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Learn Danish

Dreaming of traveling through picturesque Denmark, breezily ordering smørrebrød and making friends with locals? Or perhaps you’re hooked on gritty Danish TV shows and want to understand what that glowering detective is really saying.

Regardless of why you want to learn Danish, you’re in for a fun and rewarding experience. It won’t take long until you’re humming along with Danish music, coming out with those ironic jokes the Danes are famous for, and making (virtual or real-life) Danish-speaking friends.

Discover effective strategies for learning Danish online. Explore grammar, vocabulary, resources, and tips, and find answers to your FAQs here.

We’ll also talk about how to create your Danish study schedule and whether Danish is really as difficult as it sounds.

A Quick Introduction to the Danish Language

Love history? Adventurous epics? The Vikings? You’ll love studying Danish. The oldest written examples of it in existence are runic inscriptions. It’s also the closest existing language to Old Scandinavian, the language of the Vikings.

Even today, there’s some degree of mutual intelligibility between Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish (although this can be overstated). This is in part thanks to the powerful fourteenth-century Queen Margaret I of Denmark. She defied gender-based norms for her period to unite most of Scandinavia – although she then had to make herself regent and appoint her male relatives as rulers. After all, it was the Middle Ages.

Danish also boasts some fascinating linguistic features. For example, while it has two grammatical genders, these are called common and neuter. This might come as a relief to language learners exasperated by the idea that a screwdriver is inherently masculine or feminine.

You also count in twenties rather than tens in Danish, something that might sound familiar to speakers of French, Basque, Cornish, and Yoruba. If it seems confusing to you, however, just think of the archaic method of counting in scores, with “three score and ten” adding up to 70. Voilà, you have the vigesimal counting system used in Danish.

Today, Danish is spoken by over 5 million people throughout not only Denmark, but also parts of northern Germany, Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. And that’s not to mention Danish diaspora communities around the globe.

Although you might assume that everyone speaks Danish in Denmark, don’t be surprised if you also overhear Polish, Syrian, or Turkish. Despite tightening immigration policies, people from all over the world live in Denmark.

Oh, and expect to hear quite a bit of English, too. Danes are impressively good at speaking it.

How to Learn Danish

We can’t give you a one-size-fits-all Danish study plan, because there are so many factors to consider: where you live, what you want to do with your Danish language skills, how you like to study, how much spare time you have…

However, what we can do is give you some advice for building a study schedule and choosing the right resources for you, so that your Danish studies are more fun, interesting, and effective.

Outline Your Goals

Knowing what you want to achieve won’t just keep you on track. It will also help you decide what to study.

Just travelling through the country? You’ll want to spend extra time on topics like directions, hotels, and numbers.

Want to keep in touch with a Danish exchange student via social media? Reading and writing will be important for you, and you can probably skip the business jargon in favor of slang and hobby-based topics.

Moving to Denmark? You’re going to have a longer list of topics to learn. Don’t forget to study immigration-related vocabulary! On the plus side, your trial-by-fire experience of living in the country will give you lots of opportunities to practice speaking Danish.

Regardless of your individual goals, you’ll probably want to build in time for all the main language skills – reading, writing, listening, and speaking – as well as vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Let’s be honest: it would be frustrating if, after six months of messaging a friend in Danish, they suddenly rang you and you couldn’t understand a word they said.

Decide How Often and How Long You’ll Study For

You’ll come across blog posts saying that you should study for an hour, 90 minutes, or even three hours a day. That’s not always realistic, though.

Some people have a relatively free schedule and can easily make time for studying. Others have to fit Danish studies in between different jobs, studying, social and family obligations, and more. So, forget the “golden rules” about how many minutes or hours a day you should spend studying.

It might sound counterintuitive, but don’t study too much. By too much, we mean: don’t study so much that you exhaust yourself, feel guilty about being too busy to practice Danish, or start to resent the time spent drilling vocabulary. Be realistic about how much spare time you have.

That said, it’s good to study more days than you don’t. If you’re struggling to find time for Danish, aim to study for shorter periods but more frequently. It will be more effective than one long, weekly study session, especially if your aim is spoken or written fluency.

Decide on Your Study Materials and Resources

In this article, we’ll share dozens of Danish courses, apps, textbooks, grammar guides, YouTube channels, podcasts, movies, novels, news sites, and more. You might also like to:

  • Keep a journal, write short stories, or start a Danish-language blog
  • Create an audio diary: record yourself speaking about your day (and remember that nobody has to listen to it – not even you)
  • Follow influencers and Danish-language hashtags (and not just #hygge) on social media
  • Set your search engine, phone, and social media accounts to Danish
  • Find forums, Facebook groups, and hobby-based blogs in Danish
  • Take an interest in Danish history, politics, and culture; you’ll soon find yourself reading Danish-language websites and books to find out more than would be possible in English
  • Label things in your flat or house with Danish words
  • Start doing Danish crosswords
  • Write your shopping or to-do list in Danish
  • Try to create Danish puns and rhymes

Bear in mind that someone else’s ideal study method might not work for you. Maybe they love Duolingo and you hate it. Or perhaps they love watching movies and you get bored 20 minutes in. We all have our preferred study methods (and interests!), so try a few things out to see what works best for you.

