Coping with the foreign language

During my stay abroad, I came in contact with many different languages. Evidently, one of the languages I heard most was Danish. Before I went to Denmark, I bought a language book and tried to learn the basics with the app Duolingo. The app is pretty useful for learning the basics of a new language. Nevertheless, as the learning of new languages is always a big challenge for me and the Danes omit at least half of the letters in a word, my skills didn’t improve as much as I would have wished. Furthermore, I already knew from earlier stays in Denmark that the Danes speak English very well, as do most people of Northern Europe. Therefore, I knew it was not a must for my stay abroad. The University of Copenhagen offers a Danish introductory course for exchange students either before the semester starts or during the semester. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the pre-semester course, as it counts 7.5ETCs and there were two exams at the end of the course I thought it might be too much work during the semester, and I preferred to focus on my other courses.

As an international student, you often hear the languages of the other exchange students which you meet. So, I mainly heard people talking French or German, and a lot of my friends spoke Italian or Dutch. As all my courses at university were held in English and my social interactions were mainly with other international students, the primary language of my life in Denmark was in English. Naturally, I also heard and read a lot in Danish, since it is the local language. Reading and understanding Danish menus, headlines or signs is not too difficult for a German native speaker as there are some words which look similar to German words so that you can guess their meaning. Once you have learned a few keywords that are different from English or German, you basically understand written Danish.  Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier in this text, the spoken Danish word is a huge challenge without a basic Danish course. Even though many Danish words resemble English or German words, in writing they sound entirely different than spoken.  When spoken fast, it was almost impossible to understand or guess what the people around you are talking about. So even after four months in Denmark, I am not able to speak Danish or even pronounce the words in the right way. Like in other nordic countries the people start to speak English as soon as they realise that you are not familiar with their language, so it is pretty difficult to practise the few phrases you tried to learn for small talk or for ordering something at a coffee shop.
During my time in Denmark I was able to improve my English skills since you are forced actually to use it in your everyday life. Even if my lectures in Bern are also held in English, I rarely speak it.  Therefore, my semester in Denmark was useful for my English skills. Furthermore, I would say that I improved my German skills and I started to learn a few Italian words as I was doing a lot of things with my Italian friends.

To conclude one could say that learning Danish wasn’t a must for my stay in Denmark since they all speak English pretty well. Nevertheless, it would have helped to feel more integrated into the country and probably also contributed to finding Danish friends in class as it is easier to get in contact with other students when you can understand what they are talking about during the lecture break.

Manuela Häusermann

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