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Stuck at the Middle Level

I am interested in creative strategies people have used in navigating what I find to be between "finishing" my Danish tree and getting to a somewhat fluent level of using the language in Denmark. I make good use of news, video, Netflix stuff, but I personally have found a need for something more Duolingo-like but at a higher level. Danes themselves say to me that best "fixes" for this problem are to fall in love with someone from Denmark or to get a job which requires me to speak the language all day long. But being already in love with and married to a non-Dane and I have a great job in the US, neither of these are options. I was wondering what bright ideas the great community of Duolingo-ers might have for negotiating the space between "done with the tree" and really useable.

I am doing the unthinkable and taking a vacation from Duolingo Danish for a couple of weeks. That very sad bird keeps telling me that learning a language requires practice every day. However, I am doing this for the best of reasons--I am in Copenhagen doing a sort of self-designed immersion program. Through AirBandB I am couch-surfing with a Danish couple. In the AM I have three ours with a tutor. And the rest of the time I find people with whom to speak Danish. Good news for all you Duolingo-ers is that Duolingo has given me a great base. However, am struggling with the huge gap between getting that tree "all gold" and actually being able to begin using it. One set of exercise books I am using here and that is often used here for immigrants at the middle level of Danish learning is Dansk Ikke Så Svært, Dansk lidt svært, and Dansk er svært. Finding these three and working them is kind of like discovering three new levels to a computer game above the one I have mastered (if I were really ambitious I would use Anki or Memrise to turn these into Duolingo-style spaced repetition). So, I would love it if Duolingo would introduce levels 2, 3, and 4 above the current tree. Yet I realize that this is not practical. What Duolingo gave me (including this great community) is amazing. And I know that that at some point in any educational program, you have got to move on. But how?

I discover also that a variant of my "stuck in the middle" problem is common in Denmark. All people who get permission to immigrate to Denmark get a magic CPR number (Danish social security number) that gives access to three years of paid Danish learning--that's right, you get paid while you do it!). But I have been going to a Meet-Up of Danish learners in Copenhagen, and many tell the tale of how, even after completing that, they find themselves just beginning to be able to hang on by their fingernails to the lowest level of what one need to hold a job.

September 6, 2015



Hey Ian, I have literally spent the entire last year to learn danish. I started out like almost everyone here: Duolingo, going on with danish music, videos, danish tv, reading articles and chatting/speaking to other danes. I have a danish boyfriend who I live with in Copenhagen with right now, but I can assure you, this is not a must have to become fluent in danish. It surely helps a lot and I did become a whole lot better in danish in all aspects. But I'm still far away from being fluent even though he helps me as much as he can. Even without a danish boyfriend, I believe that anyone can achieve fluency. You just need to find yourself getting immersed, use the language and be relentless about it, which is exactly what you are doing. But all that matters is, that it just takes time. It's not a fast pased progress. But you can do it, we all do. :)

Don't give up, keep on going. :)


Hej Marinia, I like your positive attitude and encouragement that you give Ian. How long have you been here now and how many languages could you speak prior to Danish? Where are you originally from? Me, being mono-lingual and from the States has proven to be a MAJOR stumbling block for me. I am just starting out with DuoLingo and am following a "challenge" presented to me by a friend who is exhausted / bored / "tou name it" LOL with my inability to converse in Danish. And I must admit, embarrassingly, so am I. Jerry


You are lucky, Mariam. Having a kæreste Danish puts you at a advantage. First, you have someone to practice with. Second, you have an entree into a Danish speaking social world.

I thank you for your wisdom about patience. I think that that is something I had been forgetting a bit. I do get impatient. I also like your word "relentless." People around me might may say instead "a bit crazed". :-) As in other things in life, somehow being very clear about the strength of my own intention has great power both inwardly and outwardly. I also find that I need to be gentle with myself and forgiving when, at the end of a day of speaking a lot of Danish, that, darn it, it is a whole lot easier not to run the risk of being misunderstood when I talk about something emotionally sensitive. Going home tomorrow to the US after two weeks of self-designed Danish immersion here in Copenhagen. Has been a good trip. And thanks. I am very grateful for this Duolingo community.


thank you thank you thank you §§§§ I am on a HUGE challenge from a friend to nail this language and I need every tip and trick I can get my hands on. I am presently reading a book in Danish about the history of the royal family and doing exactly what you suggest.


