During my stay here in Denmark, I am confronted with two foreign languages at the same time, namely Danish and English. As I did not know any Danish when I came here, my primary communication language in everyday life is English. Also my university courses are in English. Nevertheless, I take some Danish classes – the Danish state offers free Danish education to everyone that moves to Denmark – and try to learn the language. I like learning languages, but it is a challenge. Although as a German speaker you understand quite a lot of written Danish, the spoken language is on a whole different level. There are not only very strange pronunciation rules (for example that a written “d” can be pronounced as something that could maybe be described best as a mixture of “l” and “th”), no, they also swallow almost half of the letters, so that you cannot hear them at all! Understanding Danes speaking was completely impossible for me in the beginning but in the meantime I got a bit more used to the sound and I am able to understand parts of a conversation. And if I know the context of the conversation, I can even figure out somehow what has possibly been said. I never thought that I could get that far in such a short time!
Most of my Danish (understanding) skills I did not learn in the classroom, however. I joined a volleyball team at the university where I am the only international student, so they speak Danish all the time and even the trainer explains everything in Danish. Of course, whenever I do not understand what to do, I can ask and someone will translate it into English for me. But it has become a nice challenge for me to try to understand as much as possible and we were all a bit impressed how few questions I had to ask after some weeks.
In contrast to understanding, my spoken Danish is very poor and did not improve a lot over the same time. Outside the classroom I manage to answer some simple yes/no-questions but that’s it. I am still astonished how hard it is to pronounce the things right. Once I tried to tell someone my address (I had asked a Danish friend before how to pronounce it right and I really thought I did it the same) but obviously I did it that wrong, that I ended up spelling it letter by letter. This has been a bit discouraging, I must admit. The result is that if someone asks me something in Danish, I do not have to ask the person to repeat the question in English anymore, but I will answer in English as I am really not able to give a good (and understandable!) answer in Danish. Most people are a bit confused in the first moment because I apparently do not speak Danish but I have nevertheless somehow understood their question. Despite of the “Babylonian confusion” the people seemed to be happy with my answers so far and thanked me politely every time.
Compared to the struggle I have with Danish, speaking English feels like speaking my mother tongue. In the lectures – and almost everywhere else – I do not have to make an extra effort to understand. I know that I make some mistakes in writing and even more in speaking but I can just talk. It is much easier than I thought to speak fluently. What helped me a lot in the beginning is to know that – although their English is very good, in general – also the Danes speak English as a foreign language and therefore they won’t be immune against making mistakes either. Understanding that I am not the only one whose English is not perfect was a very important trigger for me to just start speaking and not worrying about making mistakes too much. I doubt that my English is now the best I ever had in terms of correctness but it is definitely at its most fluent! This ability to talk light-heartedly is one of the most important skills that I can hopefully take home from my stay abroad. Sometimes when my thoughts are completely in English I even find it hard to talk in German to my German friends. This is something I definitely never experienced before and I kind of feel “at home” in the English language now. And who knows, maybe I will even be able to have a conversation in Danish by the end of the semester..