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Is there a preferential order to learning Scandinavian languages?[Solved]

Hi all,

I just signed up. I'm a native British English speaker with a little french and tourist-level Italian/Spanish ability who now lives in Australia. Next year I'm taking my wife to northern Europe for the first time, specifically Sweden and Norway, then finishing up in Denmark.

I've only been to Sweden and Norway once before - a month when I was a teenager - and I got by then with a phrasebook and appalling pronunciation that usually got rescued by a local person speaking English I'm embarrassed to say.

I know I'll not come close to being fluent in that time, but I'd like to get enough basics down to get by where I can be friendly and polite, and not be rude or insulting in my ignorance; semi-competent tourist is the goal lol. I've started listening to podcasts, and keep hearing that these languages are very similar because of their history, so I was just wondering if in your opinion and/or experience, if one or other of Norwegian Swedish and Danish is easier to get the basics of for an English speaker who's never even tried to learn another Germanic language before?

Currently (maybe naively) I was thinking of using geography as my friend and start with Norwegian, then Danish, then Swedish (assuming that countries that are closer to each other geographically might have more language similarities)?

Thanks in advance!

--- Update: ---

Thank you all for your time and amazing answers - what a community!

After taking all of your suggestions and advice on board I've decided to attempt the Norwegian course first. I say first, but it's been brought to my attention that it's the longest course here lol! So I'll try and work through Norwegian, and from there focus on Danish and then Swedish, although probably at a more tourist-focused level.

Thanks again for all your advice!!

August 15, 2017



Norwegian will give you the best foundation for understanding the other two languages (mutual intelligibility chart) and is for this reason recommended as a gateway language to the Scandinavian trio.

Having said that, and even being somewhat biased (I'm a contributor to the Norwegian course), I'll always recommend that people start with the language they're most motivated for; motivation trumps statistics when it comes to language learning. :)

This article is a lighter read on the subject of Scandinavian languages.

P.S.: I believe the reason you were unable to pick the right category is that brand new users have restricted forum access (people create throw-away accounts to spam with). Once you've done a few lessons, the other categories should unlock for you - at least the ones you subscribe to.


Thank you Deliciae - Or as I learnt on the train home last night, Tusen Takk!

That's a really great article, and it's helped my understanding no end. It's one thing to read that they're similar, or almost dialects of each other, but trying to understand what that means in application is really tough!


Bare hyggelig - and welcome to the course!

Don't be afraid to ask questions as you progress. :)


Danish is very more difficult to pronounce than the others so maybe if you learn the easy pronunciations first it will be very difficult to learn the hard ones becasue they look like the same word but can be pronounced very differently. So i would suggest learning a bit of Danish first then the others


In my opinion the "tonal" pitch is difficult in all three. Danish is not so much more difficult than the others two. They are usually spoken very fast. That might be another problem. But I agree Danish is a bit more difficult.


Danish is spoken around 20-30 % faster than Norwegian and Swedish, because a lot of letters, syllables or even words are left unpronounced:

"Jeg er der om lidt" becomes "yaah dom lit' etc.

In any case, learning a bit of either languages will serve you just as well as trying to get a bit of each.


In comparison to Romance languages or even to most English speakers, Scandinavian languages are spoken quite slow in my experience...


I vaguely remember reading somewhere that his was due to the gaps we leave (or don't) between words. French for example is relatively famous for speaking quickly and 'mumbling' but this si actually due to the fact that they leave no real gaps between a lot of words and even merge some together, l'herbe for example. Whereas some other langauges do not merge their words like this or to such an extreme extend. German (not scandinavian i know) is on the other side of this scale and leave definitive gaps between each word which are quite difficult to detect if you are not looking for it. English lies somewhere in the middle which is why German sounds too robotic and French too flowy to us.
This also effects the 'speed' of languages, a language with more extreme gaps will appear to be spoken a lot slower.


I wonder if this is partly due to differences between syllable timed and stress timed languages. As English speakers, we are used to stress being a big thing, whereas French has much more even stress, so it sounds more homogenous to us and it's not as easy to pick out individual words??


Perhaps difficult was not the right word but different, to how English tries to pronounce words and different to Norwegian and Swedish do, since these three follow a fairly similar pattern however Danish has different rules so knowing English and having backrounds in Norwegian and Swedish would strongly sway you to pronounce them certain ways which would be incorrect and difficult to change, this may be able to be minimized slightly by doing Danish first


Swedish and Norwegian sound very alike and are easily confused--I'd separate them if I were you. Danish is spelt very much like Bokmål, but pronounced very differently (and somewhat irregularly, unlike the other two which have far fewer exceptional pronunciations). Either permutation with Danish in the middle would be my recommendation.

Be warned--you'll need to be able to speak quite well for the natives in any of these countries not to consider it easier to reply to you in their near-universally-flawless English...


Oh I have no doubt; when I was last in Sweden 20 years ago everyone spoke English back to me, and I would assume English has only become more common since then with globalisation.

I think I'm fairly realistic - three languages I've never learnt before? in a year? No chance. However I want to be confident enough to be able to try and communicate politely, not reading out of a phrasebook, even if it's just on a tourist level. My goals are really asking directions, visiting shops and restaurants, being a polite tourist basically. I know they'll probably just think "nice try, let's just do this in English shall we?", but I think it's more respectful as a visitor to know more than just 'Hej', and give it a go you know? It's like when I'm in France, I always think it's more polite to be able to go into a restaurant and ask for a table for 2... even if I only understand every other word of the reply lol.

But that's a great suggestion - I think I'll continue with Norwegian for a couple of months, then have a look at danish and go from there.


