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  5. "Behøver du en kæde til maski…


"Behøver du en kæde til maskinen?"

Let me start by admitting that a favorite way I have of procrastinating about stuff I should be doing is by spending time thinking up stuff for others to do.... This confession out of the way, I have a suggestion for our most wonderful Danish team. Having hung around Duolingo for a while it seems to me that there are certain recurring suggestions for making Duolingo more helpful for those at an intermediate level, but which it seems do not fit with the overall development priorities--a translation level, a reverse tree, or a series of more advanced lessons.

Seeing the recurring suggestions for these things and seeing them not happen makes me ponder to myself what suggestions could be most within the realm of the possible. Reframing a bit, I ask myself what changes could be made which could make Duolingo more helpful to those at an intermediate level, without major investment in the structure of it?

I had a Russian teacher once who observed that it is not the big words that get you in learning a language, but the little ones. And so I find it to be with the intermediate level of Danish. Good examples are the distinction of when to use i and when på, or when to use til and when to use for--as in the above sentence.

How would this be for an idea?: I have noticed that our great Danish team has been working hard at greatly improving the depth of content. Thanks! This is a wonderful help to those like myself who use Duolingo for review of the basics. How about, as part of that revision, adding more options where we are given the choice between pairs of these words that people tend to confuse: i-på, for-til, hvis-om, da-når? It seems to me that in examples like the above, the Duolingo tree to lean into teaching the til-for distinction, by just adding an option.

What these distinctions are that need to be learned is, I discover, pretty well-mapped territory. I am using a series of books by Michael Øckenholt from Gyldendal that is pretty widely used in courses in Denmark for Danish as a second language. There is a pretty good online listing at http://www.basby.dk/modul1/.

I see one reason that this is not a good idea: If too much of this sort of thing were added to the tree it would become very frustrating to beginners. At the beginning level, it is better not to worry about such distinctions since, by and large, they are not critical to understanding and being understood. So, it would be wrong to frustrate beginners with too many of such details.

However, how about adding some more of them? One features of the best thought out language learning is that examples of features are introduced as idioms in dialogues in lessons before the particular grammar point is explained. The reason I find myself liking my own suggestions here (of course!) because it seems like with it a small amount of work completely within the present structure could make Duolingo Danish a better bridge to those who are going to continue with the language.

So, how about--as the content of the present tree is deepened and mistakes are corrected, adding a modicum of such contrasts even though they are beyond what the tree attempts to teach?

Thanks all. With grate gratitude for all those who have worked so hard that learning for me might be so easy.

January 16, 2016



Thank you very much for your addition of the website. I find it a very helpful/useful site. I am learning Danish since two months and indeed sometimes still mix up some of the little words you mentioned although according to my Danish partner I am doing rather well. In written language that is. The spoken language is still quite hard for me as I do not live there yet and those horrible Danes have the habit of eating half of their words and speak very fast as well :)


You are very lucky to have a Danish partner. My wife and I (both of us anglophones) joke with each other that what we both need is to fall in love with a Dane! I also find oral comprehension challenging. Younger Danes, especially from around Copenhagen, seem to me to find a way to communicate while actually pronouncing ever fewer sounds! Yet, I find helpful what my tutor says: the issue is not that they do not pronounce the sounds. It is rather that the relationship between written and spoken tends to be different from other languages. So, an English speaker sees the Danish word "tager" and expects it to have four sounds t-a-g-r. A Dane looks at it and expects it to have two sounds t-a. From one angle the other sounds are "swallowed." But perhaps it is more helpful in the end just to say from a Danish point of view all the sounds are there and there is a reliable relationship between writing and pronunciation, just a very different one. As I write this I hear myself sounding a bit abstruse. For this I apologize. I only say it because it has been very helpful, when I am confused and frustrated to turn to the question why something makes sense to a Dane.


According to my partner the Danish pronounciation follows very few written rules and therefor makes little sense to us non Danes. They pronounce their language simply because it is how they pronounce it. Of course there is the hard D, soft D and silent D for example and the silent R but some of the sounds are just as they are. The A for example to me sometimes sounds indeed like an A but sometimes like an E and there is no rule for it.

I am Dutch myself which makes it quite easy for me to learn to read Danish as many words are rather similar in spelling yet pronounced so differently that I cannot understand it when spoken. My partner and I joke a lot about it while learning each other's language. He is in advantage however as he already speaks German too. We are both a bit linguistic neurotic and take pride in writing and speaking a language correctly although I must admit my English is still far from flawless in contrary to his. When in London the English often mistake my partner for a native (The fact that he prefers buying his clothes at Marks and Spencer might help too smirks)


I do understand the point of view about Danish pronunciation being ruleless. And the variability of the vowels the number of variants, and how they are all slightly different from their nearest English equivalent is something that has been very hard for me. However, I began actually to make progress when I got a tutor whose point of view was that there was a sound system to Danish as to any other language, that there was a group of typical problems English speakers had navigating this, and if I worked at it, these could be systematically tackled. This helped me past a roadblock in learning. Having an eternally optimistic and energetic teacher helped a whole lot also!


Aye, having a teacher like that helps a whole lot indeed. And yes, a lot of it has to do with the sound system. As soon as you can figure out how the sentences break down into words it becomes much easier to understand. As Dutch, Danish is a germanic language so the placement of words is not too different from Dutch for me and quite a few words are more or less similar. I noticed that for me the turning point was at hearing the sentences break down into words in my head. Before that it almost sounded like constant stutter to me (Not very polite to say, I am aware ^^) while now I can follow the essence of a conversation, still without being able to understand it word by word.


There is a special place in heaven for language teachers who can put up with me. :-)

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