So you want to learn Danish?

Kære Bart, Lily, Jack og Sammy,

The language of the Danes, spoken by circa 6 million people, concentrated to the lands and islands of Denmark, is a Scandinavian language which is (partiallly) mutually intelligible with Swedish and Norwegian. As a Germanic language, German, Dutch and English speakers will find similarities. And as with any European language, many complex Danish words are essentially French, Latin or Greek. For the past thirty years, English has heavily influenced day-to-day usage as well.

Danish is a simple language, with a simple grammar. For example, its verbs (doing words) do not conjugate (change). Take the verb to be:

pronoun verb pronoun verb
I am jeg er
you are du er
she/he/it is hun/han/det er
we are vi er
you are I er
they are de er

However, Danish is the only language known in human history to attempt to (and successfully) eliminate consonants. Most spoken Danish culminates into meaningless gutteral sounds. Mastering the proliferation of vowels and learning the world’s most convoluted number system are the two major obstacles to learning the language. Danish toddlers are the slowest to start speaking and the slowest to learn simple arithmetic.

But do not let that dishearten you! For the Danish language has been blessed with the finest children’s storyteller of them all, Hans Christian Andersen. Danish learners, toddler or grown-up, can learn whilst enjoying the tales The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Little Mermaid to name but a few.

As an aid for reading the stories, I’ve created a parallel text of The Emperor’s New Clothes. More to come!

Other resources

For fans of television, The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen are some of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of the past two decades. Film fans can go through the œuvre of one of acting’s finest, Mads Mikkelsen. Also, the Donald Duck comics were translated into Danish and are hugely popular and very good. A common trick for learning a language is to read a book you are incredibly familiar with in translation (for those of a certain generation, that tends to be the Harry Potter series).

Duolingo’s tips for learning Danish can be found here. If you come across another handy thing or a cool tool, please do let me know.