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Scandinavian languages

I'm an English Canadian, and I've been living in Denmark for over two years now. I worked as a waitress in a touristy part of Copenhagen for a few months, and I was shocked at how far I could get speaking Danish to Norwegians and Swedes, and how much of their languages I could understand. I always knew they were very closely related, but I had no idea they were almost conversant with each other.

I hope they get Norwegian and Swedish modules up here soon. If you are interested in learning a Scandinavian language that is not offered, you can really start with any one of the others (though Finnish doesn't count, as it has different origins).

I am also surprised all the time at the amount of overlap between German and Danish, and now I am finding it in Dutch as well. If you speak either of those languages, Danish will be quite easy for you.

September 3, 2014



I hope you've gotten over that shock now! :) I'm Norwegian, and I have visited both Denmark and Sweden this year. I refuse to use a lingua franca with Danes or Swedes, but I must admit that I adapt somewhat if they have problems understanding me. For example using a mix of Norwegian and Swedish, which is called 'svorsk' and even has its own article on Wikipedia! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svorsk There is also a talk show aired on both Norwegian and Swedish TV where the host (who is Norwegian) almost consistently speaks svorsk (Swerwegian? :p).


I admit it was hard at first, and working in Nyhavn I had a lot of Norwegian and Swedish tourists get very angry at me when I didn't understand them in their native languages (which I think had more to do with them having anti-immigrant sentiments for the Scandinavian nations, because the native Danish servers don't have as many problems with it). As I practiced listening, though, I found enough in common to be able to fulfill the basic requirements for a two-way conversation, while speaking two different languages.

I also experienced this living in Montréal. My French was not very good, but my comprehension was reasonably good, so I would speak English, and French staff would speak French, and we could get by just understanding each other.

PS: A lot of Swedes and Norwegians don't know this, but in Denmark, it is customary to tip your waitstaff! Spread the word.


I norge er det frekt å be om tips ;P


Det må være fordi i har så meget penge op i norge! Vi er ikke så rig, her i lille bitte danmark, så det er nok derfor vi behøver en helt masse af drikkepenge. Ellers har vi ikke penge nok til sko, ogsåvidere. :P


I'm native German, I feel that I have some advantages while learning danish. However there are still a lot of differences and it's still difficult from time to time :)


I'm also German and I think we're pretty lucky :) Danish is, of course, most closely related to other nordic languages, but it also had a great influence on English and it's rather close to german too, especially if you know some Plattdüütsch (or Dutch, for that matter) :)


In my opinion, the biggest problem with Danish is its pronunciation (udtale). Not only it's very hard to make those sounds yourself, it is even harder to understand what Danes say. And they usually talk quite fast!

The grammar compared to the oral part is just a piece of cake! :)


It's one of those languages where, if you learn it later in life, there is no way to get around having an accent. I often provoke giggles from Danes if a hard, drawling "a" (from my Prairie/Western Canadian accent) slips into my Danish pronunciation. It's at the point where I do it on purpose to lighten the mood.

However, when working in the restaurant, as my accent got better, more people assumed I was Swedish or German, rather than Canadian or American.


Totally fine to have an accent as long as you are understood. It is true, though, that Danes are a bit sensitive to accents.

Still, my biggest problem so far is understanding them. I'm trying to watch movies or TV shows with subtitles, but it doesn't seem to help much.


Time, patience, and a lot of immersion is the only way around it. You may not think the TV is helping now, but it is. Try actually turning off the subtitles and interpreting what is happening from the situation on screen: with subtitles you end up reading and not watching the mouth movements/expressions/situations as well. I actually remember the Danish subtitled movies I have seen in English. In immersion it is vital to struggle and get frustrated a little bit, because it forces you into toddler mode, where you just have to watch and listen to people.

[deactivated user]

    How did you wind up in Denmark?


    "love and heritage" is the short answer. :) It's very hard to immigrate here though: I'd recommend going through Sweden or Germany and entering on EU rules if you want to live here.

    [deactivated user]

      Not Denmark in particular, I was just asking but I have thought about migrating to Europe. However, I don't have the money or the education to apply for a visa and successfully get one. Also at 23 1/2, I might even be "too old" to go to college abroad :/


      Look up "Working Holiday" visas: they are for young people, and you don't necessarily need post-secondary. If you time it right (arrive just before tourist season), you can find a tonne of work in the hospitality industry, knowing very little Danish. You can also take free Danish courses from the municipality with this visa.

      There's no sugar-coating it though: the Scandinavian countries can be awfully xenophobic, and you have to be prepared to face a significant amount of discrimination. I think it's the same for immigrants almost anywhere. When I first arrived here I was actually shocked by how white and blonde it is: I had never seen anything like it.

      If you can handle the pressure and the occasional unpleasant interaction though, there are a lot of opportunities and benefits to travelling/living here.


      Depends on your citizenship. Privileged countries ( such as US and Canadian citizens) can migrate easily to many EU countries. This means you can enter as a tourist stay for 3 months, travel in the Schengen area, apply for different jobs (start at Irish pubs, hostels ... where it is ok to speak English only). Then you go to the officials and apply for a working visa while being in Europe.

