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If there was a Miss Denmark contest for sounds of speech, the soft D (blødt D) would run off with the gold medal. Danes love asking foreigners to pronounce the phrase
rødgrød med fløde (which, as you may remember, means ”red fruit pudding with cream”). That’s four of the difficult ladies, lined up with exotic Ø’s and R’s in-between.
Well, they aren’t that difficult… We Danes like to think that our language is harder than it is – it is a way of keeping it for ourselves, I guess. 😉
But really – if you can say the soft ’th’ sound of English mother, you can pronounce the soft D of Danish. They are both kinds of soft D’s, the difference is that in English, the tip of your tongue touches your teeth. In Danish, it should be a little bit more retracted.
Here’s a tip: Put your fingers in your mouth, with the nails touching the back of your upper front teeth (make sure you’ve got clean hands!) Now say the English word mother. Notice how your tongue strives to reach your teeth… Now remove your hand, and try to repeat the word as if your fingers were still there… If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a soft D with no teeth contact, and if you’re even more lucky, it’ll sound like Danish! 🙂
To many foreigners, the soft D of Danish sounds like an L. I’ve had pupils who pronounced the word Gud (God) like gul (yellow). If you listen carefully, you’ll hear that there is a world of difference…
The soft D only appears after vowels, as in mad ’food’, gade ’street’, gødning ’fertilizer’. In most other positions, the letter ’D’ is pronounced as in English: dyr ’animal’, dreng ’boy’. After ’L’, ’R’, ’N’ and in front of ’S’ and ’T’, the letter ’D’ is usually not pronounced at all: vild [vil] ’wild’, jord [yoᵒʳ] ’earth’, land [lan] ’country’, plads [plas] ’place’, fedt! [fet] ’cool!’ (literally: fat!).
You can do better than these kids!
Note to linguists: As Simon and Kevin note in the comments, the Danish soft D is also velarised (the back of the tongue is raised towards the velum). This makes it a bit different than the English th of ’than” – which is still a good shortcut for beginners trying to learn the language.