Dansk er mit modersmål, så jeg har desværre ikke så mange gode råd til hvordan man kommer videre efter man er færdig med dansk-træet. Jeg tror at du allerede er i gang med noget af det rigtige ved at høre/læse nyheder, se serier og så videre på dansk. Og fedt at du er på ferie i Danmark, det hjælper helt sikkert også! :) Jeg kan forestille mig at en grund til, at det er svært for udlændinge at komme videre fra det basala niveau er, at mange danskere har den uvane at slå over i engelsk hvis de fornemmer at deres samtalepartner har svært ved dansk. Det kan gøre det lidt svært at øve samtale. Jeg håber at andre her har lidt erfaring de kan bidrage med. Held og lykke! :)

Danish is my mother tongue, so unfortunately I don't have that many good ideas on how to proceed after finishing with the Danish tree. I think that you are already doing the right thing by listening to/ reading news, watching series etc. in Danish. And cool that you are on holiday in Denmark, that for sure also helps. I imagine that one reason why foreigners have trouble advancing from the basic level is, that many Danes have the bad habit of switching to English if they feel that the person they are speaking to has trouble with Danish. That can make it a bit hard to practice speaking. I hope other people here can contribute with some advice. Good luck! :)


Really grateful for all the wisdom here. In some respects my experience is different from what I hear many discuss. I hear a lot of people report frustration with Danes who so easily revert to English. I actually have comparatively little struggle with that. In very short conversations, indeed, if I speak Danish people recognize I am American, they switch to English. But with the majority of people I talk with, will respond if I persist in Danish. And those who know me personally are very supportive of my efforts. The Danes I know at all well are amazingly supportive of the most halting efforts to speak their language. Even though my Danish is far less good than their English, they are constantly praising me at roughly the level that the average baby gets from doting parents for their first efforts to burble some sounds. Very different from my experience with learning French. With French I had the experience that, until I spoke it pretty well, people acted as if I was desecrating the language with my halting efforts to speak it (and before you think that is so unreasonably judgemental you should hear me try to speak French....). Thanks all.


Hej Ian, Enjoyed your summary. I have been in DK 10 years and TOTALLY agree with the last paragraph. I am one of those people who took intensive Danish classes for 3 years (first 2 years at KISS which almost drove me to the brink of insanity) and after passing all exams I found myself, yes, hanging on by my fingernails. So, I went to a dinner party last night and an American friend of mine who has lived here for 30 years turned me on to DuoLingo. I just started today. And will diligently study this daily. She told me they have a U.S. exchange student that spoke no Danish and was basically fluent in 81 days. Color me impressed. I will do this and see what happens. I have considered myself basically hopeless with this language. And yes, I am self-employed (implying lots of isolation) and use English 100% in work and in my marriage. Cheerio mate. Jerry


So grateful for your thoughts. Yeah. Color me impressed with that exchange student who was "basically fluent" in 81 days. I have talked with people who have had exchange students here in Denmark were they have worked on only speaking Danish. The general report there is life up until Christmas (90 days) is pretty tough. It means that they can express and understand enough Danish to get along in the basic business of living somewhere, and that the fact that the writing on the washing machine is in Danish does not terrify them any more. As to the marital politics of beginning to speak Danish at home, I will leave that to you. I have talked to enough people who have worked on that one to know it is a toughie. Just fine to make the family shopping list using a langue where one has much less ability that the other. From what I hear, venturing to have one's first marital dispute in a language where one member of the couple has a far higher language ability is quite another thing. Thanks all.