      If you are not from such a country it is much more difficult. You are required to apply for a working visa at the embassy ( e.g. German embassy) in your home countries. This type of working visa is hard to get and just valid for a single job contract ( that you somehow need to fix beforehand ). Basically you need a signed working contract and proof that " no EU citizen was qualified for the job".

      I have many friends migrated to various European countries and moving between them (e.g. from a Nordic country to Germany). Most of them are highly educated ( min. Master in engineering ), or come from a privileged country. All others that do not fall in one of the two categories had huge problems - I love these friends, but it wasn't an easy path for any of them.

      [deactivated user]

        I am from the US. I was aware that I could basically stay in an EU country for three months without a visa in the Schengen areas but I had no idea I could apply for jobs, that's interesting to know. I have a German friend I met through Wer Kennt Wen when it was still up, he had told me if I ever visited Germany I could stay with him. May take him up on it if I decide to move there it would be a good way to have a place to live while I applied for the visa and work.


        Which EU countries are easy to migrate to? I'm American and have not found it particularly easy to migrate to the UK. I'm allowed to work part-time on my student visa, but certainly not on a tourist visa, and working visas here have the same restrictions you mentioned (established job offer, proof no EU citizen was qualified), even for US citizens. However, if you are referring mostly to Germany, maybe their immigration rules are less restrictive than the UK's. I hope that is the case, because I was thinking about trying to get a job in Germany once I finish grad school (planning to start the German tree as soon as I finish the French one). :-)


        Sorry, of course you need always a working visa in order to work. The detailed rules are different for every country, and I don't know the details for the UK or Denmark. In Germany there are privileged countries, and the citizens are allowed to apply for the working visa while being in Germany at the city council. I know from an American friend who worked as a musician in Berlin and an Israeli friend working as a programmer in Frankfurt that this is fairly easy. Other citizens must apply for the same visa before entering, which makes the same procedure a lot more difficult, time-intensive, and a company most-likely won't hire you. An Iranian friend, who worked before in Norway (and has a Norwegian permanent residence card), had to go back to the German embassy in Oslo, to complete the migration.

        Edit further details


        @fer84 - that's good to know, thanks! :-)


        It depends on where you want to go and what you want to do, but I don't think you're too old for college abroad. I'm in my thirties and have been going to grad school in the UK. Hoping to start again in a few weeks. :-)


        I'm 24, finishing up my first Bachelor's in a year or so (I've done it over 7 years) and looking at doing another one here. It's never too late!

        [deactivated user]

          Well that's encouraging. I haven't been to college before though. I started working straight out of high school. At the time I had no idea I would get an interest in language learning and traveling abroad.


          How long did it take to you to learn Danish? :)


          One year of living here, and three months of part-time language school was enough to allow me to work effectively in the service industry (ie. make small talk with customers, get yelled at by my boss), but I am still learning. I started using this program two days ago and I only jumped ahead to level 7 with the test, so I still have a ways to go.

          I have a feeling that my situation is not entirely typical, as I also have the advantage of living with my Danish in-laws, and my mother-in-law did not speak very much English when we first met. There was some awkward but useful forced immersion there.


          Swedish is currently under development, and but the other three haven't begun development yet, however, I've seen many requests for Norwegian, and a decent amount for Icelandic. (And even a few for Færoese. Poor Færoese.) For Norwegian, there's the whole Nynorsk/Bokmål thing which is kind of meh; I haven't really studied much Norwegian, but I would support the use of Bokmål. That said, I would still learn both if I was intending to go to Norway or something, because you may see both. (Similar to the Traditional/Simplified thing with the Chinese languages.) Now that I'm finished, I must mention a funny video that was made by Norwegians, but would also apply to Danes. It's called ÆØÅ, but it contains some swear words. If you want out, then don't watch it, but it's kind of funny.


          I learnt some German at school, and when I started watching Danish films and TV shows (with subtitles) I was surprised that I could pick out quite a few words because they sounded similar to the German. I'm only a short way through my Danish tree so far, but the grammar does seem a lot less complicated (two genders instead of three, one conjugation for the present tense). I'm happy I decided to start learning Danish instead of picking up German again, because I'm finding it a lot of fun so far!


          Yes! I had four years of German before I moved to Denmark: it was the first "second language" I had. Now when we go to Germany and I try and speak German I accidentally throw Danish words in: especially when they are very close to each other.


          English would have been fairly mutually intelligible too, if it weren't for the Norman Invasion in 1066. Ugh!


          Just a little side note.
          Finnish is not a scandinavian language. But it is a nordic languages.

          Scandinavia is Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
          The Nordic Countries is Scandinavia + Finland and Iceland.

          Hence the Scandinavian Languages is Danish, Swedish and Norwegian.
          The Nordic Languages are the Scandinavian Languages + Finnish and Icelandic

          Learn Danish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.