And remember: the best resources for you could change over time. You might eventually need to drop your once-favorite course, or perhaps you’ll find you get on better with a resource once you’ve reached a conversational level of Danish.

Some Extra Danish Study Tips

  • Learn Fillers: Since most Danes have a high level of English, you might find one of your biggest challenges is getting people to speak Danish with you. While they think they’re doing you a favor by switching to English, you should try to talk in Danish as frequently as possible. To subtly signal that you don’t need them to change languages, try brushing up on Danish fillers. They will help you exude linguistic confidence, even while you’re searching for the right word.
  • Do Pronunciation Drills: Given how tricky Danish pronunciation can be, it’s worth spending some time on this. Even though you don’t need a perfect Danish accent, learning correct pronunciation early on will save you time later and perhaps help convince Danes that you don’t need them to switch to English.
  • Be Patient and Celebrate Successes: Learning a language is hard and takes time. Instead of fixating on what you can’t do, focus on your successes – whether that’s successfully purchasing a train ticket, having an hour-long conversation in Danish, or navigating the Danish healthcare system.

What’s the Best Way to Learn Danish?

The best way to learn Danish is to pick a handful of resources that support your learning style and use them every day without fail. This article offers a wide range of resources suitable for many learning styles. 

For example, if you learn best by listening, check out Pimsleur’s app-based Danish course. If you learn best in a group setting, try an online group class or join a language exchange app.

You probably get tired of hearing this, but the ultimate best way to learn any language is to pencil in a regular study time every single day and stick to it. 

How Difficult Is Danish?

According to the FSI, Danish is one of the most approachable languages for English speakers to learn. They estimate that it would take 24 weeks of 25-hour-a-week intensive study to achieve “professional working proficiency” (which has been compared to both B2 and C1 on the CEFR scale).

Of course, that still adds up to 600 hours – and besides which, learning a language via intensive courses is different from learning it in evenings and on weekends.

Still, whether you’re a full-time student, a Roskilde-based expat immersed in the Danish language, or a hobbyist learner squeezing your studies in during your commute, one thing’s for certain: Danish has quite a bit in common with English. In fact, even words that don’t look like English often sound like it. Take hej, meaning “hello” and pronounced “hi.” And these similarities could help you out as you learn this Nordic language.

If you speak some German, you’ll also come across words that look pretty familiar to you: gerne, at arbejde, nummer…

However, there is one thing that you might find quite different when learning Danish: the pronunciation. There’s a reason Scandinavians joke that speaking Danish is like talking with a potato in your mouth. For people who aren’t fluent in the language, it can be hard to distinguish the different sounds and work out exactly what word is being said.

What’s more, some phonemes are particularly tricky for Danish learners, such as the soft d. Add some homophones, 20 different vowel sounds, and silent consonants to the mix, and it’s easy to end up tripping over your own tongue.

Even though Danish has a lot of similarities with English, the truth is that no language is “easy.” No matter if your goal is to become fluent or simply to learn survival phrases ahead of a holiday in Copenhagen, you’ll need hard work and some patience to see success.

There are some things that can make it easier, though. Let’s take a look at how to learn Danish – without getting too stressed out or demotivated.

Is Danish Easy to Learn?

Danish is one of the easier languages for most English speakers to learn, clocking in at about 600 hours of study time. The hardest part of learning Danish for most English speakers is mastering pronunciation. This is mostly because Danish uses so many vowel sounds which can make speaking the language feel kind of “mushy” for an English speaker.

The good news is that you can find many tools to help, including fun options like listening to Danish music or watching Danish TV shows. 

What’s the Easiest Way to Learn Danish? 

Aside from moving to Denmark to completely immerse yourself in the language, the easiest way to learn Danish is often to pick a structured course and work through it in steady progression. This provides a framework to help you understand all the key aspects of Danish. It also helps you track your progress.

Of course, you can make your learning journey more fun by adding supplementary activities into your daily life like listening to podcasts or even watching movies.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Danish?

It will take roughly 600 hours of study for most English speakers to gain basic fluency in Danish. This is good news, believe it or not! Danish is one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn.

If you can stick to a one-hour-a-day study schedule for about a year and a half, you should feel confident in basic Danish communication skills.

How to Speak Danish

Learning how to speak Danish is usually the most challenging aspect of learning this language. It requires lots of listening comprehension practice and pronunciation activities because Danish uses sounds that English does not. 

This means you need to train your ear to recognize the sounds as parts of speech. Then you need to learn how to shape the sounds with your mouth, which also takes time and practice.

The good news is that you can find the tools you need in this article. Try a conversation partner app like Tandem or HelloSpeak to find a safe place to practice Danish pronunciation.

Additional Danish Learning Resources

Danish lessons, courses and apps all are great as main resources for learning. However, it is smart to have access to supplemetary learning resources as well. Improve your Danish language skills with different types of written resources.

