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https://www.duolingo.com/GraemeColeman

Speaking English with Danes as opposed to speaking Danish

Hello all, my first post here - I've been learning Danish on and off (more off than on) for over 10 years, and have recently finished the Duolingo course.

One thing I've regularly heard over the course of the last 10 years (and, I'm afraid, through experience) is that Danish is extremely difficult to speak - or, as I've also heard, native Danes often find it difficult to understand foreigners such as myself speaking their language, and would prefer to communicate in English (particularly if the non-native speaker sounds like they're struggling/not confident speaking Danish or just cannot be understood - yep, that's me).

Consequently, I believe it's quite common for foreigners across Denmark, when in conversation with a native Dane, to let the latter speak Danish but they themselves will speak English. For example, here is the Australian football (or soccer, if you prefer) player Brent McGrath (who plays for a Danish team) being interviewed in Danish, but answering in English:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No3UCXiMPVg

The above interview is around 6 months old at the time of writing, and more recent interviews on that channel show the player responding in Danish, but I found this interesting, and not uncommon.

This seems to be prevalent across Scandinavia, and therefore it's not uncommon to encounter a Swede, Dane and Norwegian in conversation with each other but, due to mutual intelligibility, they will each converse in their own language. Again, I've encountered examples where native English speakers will continue to speak in English, even though the person speaking with them is speaking in their own language.

For example, Colin Nutley is an English director who I believe has been based in Sweden for 30+ years, but still continues to use English when interviewed:

https://youtu.be/tA-YB-LFS6E?t=208 (fast forward to around 3:30).

Part of me thinks that it's quite rude not to be able to speak the language if you understand it, but another part also thinks that language is all about communication and, if the interviewer is more likely to understand you if you speak English, then it's perfectly acceptable for you to respond in English if both of you are more comfortable with this approach.

So, I'm wondering if I should just try to concentrate on improving my listening and reading comprehension, rather than try to mangle my Danish D's and Ø's when talking to Danes.

What do others think? Do you intend to be able to speak Danish, or are you content at just being able to understand it?

(apologies for the long post!)

2 years ago

9 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/eagersnap
eagersnap
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I think it just depends on the situation and the mood. If it's relaxed and hyggeligt and no one has to hurry, then go for it, and I think most Danes will appreciate your effort to speak our language and respond in kind. But if it's a very transactional interaction with a Dane who is in a hurry to finish their work or be somewhere else, then it's better for everyone involve to go for efficiency, i.e. English.

They might be too polite/shy/afraid of social awkwardness to say they are in a hurry, so this is where picking up on non-verbal cues will be useful. Come to think of it, I think that's an important skill in general in Scandinavia.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IanEvison

I am with eagersnap here. My experience in many trips to Denmark is that hearing my limited Danish, the average Dane reflexively switches to English. However, if I am sensitive a bit whether the other person is in a hurry and I ask politely if we can speak Danish, I get very good responses.

I am a bit careful about pushing my Danish friends into the role of Danish tutors. And I try to be sensitive to how it is a bit exhausting for them to speak with someone in Danish with someone whose Danish is much worse them their English. If I go to coffee with a friend, I might have the first half of the time be in Danish and them switch to English.

One other thing. I have found that ability to produce the Danish sounds is related to my ability to hear and understand them. So, for me at least, it really is not a fix to avoid mangling those vowels. I find that mangling those vowels by trying to actively produce them is a big part of how I increase my ability to understand them passively when I hear them. Trying to actively produce a language is, I find, the best way to put on display my misunderstandings and to invite people into helping me learn. I have had conversations with very talkative Danes where, I swear, where as long as I mumbled a few encouraging things, they never would have realized that I was understanding NOTHING!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Hermasetas

Native Dane here :) Actually when I speak to foreigners that try to speak Danish, it's not a question of being impatient or trying to be efficient as some here suggest. It's simply me not understanding anything you are trying to say.. Sadly.. I have discussed this with some of my foreign friends, and they all come to the same conclusion: No one understands their Danish. Well, they understands each others Danish :P I guess it's because Danish is hard to speak, but it's far easier for me to understand completely broken English than semi-broken Danish... It's weird...

So actually more often than becoming impatient, I get really frustrated when I don't understand foreign people speaking Danish, because I really want to! I want you to learn Danish!

I'm sorry that my language is so hard to learn! Please don't give up!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GraemeColeman

Thanks for your response!