Hi Ian, I moved from Denmark to Australia when I was a teenager and I only had 2.5 years of "touristy" English in school in Denmark before the move, so my English was very basic. I was given English education in a special school for migrant children of high school age. This was very intense, but I did learn a few tricks for learning a language well enough to be fluent that I would like to share.

Try to express yourself in your target language no matter how awkward you feel about expressing yourself - you become aware of what is missing and if you happen to learn something by having to do a pantomime the emotional effort will make it stick better.

Practice thinking in the new language - say the words or sentence and really, really feel the meaning of the words. This is because translating slows you down and some expressions cannot be faithfully translated (one of the interesting things about learning a new language are learning about the concepts and ideas embedded in the language). I can remember walking around on the platform of a train station and softly saying the words "yes" and "no" to myself and really trying the feel the feeling of agreement with "yes" and disagreement and rejection with the word "no".

Like others I recommend practicing by listening, watching and reading. AND expressing yourself by writing and speaking. However, as you are now at a middle level of proficiency I suggest you consider what areas of language you now want to learn. When you speak with people you want to be able to express yourself, so what language areas do you need to be able to express yourself? Do you have any hobbies and/or profession? Can you find any books or trade periodicals relevant to you? Picking practice materials that are intrinsically interesting makes it more joy and less work to practice. I think most people would also add social small talk (like the weather and family), food and popular culture/entertainment as topics they would like to have the vocabulary to express themselves with. I suggest you deliberately think about what you like to talk about and do, and decide on what language areas you want to target.

Good luck and enjoy the journey.


Honestly, I think you are "stuck in the middle" because you haven't defined what is "at the top". From what I can gather, your Danish level is already pretty good - particularly if the Duolingo tree no longer offers a great deal of challenge!

I think you are on the right track with the Danish textbooks, mostly because they offer an objective way to measure your progress.

In my personal experience, fluency in Danish comes from confidence, and confidence comes from successful Danish interactions with people. Your airBnB, couch surfing and tutoring sessions all sound like really good opportunities to develop your Danish!

I'd also like to say thanks for starting this thread, there have been some really great comments from other users and it is nice to be part of this discussion!


You may be right. I am coming at this completely on my own knowledge of language learning. I have my own intuitive sense of bottom, middle, and top. In my own self-devised schema bottom is roughly what one learns in that thick basic textbook or in Duolingo. Middle--again in my own self-devised and dubious framework--is getting so I can use this, do the grammar more or less right while I am also doing the pronunciation and actually saying something I want to say. This is the ability of understand and get my meaning across SOMEHOW--may not be pretty but it works. In the Danish government system, I am told that this is high 2 or low 3. Top level, as I am understanding it, means building capacity for expressiveness.

I had a fascinating conversation about this with someone who teaches ELS teaching back in the US (where I now am). She observes that this question of language acquisition strategies is actually a big research area and that at the University of Minnesota (near where I live) has a big project in it: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (http://www.carla.umn.edu/strategies/sp_grammar/rationale.html). This person pointed out one such natural strategy that I had noticed which becomes important in the middle level. This is reframing. Rather than correcting me when I make an error, a native speaker is more likely to formulate a response which--if I listen for it--gives me the correct formulation I should have used. She observed that parents and other adults involved in helping children acquire a first language apparently do this a huge amount. Learning to key into the fact that native speakers are doing this can be a powerful learning tool.

I am rather obsessed with this at the moment and so pardon me for giving you one more little discovery. University of Århus has been wonderfully creative in teaching Danish to foreigners. One of the people from there, Jacob Møller, wrote me: "If you are looking for free offers then I can recommend Duolingo (Go Duolingo!) and we have many tips and tricks on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Taldanskonline?fref=ts), Instagram (https://instagram.com/taldansk/), and blogs (https://speakdanish.wordpress.com). One of the bloggers is writing about how you can learn Danish from abroad. All of this material is available in English."

Thanks all. One of my own top recommendations to anyone is to find a supportive community of learning. Thanks for being that for me!

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