Sunday, 17 November 2013

Just speak it. My progress with Danish contd.

I've lived in Denmark for one year and twenty days. When I first got here I could, thanks to a Teach Yourself series and my husband, hold a very basic conversation if the person spoke slowly. How are you, my name is, etc etc. Now, according to my husband, I am borderline fluent in the language. I didn't think it would be this quick (and please note that I say "borderline") but I am obviously pretty proud of that achievement, so I thought I would share how I managed this. A follow up from this post.

If you have read previous posts on the blog you will know that I have a Danish husband. Before we moved to Copenhagen he taught me some basic Danish. He thought that I could have soaked up more but to be honest, with a full time job working in London this just wasn't possible. Of course if I put my mind to it and dedicated all of my spare time to it, there's no doubt I would have been better equipped when I moved over. Nevertheless, I had a bit more of a head start than a lot of people which is definitely better than nothing. If you do not have the luxury of being with a Danish partner or friend in your first days of the move, or before you have moved, then Google online courses. is a good one.

This preparation held me in good stead for language school. Like many expats here, I wasn't able to land a job before moving over to Copenhagen so once my CPR number was in order, I registered to go to language class four times a week so I could up my Danish as much as possible. The first couple of modules in language class gave me a really good grounding in terms of grammar and Danish etiquette. I also went to the Sprog Cafe they ran every Monday so I could practice what I had learnt in class with other expats and volunteers from Røde Kors (Red Cross). Considering the amount of people at the school, not a great percentage of people showed up for this which is a shame as just speaking the language is the best opportunity. If your language school offers something like this, go for it. If not, you can advertise on websites such as Couchsurfing or InterNations for a language swap - particularly if your first language is not English - or you can advertise in local cafes. Quite a few of my Danish circle are interested in other languages, particularly the Romance languages. Give it a go. If you don't have this opportunity or if it is not successful, there are meet-up groups such as The Danish Language Speakers where you meet Danes and other expats and have everyday conversations, but in Danish.

Saying that, I have now given up language school. I completed modules 1-3 and got near to the end of module 4 but I found it was no longer benefitting me. By the time I had gotten to module 4 I had switched to evening school on account of my (then new) job so I had two very long days twice a week. But it wasn't just that. Because I was putting my Danish into practice wherever I could, the stuff we were learning at language school just wasn't cutting it for me anymore. I got so much more out of, for example, picking up phrases from my sister-in-law in an evening and speaking with my in-laws whenever I could. Watching the Danish news everyday out of habit also really really helped. Back to talking about school, I also had a fairly patronising teacher - there was a German guy in my class who spoke Danish very well as he spoke it at work, however he wanted to improve his written skills. One assignment we had was to write a short story - fair enough, this will help in terms of improving one's writing skills - however when my German classmate had to read it aloud, our Danish teacher started gasping at 'exciting' parts and kept saying "woooow!" all the way through. At the end, instead of feeding back something constructive, she said to the whole class: "wow! Vi har vores egen H.C Andersen!"
Maybe it's just me, but I don't need that sort of crap when learning a language, certainly not at the age I'm at and certainly not at the level we were at where most of us were fairly proficient already in terms of what I call advanced conversational Danish. Like I said, I was picking up most things from my family and the television. The last straw for me with language school was the teacher bringing in this really old fashioned kiddie bingo game where we had to describe what was on the card. The sort of crap that we were doing in module 2 (and I found it patronising back then too). It was the last Danish lesson I went to and I don't regret it one bit.

I said in an early post of mine that language school will not be the golden ticket to fluency and I really do stand by that. There is only so much that you will pick up in a classroom environment - for me it was the basics. I then pretty much took the language and ran with it. I just spoke it. I am now at a stage where I can reserve a table at a restaurant over the phone, I have most conversations with Danish friends and family in Danish and people very very rarely now switch to English whereas a year ago it would be the source of many a frustration in the supermarket, restaurant, etc. It wasn't easy to get to the standard that I am at and I still have quite a way to go before I consider myself completely fluent but I did get over the hump just through sheer perseverance. If you feel you haven't quite gotten over that hump then you just need to keep going.

Keep practising. Keep talking. You'll get there - just speak it.