Danish Textbooks and Reference Books

A textbook can give structure to your studies and will normally include plenty of exercises. Whether you study alone or with a teacher, it can also help you measure your progress and stay motivated. We would recommend getting some additional speaking practice, however, and it’s worth bearing in mind that most textbooks teach slightly formal language.

If you like a lot of exercises, Complete Danish: Beginner to Intermediate might be a good starting place for you. The audio files are available from their website.

Colloquial Danish is another decent option if you’re just looking to learn the basics. Don’t forget to download the audio recordings.

Despite its name, Beginner’s Danish can be a bit challenging if you’re starting from zero. This might be a better option if you’ve been studying Danish for a little while, perhaps with apps and podcasts, and are now looking for something to give you structure.

For upper beginner and intermediate students, Danish Tutor: Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook is a highly praised textbook with plenty of exercises.

The Ultimate Danish Phrasebook is designed to teach you more natural Danish than most phrasebooks, with lines like “it was fashionable when my mother was young” and “let’s take it easy.” Whether you find it useful or a gimmick will likely depend on your level of Danish.

Danish Fiction Books and Poetry

What’s the first Danish author you can think of? If you said anyone other than Hans Christian Andersen, we’re impressed. Yet while Den lille havfrue (The Little Mermaid) isn’t a bad choice for your first book, there’s plenty more to Danish literature than this sad little love story.

You can legally download free children’s books in Danish from Children’s Books Forever. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something accessible yet still designed for adults, try bilingual readers.

Learn Danish with Starter Stories: Interlinear Danish to English contains literal word-by-word translations of six different stories. The authors have also published Learn Danish with Beginner Stories, Learn Danish with Short Stories, and Learn Danish with The Little Mermaid.

Short Stories in Danish for Beginners is a slicker option than Interlinear Books. You won’t get the literal word-by-word translation, but rather a short story, summary (in Danish), word list, and set of comprehension-based questions.

Ready to challenge yourself with books designed for fluent, adult speakers?

Fans of Nordic noir and detective novels will probably like Jussi Adler-Olsen. Plus, you’ll find reading his novels gives you a good conversation-starter – he was voted “Favorite Author of the Danes” three years running, after all.

For a more literary (and slightly spooky) novel, try Celestine by Olga Ravn. This unsettling novel about a woman obsessed with a ghost has been praised for its beautiful metaphors and language.

Jakob Ejersbo is considered one of Denmark’s modern literary giants, known for his gritty and realistic novels. Try Eksil, which explores the relation between European expats and locals in Tanzania, or Nordkraft.

If you’d like something a little more escapist, it’s worth giving the historical novel Vi, de druknede by Carsten Jensen a read.

Other Media Resources to Help You Learn Danish

If you’re interested in authentic content to help you learn Danish, then TV, movies, news and music are great ways to learn Danish while staying informed and entertained.

Danish TV and Movies

From natural phrasing to Danish culture, there’s a lot you can pick up from watching a TV show or movie. Plus, it will simultaneously challenge your listening skills and give you a chance to unwind.

You can watch Danish-language TV shows via DR or, of course, Netflix. If you’re using Netflix, try combining it with the Chrome plugin Language Learning With Netflix. It gives you greater control over the subtitles, which we think is particularly helpful when you’re ready for Danish-language ones.

If you’re a fan of the crime genre, try Broen or Forbrydelsen. The political drama Borgen has great characterization and a gripping plot. Applaus explores an actress’ relationship with addiction and her children. Looking for something more lighthearted? Watch the romantic comedy Italiensk for begyndere.

News and Music

Listening to Danish-language music will get you spending more time immersed in Danish and introduce you to additional vocabulary. Plus, whether you’re into electronic music or metal, you’ll find something you like in Denmark’s eclectic music scene.

The quickest way to find artists you’ll like is probably to listen to playlists. Try this Danish Hits playlist on Spotify. Alternatively, search for a genre-specific one, such as Danish Rap or The Sounds of Danish Pop.

Reading the news in Danish will also get you learning new vocabulary. Perhaps even more importantly, it will help you make small talk, stay up to date on current affairs in Denmark, and understand how new policies affect you.

DR Ligetil intentionally uses easy-to-understand Danish, so it’s a great place to start. As you become more confident with Danish, you can then try other news sites, such as Berlingske, Ekstra Bladet, Politiken, BT, News, and SN. You can also listen to Danish radio.

When you come across new words, look them up in a dictionary like Den Danske Ordbog. And, to make sure you’re pronouncing them right, use Forvo or Adgang for alle.

Danish might sound challenging. The pronunciation can seem incomprehensible. And the lack of Danish learning resources could be off-putting. Yet once you get started learning Danish, you’ll discover that not only are there many opportunities to practice it, but it’s a surprisingly rewarding language to learn.

Nothing beats the feeling of making a new Danish-speaking friend, reading a Danish-language book, or making Danes laugh with your witty jokes for the very first time.

Held og lykke! Best of luck.

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