A lot of the time, it’s not so much an issue with the Danish language itself as it is a question of knowledge, mindset and resources. I think some find Danish hard for one or more of the following reasons:

    -they may not have enough grammatical understanding of their own English language, so, as a structural reference, it isn’t as helpful for them as it could otherwise be.

    -they may not know *how* to learn/study

    -they may not be respecting enough how their minds are wired. E.g. The method of ‘learning by doing’ is not going to work well for them if their mind is hardwired to ‘first learn, then do’. It’s always best to work *with* the natural wiring of the brain.

    -they may not be patient enough with themselves. It takes time to grow the new neurons and neural connections we need in the brain for a new language. And, like growing up from a child to an adult, there will be times of growth spurts and times of what may *appear* to be a plateau (but it is, in fact, the brain processing/amalgamating what it has learned so far, in preparation for the next stage of growth). We need to have reasonable expectations of ourselves. In my case, I feed my mind Danish regularly at a moderate level that works well for my circumstances. Whenever it craves more, I give it a feast. Whenever it craves a rest, I give it that too.

    -they may not have a good network of family/friends who are dedicated to helping them learn and navigate the language/culture.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Mianna @Mianna – Thank you for these interesting comments. I think you’re right – learning a new language has a lot to do with mindset/study facilities. I just heard about a Danish teacher who started out telling foreign students how ”Hard” Danish is – now, that’s a way to motivate people! :-O