Don't worry, I don't plan to give up on your language (I've been learning it for longer than Duolingo has been around) :-)

Basically, like you say, I'm concerned I simply won't be understood by native Danes, despite my best efforts (although, apart from saying "Ja, tak" when I've been across there, I must admit I haven't really used the language properly). But I'll be more than happy to get to the stage where I can respond in English if the other person prefers to speak Danish, as in the example videos I originally posted. I enjoy listening to and reading the language, and my abilities in both are (while not perfect yet) definitely stronger than my speaking skills!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/km1
km1
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Of course I am speaking too and think I'd get seriously crossed wires attempting a mixed Danish-English conversation! I can understand doing it for a formal interview though.

Pan-Scandinavian conversations are more natural -- these are more like dialects of the same language. Imagine me speaking American and you speaking Scottish English -- that is like a Dane speaking with a Norwegian or a Swede.

Speaking (and writing) are more active and will enhance your language learning. You will learn more if you speak in Danish and throw in the occasional English word, as needed.

Now I am curious how a Scottish person sounds speaking Danish; Also when speaking English do you find Danes have much trouble understanding your Scottish accent?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GraemeColeman

Thanks!

Yeah, speaking and writing are definitely my weak points. I can generally understand about 80% of what I read these days (the 20% representing various adjectives that I can never remember/identify) and, if the speaker speaks slightly slower than they normally would, I can generally understand about 70% of conversations.

In terms of my accent - the nice thing is that the Scottish accent (and possibly northern England dialects) is arguably more adaptable to speaking Danish than some other English dialects. This is because the Scottish dialect contains a number of words that are not common in standard English, but are extremely similar to Danish words and phrases.

For example, the way we pronounce the Scottish word for house (hoose) and "hus" (house), as well as the Scottish word for "know" (ken/at kende) is actually very similar - sometimes, when I hear these words and phrases spoken out of context, I'm not sure whether I'm hearing a Danish or a Scottish person speaking!

Similarly, if someone is "moving house", they might say they are "flitting hoose", which is very similar (both visibly and in terms of pronunciation) to the Danish "flytter hus". This makes remembering such terms a lot easier. (Also, bairn = child, as in "et barn")

Finally, the glottal stop is much more pronounced in Scottish, and is very similar to the Danish stød. For example, the proper Queens English pronunciation of the word "cat" is a bit like "caaht", but I often find myself (as well as my fellow countrymen) pronouncing it in a sentence more like "ca'" without the "t" at the end, and with a short "aah". So my ears are possibly more sensitive to differences between, say, "hun" (her) and "hunde" (dog).

In terms of speaking English, what are you saying about the Scottish accent? :-) Seriously, while I'm obviously Scottish, I hope I can make myself understood (I work for an American subsidiary, and haven't had too many problems in the past). That said, I do tend to try to slow down when I speak English abroad, whether it's Denmark or elsewhere, and avoid local slang or anachronisms.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/km1
km1
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Very interesting and insightful. The vikings did visit Scotland and left some vocabulary. The flitting house is a new one for me. I'm just saying the Scottish accent is possibly the most difficult for me; had a Scottish housemate and could not understand every other sentence! Cheers to you :)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Coridony

The thing about Danish and Swedish (and possibly Norwegian, but I think to a lesser degree) is that those languages are so similar that they might as well just be different dialects. There are actual dialects across England that are more different than Danish is from Swedish. So it's not quite the same as them understanding a different language and answering in their own, like an Italian and a Frenchman might do, but two people speaking (almost) the same language.

As for Danes' impatience with foreigners, that's a thing, yes. I do understand them, because gosh it must be painful to have to listen to someone mangling your language! And I'm like you, I'm quite shy about embarrassing myself in that way. But I do believe it's worth learning the speak it. Incidentally, research shows the foreigners who best learn Danish are the ones who come to Denmark speaking no other languages. They learn it because they are forced to, and they learn it quite well - so it can be done. But yes, the sounds in the language and the way they shorten words and sentences and mash them together... ugh, it's a nightmare.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IanEvison

Some wag once said that a language is a dialect with an army. What makes a language distinct from a dialect is partly incomprehensibility and partly political and nationalistic. http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/02/economist-explains-8. Had the Kalmar Union of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark survived, we likely would think of the three as dialects. Older Danes reported to me that in their experience the ability of younger Danes to understand Swedish or their patience for doing so seems to be declining.

2 years ago