Danish Language Blog

But how do I pronounce it? Posted by on Mar 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

So, as I’ve been trying to show you throughout this blog, Danish is fun to learn. It has a lot of colourful expressions (like tømmermænd – carpenters – for ’hangover’) and even some nice concepts not found in English (such as hygge). For an English-speaker, Danish grammar should be quite straightforward, and a lot of the vocabulary you already know. Furthermore, Danish gives you direct access to the free-and-easy Danes, who are generally very open and modern people. Danish might just open your mind to a wittier, more relaxed attitude to life and its pleasures. Why, then, have so few foreigners made a real attempt to master the Danish language?

Swedes and Norwegians know it, when they say Danes speak with a ”potato in the throat”. Benny Andersen knew it, when he compared Danish to boiling oatmeal porridge. Danes in trains and busses know it, when they ask their foreign travelling companions to repeat the phrase rødgrød med fløde (red fruit pudding with cream): It’s the pronunciation, dude!

Danes on the go like to entertain other people with the ”weird” sounds of their language. They say some random phrases in an exaggerated way, as if they were alternatively swallowing and coughing up the words. Their Italian or Spanish audience can then shake their heads at such an ”unnatural” language. (Often forgetting that any language can sound slurred when spoken by cool people – just listen to streetwise folks from Madrid…)

All the jokes about potatoes, throat diseases and vomit are, of course, said with a twinkle and a dash of Danish self-irony. Danish can be a very beautiful and poetic language indeed. (When foreigners tell us this, we often get really happy and proud, while still feigning we can’t quite believe it…)

Nevertheless, Danish pronunciation is peculiar. Over the next few weeks or so, we’ll be taking a look at some of the things that make spoken Danish such a fascinating challenge.

A Chinese businessman desperately tries to pronounce Danish in this ad for the  newspaper Børsen!

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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. Alex:

    Really glad to this pop up about pronunciation, it’s such a nightmate! I’ve been learning Icelandic for a few years now and thefore I’ve got a headstart on the grammar, and the genders of words where it is the same. I actually feel like I should have a massive head start, but I’ve never been able to get past the basics of pronunciation.

    I started getting into it when the UK started broadcasting all the Danish shows, which I’ve never missed: The Killing, The Killing 2, Borgen, Borgen 2, Those Who Kill, etc.

    With the substitles, even EXPECTING the words I do know, they just float past me without me being able to process them. God only knows how a monolingual Brit without a background in linguistics gets their head around this stuff.

    All in all, I’m hoping you’ll be able to do something about this in the next few posts if they’re dedicated to the pronunciation.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Alex Well, I’ll try to! Pronunciation isn’t easy to explain in words either. 🙂
      And I’m sure even a ”monolingual Brit” will get the right rhythm and flow if (s)he does spend some time in Denmark…

      BTW, I didn’t know you were broadcasting Danish TV shows in the UK. Nice! Which channel did you watch them on?

  2. Alex:


    Yeah, Danish TV has taken over UK TV in the last 12 months, there have been many news articles. Apparently even the Royal Family like it. Borgan was said to be a huge hit that even our politicians were talking about in Westminster. David Cameron’s recent trip to Sweden to discuss women’s equality in high-position jobs was actually credited to an episode of Borgen.

    It was the BBC who first took The Killing, then season 2 and Borgen, then another channel ITV realised the success and bought the rights to Den Som Draebe.

    If you want to see some of the media coverage we’ve had, check out some of these links:


    So, yeah.
    “Sarah Lund” (Sofie Grabol) has become a bit of a star in the UK over the last year, I’ve seen a few interviews where she’s completely astonished that after a few years she’s suddenly a big celebrity in Britain. She even did a cameo appearance on Xmas TV last year. Those shows are pretty much the reason for my interest in Danish, the first exposure. I imagine for many others it’s the same (that’s if they can get past the pronunciation!)

    Here’s that cameo appearance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw18U_-Y6b4

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Alex @Alex:

      Thanks for all this great stuff!
      Nice to know that there is an interest for things Danish in the UK.

      As for getting past the pronunciation, I’ll rack my brain for the best way of making things a bit clearer for non-linguists. Stay tuned! 🙂

  3. Alex:

    You’re welcome 😀
    I suppose you saw the news that Camilla and Charles are going to Denmark in the next few days. Did you see what Camilla said she had to go? Visit the set for The Killing III.

    Here is a link if you hadn’t seen it. She’s expressly asked to meet the stars and she’s going to get to watch the taping of an episode.


    So, yeah.
    We love Danish/Denmark in the UK! 😀