Yes, Swedes for example will typically reply to you in English, I've been living here a year and still get English replies to most any question. They consider it polite to do so. In fact, it's been a source of political debate whether to consider English a "Second language" rather than a foreign language. Current estimates suggest around 90% of the population can speak English to a high level.


Fascinating, I don't often realise the real extent or impact of the spread of English.


From what I understand, Norwegian is a sort of midpoint, and shares elements with both Swedish and danish. I also think it's the easiest one for an English speaker to pronounce.

If you're learning on Duolingo, there's the added bonus that the Norwegian course (alongside German) is the most in depth one available.

Either way, you're trip sounds awesome!


Thank you Katred :)

Ah yes, that's how I found out about DuoLingo - I was mentioning that I'd started learning some Norwegian, and a younger colleague who used DuoLingo for school told me there was a lot of Norwegian content here. I just discovered the mobile app - interesting how it's the same but quite different lol.

And again thank you! It's been a trip I've wanted to repeat for ... well many years, but then we moved to the other side of the world and even just flying back to Europe to visit family became troublesome to organise.

We couldn't actually decide whether to see Scandinavian by summer or winter. Our solution was to basically go three years without a holiday to save up so we could take some unpaid leave and make two trips. We'll have just shy of 5 weeks next (Northern hemisphere) summer to make a loop from Goteborg, up through Sweden, down through Norway and across to Denmark, finishing in Copenhagen. Then we're adding an extra 10 days onto our family christmas visit to the UK to make some ryan air/ easy jet type trips to see the winter sights and northern lights (will be kind of weird to go from 40°C+ here to -10°C). We might make a trip to Iceland, we'd definitely like to, but right now it's looking to be a bit too much in vogue and expensive.


You most likely won't find a single person in Sweden or Norway who isn't fluent in English nowadays (I just did a trip there last month myself after studying Norwegian for 1.5 years and some Swedish lately). There's not the slightest reason to learn these languages for communicating there, their English will always be a million times better than your Norwegian/Swedish/Danish (as their TV isn't dubbed for example), so I think you should pick your languages by your personal preferences. You'll never be thought of as ignorant if you don't learn their language - even Swedes and Danish will more likely communicate in English with each other.

Personally I'd suggest picking one and mastering that one. It makes it more likely to have a conversation that isn't turned to English immediately than if you have only a base level in all of them (and might end up mixing up words or pronunciations).


Norwegian seems to be the best base to move to the other two. I did Norwegian first, then Danish and am now about a third of the way through the Swedish tree. I prefer Danish among the three but I don't really feel like there is a wrong answer between the Danish-then-Swedish or Swedish-then-Danish succession.

The Norwegian tree is the longest single course on Duolingo and is a good rigorous course to get started in the language.


I would suggest you to start with the one you have most interest in. Read a bit about the countries, their culture and history and listen to the languages on YouTube a bit.


That's a great Idea! I think I'm most interested in Norwegian culture if I'm honest, just being British for half my life and having Norway always been a friendly neighbour (plus growing up in London, Norway was the country that sent us a Christmas tree every year), I've always felt a little guilty that we didn't learn much about Norway in school compared to France, Spain, etc.

[deactivated user]

    Good luck getting them to speak in their native language! I've heard tell that as soon as they pick up on your accent they jump to English.


    Tell them that you appreciate the courtesy (they usually switch as a convenience to you), but would very much like to practise your Norwegian. Unless they're in a rush, I'm sure they'll comply.

    A good trick for learners looking to have a conversation in Norwegian, is to seek out elderly people. They're more likely to have the time to chat, and less likely to switch to English at the first sign of struggle. Oh, and they have the best stories! :)

    [deactivated user]

      I work at an elderly home and we do get Northern Europeans, and the ones who are occasionally aware of their surroundings say some great things.


      Yh i don't know about Scandinavian languages but with most when you are speaking to someone and you heard they are struggling and both know their native language it is alot easier to switch just for efficiency and better understanding. It is way easier to switch and get the information that I need in a few minutes than listen to someone struggle and have difficulty getting the information or understanding them.
      This can be different in social situations like if you were to have a friend and asked them specifically to talk to you in their native language to help you improve however outside of this (shop workers, airport staff ect ect) all have their own lives and jobs to get done and need to get them done in a time limit with less hassle so switching is so much easier.

      Not necessarlyily here in a lot of language communities i have seen people get really angry about this and say that is rude to switch but we need to remember that native speakers are not a tool for you to improve you language skills and should not be treated so unless they specifically agree to help you in this way

      [deactivated user]

        Always the voice of reason my dude, thanks for the reminder.


        Even with a short time to learn, it is great that you are making an effort. You'll find that really simple things, like being able to read (or at least sound out!) street signs will bring an extra dimension to your trip. So, learn as much as you can and don't fret if you don't become fluent.


        Thank you for the encouragement! Ah yes, signs! The downfall of many oversees trips. It would be awesome to get to a point where it's less terrifying trying to ask where something on a map is, or the true hell; railway stations lol.


        Thanks Qiunnn, ooh bit scary to start with the hardest lol! You may be on to something though - I do also expect that we'll spend the greatest time of our trip in Denmark as we've got a solid week just for Copenhagen so it may be sensible to be a bit more comfortable with danish.


        There is also a topic called "Duolingo". Troubleshooting is for technical problems with the site or app. You can edit your post. There should be more now.


        Thanks JensBu and Quinn, I've edited it now to be in DuoLingo :)


        He was below level 2 when making the post so could not have chosen Duolingo

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